Eton Summer School Article

A wonderful article written by Benedict, Year 13, over his experience of ECUSS (Eton College University Summer School). Definitely worth a read and certainly gives some food for thought for those of you approaching the time to think about Sixth Form and University!

In July 2018, as a Year 12 student, I attended Eton College University Summer School (ECUSS) for a 10-day residential. Almost everyone has heard of Eton – it is probably the most famous school in the world and it costs around £40,000 a year to board there as a student. It caters for male only students from age 13-18.

Eton has educated 19 British Prime Ministers including William Pitt the Elder, William Gladstone, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, David Cameron and other Conservatives such as Boris Johnson. Many royals have attended Eton including Princes William and Harry. Other famous former pupils include actors Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne, authors George Orwell of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ fame and Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Other famous names include economist John Maynard Keynes, adventurer Bear Grylls and the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. In an interview with The Mail newspaper in 2012 Tom Hiddleston addressed the widespread misconceptions about Eton, that “People think it’s just full of braying toffs. … It isn’t true… It’s actually one of the most broadminded places I’ve ever been. The reason it’s a good school is that it encourages people to find the thing they love and to go for it.”

Eton was founded by King Henry VI in 1440 and is located across the River Thames in Windsor. We were given an extensive tour of the buildings including its famous chapel.  Eton is a boys’ boarding school with around 1,300 pupils who join at age 13. However, ECUSS is open to male and female students who are in year 12, the lower Sixth Form. ECUSS has run for 30 years and is aimed at state school students who have very good GCSE results and are applying to top universities. Its aim is to give students the enthusiasm and know-how to make a really persuasive university application. To apply, you have to complete a registration form, give details of your GCSE results and have a good reference from your Head teacher as well as your subject of study main teacher, essentially confirming your chance of success in gaining a place at Oxbridge is good.

I chose to study History at this 10-day residential course at Eton but there was a wide variety of other courses available including Languages, English, Classics, Maths, Philosophy, Geography, Politics and Economics and Sciences. There were 15 students in my History class and about 120 students in total studying many different subjects. We had a busy timetable with lessons, study time, sporting and cultural opportunities.

A usual day at ECUSS was intensive, lively and intellectually challenging; it consisted of 3 lessons of around one and a half hours each but we also had lots of reading, lesson preparation and homework to do. We also had some sessions with students studying different subjects. In our History lessons, we looked at History from different time periods and perspectives and considered historiography as to how History was written. We studied a huge variety of subjects such as the British Empire, British Nationalism, how it’s changed and how it increases and intensifies, for example, with Britain’s competitiveness with France. We also looked at genocide in a variety of sources including films such as ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘The Pianist’ and ‘Hotel Rwanda’. We explored orientalism in how other cultures are presented over time and we examined films such as the ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ where such cultures are often portrayed as savage. Our studies took us outside our A level curriculum to expand our knowledge and skills.

Additionally, my History group visited London one day. We went to Westminster Abbey which has been the setting for every coronation since 1066. We looked particularly at the tombs of the many famous people buried there including royalty such as Henry VII, Mary I and Elizabeth I, novelists such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, scientists Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking and the poets William Blake and Robbie Burns.

While in London, we also visited the British Museum where we were allowed to choose a period of history that we wanted to explore. I looked in a variety of areas but paid particular attention to the Anglo Saxon and Viking collections. These ranged from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea, and from North Africa to Scandinavia. The centuries 300-1100AD saw many changes in Europe as the Roman Empire broke down in the west, but continued as the Byzantine Empire in the east. As the British Museum website explains, “People, objects and ideas travelled across the continent, while Christianity and Islam emerged as major religions.” By 1100, the early forms of several modern states had developed and Europe as we know it today was taking shape.

The main part of this collection is the Anglo-Saxon ship burial from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk – it was discovered in 1939 when landowner Edith Pretty asked archaeologist Basil Brown to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property; one of the most important discoveries in British archaeology was made – the imprint of a 27-metre-long ship. At its centre was a ruined burial chamber packed with treasures such as Byzantine silverware, gold jewellery, a lavish feasting set, and most famously, an ornate iron helmet dating from the early AD 600s. This burial “clearly commemorated a leading figure of East Anglia, the local Anglo-Saxon kingdom. It may even have belonged to a king”. Luckily, Edith Pretty generously donated everything found on her land to The British Museum and it’s really interesting to see.

We also went on a visit to Oxford. We had a general look around the university city but we spent most time at Brasenose College (founded in 1509) where we had a tour and a tutorial; we looked at the Portuguese slave trade which was another new area of History we hadn’t studied at school. We also went inside Oxford University’s famous Bodleian Library which is one of the oldest libraries in Europe. It has over 12 million books making it the second-largest library in Britain after the British Library in London. Here, we looked at 16-17th Century sources about America as a newly discovered land.

At ECUSS, another important aspect was preparation for university entrance exams and interviews. We were all given Oxbridge interview technique advice, mock exams and we were asked to write a draft personal statement for interview practice. This was very useful experience. We also worked on our employer skills where the importance of confidence in interviews was stressed.

I met many new people from all over the UK who had come to study at Eton. We all had our own rooms which were the rooms actual students live in; they were nice but surprisingly basic for such an expensive school! It was good experience going away where you knew nobody, just like it will be when you go away to university.

My time at ECUSS was fun as well as hard work.  We did lots of extracurricular activities such as sports like water polo and rounders and we even had to do a group bonding salsa dancing class. It was all about stepping out of our comfort zones and trying new things. We had an evening barbeque overlooking Eton’s Lake, a disco and we had a formal leaving dinner.

There are many summer schools out there. Some specialise in specific subjects like Bryanston which runs many Classics related courses such as Ancient Greek. It’s certainly worthwhile investigating this, and similar summer schools, when you’re in Sixth Form.