Last Night’s TV – Cutting Edge: Leaving Home at 8

by Lynn Connolly

I’m not sure what was the worst thing about this film; watching the anxious mothers as they were separated from their children or watching the children as they were separated from their mothers.

I think on balance, it would have to be the latter because as ever, the children didn’t really get a say. Boarding school was thrust upon them and they had to go, like it or not, and for April and Simone, it was a resounding ‘not’.

These little girls wept heartily and often as homesickness set in and simply wouldn’t be assuaged, even with hugs and kind words from the school nurse and a student helper.

And little April was perhaps the most heartbreaking of all…

We saw that one of her little friends was having her first visit with her mum since leaving for school, and April, clearly desperate for the attentions of a mother figure, hugged the little girl’s mum as if she were a life raft in the middle of the ocean.

But, though the mum in question proffered a hug of sorts, she clearly – and understandably – had eyes only for her own little girl, and it was physically painful to watch April being sidelined.

And meanwhile, we heard from various mums – several of whom were army wives and therefore prone to being moved around the world at the drop of a hat – explaining their reasons for choosing to put their kids in boarding school. And for many, it was the uncertainty and lack of continuity in their military lives that prompted the move.

So was it a sort of being cruel to be kind thing? Were the children better off having the one set ‘base’, that being school, or would it have been better to move them around but keep them as a family unit?

I guess the answer to that is a subjective one and of course, the parents featured in this film chose the ‘stability’ of boarding school. But I’m afraid I couldn’t agree.

As the tear stained faces sought out comfort from pretty much any passing adult, I couldn’t help but feel it was a cruelty. That it was a decision made out of love I don’t doubt, but I know for me, it would never have been an option, even if my finances had permitted it.

Frankly, I believe it’s like being put into care. Granted the surroundings are a good deal more upmarket but really, when you get right down to it, being separated from your family at such a formative time surely can’t be a good thing? The fact that the parents are paying for the privilege doesn’t make it any better as far as I’m concerned.

And throughout the programme, we saw that little by little, the children were becoming detached from their parents. This, for the school, was of course a good thing because it meant that the children stayed put and the cheques kept coming in.

So when we heard from the headmistress about how over anxious parents who wanted to telephone their kids were “just making it worse”, I couldn’t help but wonder if the purported altruism – it’s best for the child, don’t upset him/her by showing you care – was actually just a part of ensuring that detachment was made permanent. After all, nobody pays school fees if a child goes home.

Overall, I found this film disturbing and upsetting. I can’t generically condemn the parents though, because it was clear that they found it painful too and thought they were doing the best thing for their children. But that wasn’t much comfort to April or Simone when they cried in the night.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.