Prince Charles' school dubbed 'Colditz in kilts' runs lessons in listening and empathy

Camilla Turner
Gordonstoun is running lessons in

Prince Charles’ old school, which he famously dubbed “Colditz in kilts”, once had a reputation for cold showers and early morning runs.

Now Gordonstoun is running lessons in "empathy and understanding" to teach children how to perfect the "art of dialogue". 

The Scottish school, which charges £38,250-a-year for boarders, is running a three-day event called “Learning to Listen” where youngsters will take part in workshops and hear from negotiation experts.

Gordonstoun, which already boasts a Dialogue Society, said the event is open to children throughout the country as well as their own students.

Lisa Kerr, the school's principal, said the lessons were prompted by the “aggressive and confrontational tone” of world leaders which has left her “appalled”.

She said the lessons are aimed at teaching the “leaders of tomorrow” that “empathy and understanding are the keys to find solutions with which everyone can feel settled”.

Ms Kerr went on: “It is fine to disagree but there are better ways to express your opinion which will help all parties to reach a successful resolution.

“As a school founded by a Jew who fled Germany under persecution of the Nazis, which has always welcomed students from diverse backgrounds, we strongly believe that it is possible for people with different perspectives to reach a common understanding." 

Gordonstoun was founded in 1934 by German educator Kurt Hahn, an exile from Nazi Germany, who believed education was key to creating a new generation of community leaders.  It had a Platonic ethos and a focus on activities including sailing and mountaineering. 

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother warned against sending Prince Charles to boarding school in Scotland because she thought he would be miserable.

She petitioned the Queen not to send Prince Charles to Gordonstoun in Moray as he would feel “terribly cut off and lonely in the far north” and suggested that he instead attend the “staunchly protestant” Eton.  

Despite the Queen Mother’s pleas, the Duke of Edinburgh ruled that his eldest son would attend his alma mater, located in rugged countryside near Elgin.

But her concerns proved accurate after the young prince described the inter-denominational school as “Colditz in kilts”, and has also reportedly described his time there as "a prison sentence".   

In a letter home in 1963, he wrote: “The people in my dormitory are foul. Goodness, they are horrid. I don’t know how anybody could be so foul.”

The correspondence is included in Counting One’s Blessings, a recently published selection of the late Queen Mother’s letters compiled by William Shawcross, her official biographer.

However, Gordonstoun has fought back against the young Prince’s characterisation of his time at the school by pointing to a speech he made in the House of Lords in 1975.

Speaking at the launch of his charity, the Prince's Trust, he told the House of Lords: "I am always astonished by the amount of rot talked about Gordonstoun and the careless use of ancient cliches used to describe it.

"It was only tough in the sense that it demanded more of you as an individual than most other schools did - mentally or physically. "I am lucky in that I believe it taught me a great deal about myself and my own abilities and disabilities. 

"It taught me to accept challenges and take the initiative - why else do you think I am brave enough to stand up before your Lordships now?"