Diana takes William and Harry to school

How Princess Diana changed education for the royal family

The late royal wanted to keep her sons grounded

Danielle Stacey

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have celebrated one of Princess Charlotte’s milestones this week, as she started at Thomas’s Battersea school in west London. But the British royal family’s education over the years has changed with the times and it’s all down to Princess Diana, who wanted to give sons Prince William and Prince Harry an ordinary upbringing.

William became the first future monarch to be entirely educated in the public school system, starting at Mrs Mynors' nursery in Notting Hill in September 1985, before going to Wetherby Prep School two years later. Following this, William attended Ludgrove independent boarding school in Wokingham and then he was admitted to Eton College in 1995 after passing the entrance exam. 

In contrast, his grandmother the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret were home-schooled in Buckingham Palace by their governess Marion Crawford and private tutors, as was tradition. Their lessons at the palace concentrated on history, language, literature and music. When her father George VI became king in 1936, the then Princess Elizabeth received private tuition in constitutional history from Eton College’s Vice-Provost, Henry Marten, as she prepared for her future role as monarch.

Charles, Diana and William on Harry's first day at Mrs Mynors' nursery in 1987

Similarly, her eldest child and heir to the throne Prince Charles was taught by his governess Catherine Peebles at Buckingham Palace between the ages of five and eight, before he attended Hill House school in west London. He then followed in his father Prince Philip’s footsteps at Cheam Preparatory School in Berkshire and then Gordonstoun in Scotland.

READ: Princess Charlotte's first day at school: EVERYTHING you need to know

While there have been conflicting reports over whether Charles enjoyed his time at boarding school, in an interview with the Observer Magazine in 1974, the Prince said: "I am glad I went to Gordonstoun. It wasn't the toughness of the place - that's all much exaggerated by report - it was the general character of the education there - Kurt Hahn's principles; an education which tried to balance the physical and mental with the emphasis on self-reliance to develop a rounded human being. I didn't enjoy school as much as I might have, but that was only because I'm happier at home than anywhere else." 

Charles’ siblings Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward were also taught by a governess within the palace walls, who would have been responsible for their early education. At the age of 13, Anne was sent to Benenden School, an independent boarding school for girls in Kent, where she later left with six O-Levels and two A-Levels in 1968. After their initial home-schooling, Andrew and younger brother Edward both attended Heatherdown, a prep school for boys in Ascot, before going to Gordonstoun.

Diana was a regular on the school run with William and Harry

But when it came to Prince William and Harry, Diana insisted on giving her children an education that was as normal as possible, outside palace walls. During her childhood, she was initially home-schooled by her governess, Gertrude Allen but later began her formal education at Silfield Private School, followed by Riddlesworth Hall, all-girls boarding school near Thetford, when she was nine. In 1973, she joined West Heath Girls’ School in Sevenoaks, Kent, but failed her O-Levels twice. She did however show a particular talent for music, dancing and domestic science.

READ: Best photos of Princess Charlotte as she starts school

Before meeting Prince Charles, Diana was an assistant at the Young England Kindergarten school in Pimlico, a nursery, which used the Montessori method. It was therefore no surprise that she wanted her sons to be schooled in the same way – a teaching method that balances work and play and encourages children to develop at their own rate.

Diana's former press secretary Patrick Jephson also told ABC News that Diana did her best to keep her boys grounded in other ways. "She made sure that they experienced things like going to the cinema, queuing up to buy a McDonalds, going to amusement parks, those sorts of things that were experiences that they could share with their friends," he said.

Kate, William and George on Charlotte's first day at school

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have followed suit with Prince George, as he began his education at Westacre Montessori nursery school in Norfolk in January 2016, when the Cambridges lived at Anmer Hall. He was enrolled at the co-educational Thomas’s Battersea in September 2017, which teaches pupils aged four to 13. It’s too early to say whether six-year-old George, who is heading into Year 2, will also follow in his father and uncle Prince Harry’s footsteps and go to Eton for his secondary school education.

By the time Princess Charlotte was ready to begin nursery in January 2018, the Cambridges had moved to their London residence in Kensington Palace, and the then two-year-old joined Willcocks school. While the family have the assistance of Norland nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo, Kate and William are both regulars on the school run and with Charlotte now at Thomas's Battersea with George, that saves them having to do an extra drop-off. 

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