Controversy has erupted surrounding an exclusive boarding school in North Wales following an email regarding students and romantic relationships sent recently by its principal. Toby Belfield, the principal of Ruthin School in Denbighshire, emailed students and staff his opinions and policies on teenage relationships, writing that “any student in a relationship will definitely get a worse [university] reference from me,” and that “school is not the place for romantic relationships — ever.” The outcry against the email has been fast and swift; according to the Independent, it has “provoked anger from parents” of students attending the school, while many commenters online have expressed similar sentiments. Said Belfield in a statement provided to Bustle, “In my experience, students who are in a relationship whilst at school are at danger of academically underachieving.” Warning students against having romantic relationships was meant to serve the “primary objective of the School — to enable [students] to fulfil their academic potential and go to the best universities in the world,” Belfield's statement continued.
Belfield’s original email was acquired by UK newspaper The Daily Post, which published an image of the missive on Jan. 23. A copy of the email was also provided to Bustle by Ruthin School. In it, Belfield stated that in the previous year, he had “expelled two students for sexual contact” in school, and that he would “NOT hesitate to do so again.” He also informed staff that they were “to be much more vigilant.”
In the email he additionally noted, “I STRONGLY disapprove of any boyfriend/girlfriend relationships — and it will ALWAYS affect any university reference I write (meaning — any student in a relationship will definitely get a worse reference from me)”; according to Belfield's email, “relationships can start at university — and not at Ruthin School.” Belfield wrote that he would be speaking to staff and compiling a list of students who were in romantic relationships; these students, he said, “if in L6 or F5 can expect to find new schools in September.”
He concluded the email, “School is not the place for romantic relationships — ever.”
In a statement provided to Bustle by Ruthin School, Belfield expanded on why he believes it's inappropriate for students to carry out romantic relationships. “Parents choose Ruthin School because it is a top ranking academic institution,” Belfield said. “In my experience, students who are in a relationship, whilst at school, are at danger of academically underachieving. Therefore, if they devote their time to their studies, rather than the emotional turmoil connected with teenage romance, they will achieve higher grades and go to better universities.” Added Belfield, “This is the primary objective of the School — to enable them to fulfill their academic potential and go to the best universities in the world.”
Belfield’s statement also clarified his position on several of the more controversial points of the email, which he described as “a generic one [sent] to all students, to try to dissuade them from being in a teenage relationship.” Concerning university references, he said in the statement, “If a student was achieving top grades … then I would not hamper their chances of a university place by writing a less favorable reference, due to them having a boyfriend/girlfriend.” About the threat of expulsion, he said, “Pupils will not be summarily expelled for being in a relationship. They will be given the opportunity to review their current romantic situation, and my belief is that they (and their parents) will put their education first.”
However, many people aren’t on board with these policies specifically, or with Belfield’s stance more generally.
Belfield’s position is that, although learning to understand and manage their own emotions is an essential part of children’s and teens’ development, dating isn't a necessary part of this process. “That can be done by education (which we as a School provide in the form of Personal, Social, Health, and Economic lessons),” he said in a statement provided to Bustle. “It is not necessary for children to have romantic teenage relationships whilst at School.” Belfield also maintained in his statement that he “[does] not tell children that having a relationship is wrong,” merely that “having a relationship whilst at school is unnecessary and damaging to their education.”
But concerns about these beliefs and policies expressed by others run the gamut from students missing out an essential piece of preparation for university and beyond:
To privacy issues:
To some potential side effects policies like these might have on students:
To… well, these:
To be fair, there are some folks who have come out in support of Belfield’s thoughts and policies:
And, in some respects, those stances makes sense. Yes, doing well in school is important for future success. But here’s the thing: Education isn’t just about book-learning; it’s also about learning interpersonal skills and pro-social behavior — which studies have shown can predict success later in life in both higher education and the workplace. What’s more, these skills and behaviors are essential when it comes to being able to develop healthy relationships as adults, as well. By making romantic relationships verboten in school, kids and teenagers are deprived of valuable opportunities to learn these skills — which can have a negative impact on them as they grow older and enter adulthood.
What’s more, people are capable of caring about more than one thing at a time — even when they’re young. It’s possible for a teenager to care about school, and about a relationship. Yes, they might need to do a little more work as they figure out how to balance those elements of their lives (and any of the myriad other things they might care about — hobbies, passions, whatever) — but it’s essential that they be given the freedom to sort that all out. They need to be allowed to make mistakes, too; that’s one of the ways we learn, after all.
It’s true that Belfield and the school can set whatever policies they like for their students. But it’s also true that just because they can set them doesn’t mean they should — or that those policies are even good ideas in the first place. Parents, consider this a reminder to research carefully where you send your kids to school. If you’re spending £34,500 a year on it (which is Ruthin’s yearly cost for boarding students) you might want to make sure you’re OK with all the institution’s policies — both in the classroom and outside of it.