The government’s so-called ‘Free Schools’ – semi-independent schools set up by groups and individuals outside of direct local government control – are proving controversial, with one such establishment, staffed by ex-military personnel and run like a military academy, hitting the headlines after several pupils complained of having been subjected to ‘beastings’ and bizarre initiation ceremonies. Police were last week called in to investigate the Joan of Arc Secondary School in Wokingham, after two twelve year old pupils were admitted to hospital with heat exhaustion and dehydration, having reportedly been forced to march ten miles across country in full combat gear and carrying heavy back packs. Within days, a fourteen year old had come forward to complain that he had been stripped from the waist down, tied to a radiator and had his testicles tarred and feathered before being allowed to join the school chess club. “Frankly, I’m very disappointed that these students and their parents have gone crying to the police, rather than coming and speaking to me,” the school’s Principal and founder, Major (Ret’d) Hector Twatchell, late of the 16th Foot and Mouth, told The Sleaze in an exclusive interview. “It just undermines our whole ethos of honour and our disciplinary code when people try to bring in outside authorities like this. The students find it highly confusing when some police officer or other busybody comes here telling them that our rules and way of doing things is somehow wrong – they can only be governed by one code of behaviour, for goodness sake!”

Twatchell is keen to dispel many of the myths surrounding his school, claiming that, despite the classroom presence of ex Sergeant Majors shouting key facts at students, the establishment’s aim isn’t simply to instil discipline into pupils through strict drilling and regimentation. “Look here, we don’t have a parade ground and we don’t have the pupils marching up and down in formation,” says the fifty one year old, who claims to have seen action and received wounds in theatres as varied as Catterick, Aldershot and Colchester. “That business of the boys on the route march, I can assure you it isn’t part of our normal PE curriculum. The fact is, though, that the boys in question needed to be disciplined – they’re inability to remember the eleven times table let their whole class down. They needed to know that failure has consequences – on the battlefield, their lack of team effort could have resulted in casualties!” Twatchell insists that, rather than turning pupils into soldiers, the school’s aim is simply to try and give ordinary pupils the benefit of tried and tested military values. “It’s the sort of thing that the rich are prepared to pay tens of thousands of pounds for when they send their children to public schools – but here, anyone can get them for free,” he declares, although conceding that the school does have a selection policy for entrants. “Obviously, we have to be sure that we get the sort of students who can benefit from this sort of training. After all, our aim is to produce the new ‘officer class’ to lead modern society.”

The retired officer believes that military philosophy can be successfully applied to many aspects of civilian life. “One of the key things we want to teach our students is that compassion is a weakness. Believe me, it is one of the things which has most held back our society and industry, this idea that we must be ‘compassionate’ toward the weak, the disadvantaged and the poor. Absolute rubbish – they’re the enemy!” he explains. “One of the first things you are taught in military training is to ‘dehumanise’ the enemy – like the way the Yanks referred to Viet-Cong fighters as ‘Gooks’, for example – it makes it easier to maim and kill them if you don’t see them as human beings. This is equally applicable to civilian life – we feel that it essential to teach our students not to view the lower classes and the needy as human beings. It will make it much easier, in adult life, for them to pay their employees low wages, rip off their pension funds and ultimately throw the bastards onto the dole queue, once they’ve finished asset stripping the company they’re running. If we can instil this kind of ruthlessness into a new generation of managers, bankers and financiers, then this country will be well on the road to economic recovery!”

Twatchell is also keen to defend the school’s rank-based disciplinary system, which sees higher-ranked students being able to apply discipline and give orders to ‘lower ranks’. “Not only does it help create a sense of responsibility amongst the boys, but it helps to reinforce the notion that society is hierarchy, where everyone should know their place and advancement is based upon who you know and how much it costs to buy them,” he says. “It also helps the pupils understand that there are ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and that it has nothing to do with intelligence or talent as to which camp you fall into, rather that it is pre-ordained on the basis of privilege.” Indeed, Twatchell admits that promoting academic results isn’t top of his school’s agenda. “It’s not all about getting exam results – judging people on the basis of their knowledge and intelligence is patently unfair. Just because someone is thick as shit, why should that be a bar to their success?” he asks. “ Why shouldn’t they be able to use their social connections and parent’s wealth to get on? I mean, if they didn’t exploit the advantages an accident of birth has given them, that really would be stupid, wouldn’t it? After all, being intelligent is just an accident of birth, isn’t it? So the geeks and swots aren’t doing anything different really, are they?”

However, critics of the school maintain that Twatchell’s educational approach – with its emphasis upon tough discipline, obedience and nurturing ruthless ambition – risks brutalising pupils. “Oh come on, all that physical deprivation, bullying and being shouted at and brutalised by rough working class men is a perfect training for life at the top of British business – haven’t you ever noticed the number of top company bosses who get exposed by the tabloids as sexual perverts?” he declares, in response to such criticisms. “ Let’s face it, you only know you’ve reached the top when you’ve had your predilection for being chained naked to a bed, and your genitals tortured with an electric cattle prod by a prostitute dressed as a member of the Spanish Inquisition, splashed across the front page of the Mail on Sunday! The extravagance of your fantasies is clearly a measure of your wealth! We’re confident that our military teaching regime can turn out generation after generation of sexually deviant leaders of industry, all fully capable of exceeding their predecessors in terms of gross perversion.” Despite Twatchell’s spirited defence of Joan of Arc Secondary, many educationalists are pointing to it of a prime example of the flawed nature of the whole ‘Free Schools’ concept, (which has been enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Michael Gove), arguing that it allows any crank to open their own school and subject students to their dubious ideas. Indeed, there have even been allegations that Twatchell wasn’t even in the regular military, having gained his commission from a World War Two re-enactment society after being cashiered from the Territorial Army for ‘conduct unbecoming with a regimental mascot.’