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What is Boarding Like?

A Busy Life

Access to school staff and facilities after the teaching day is a major benefit for boarding pupils. Homework for younger pupils will be supervised and therefore orderly, but with help available if needed. School libraries are valuable, well equipped resources in the evenings or at weekends, reminding pupils of the wisdom on their shelves as well as on the Internet.

Computer-use is likely to be carefully monitored for the safety of pupils, for obvious reasons. Schools are happy to discuss their provision for such safety with parents.

Clubs and activities offer opportunities beyond the academic day to discover and nurture talents, to explore occupations which may be life changing. One young woman who went on to represent England as a rower, recalls of her early days at boarding school, ‘I'll never forget the day someone said, "Does anyone fancy rowing?" and I'd never thought of it before, but I said yes, and it changed my life.'

The extended day gives children the time and the chance to try something different, or pursue an established interest. School plays and musicals need directors, stage managers and lighting technicians as well as actors. Many a serious musician, with hours in the music practice rooms to hone his skills, has found time at boarding school to get together with like-minded souls and start a rock band as well.

Sport plays a major part in the lives of many boarding schools, with whole afternoons given to its practice, and matches frequently played, by players at all levels of enthusiasm and skill, both after school and on Saturdays. Many of Britain's Olympians were able to find the time for excellence because they were boarders. Not having to run for the bus in their teens may have given them the time to be good enough eventually to run - or row, or swim - for their country.

 

CREDIT: Image header taken from BSA member school Farlington School

  • Facilities

    Over and above the classrooms and laboratories, the dormitories and common rooms, boarding schools are able to offer superb facilities such as theatres, swimming pools, courts, pitches and tracks, the essentials for both serious application and participation for fun. A boarding life is likely to be the very opposite of the limited life sometimes lead by children who live a distance from school and are caught by the logistics of transport or parental availability. Prep, a choir practice, a game of football and a swim before cocoa with friends and bed with a good book is a better framework for an evening than hours spent at a computer or watching television.

  • But What About The Parents?

    Now more than ever both parents may be involved in careers which bring responsibility and reward but also require dedication and long hours, often with long journeys to and from work. For time-poor parents, a boarding school for their child is the perfect solution. More than 80% of parents live within an hour and a half of their child's boarding school, so it is possible to get to the matches or performances, to support at parents' evenings and be part of a child's life at school. Parents are not forgotten, and the star performer will glow a little more brightly when Mum and Dad are in the front row.

    But the full boarding life fills the child's week with opportunity, fun and companionship, better by far than a succession of baby-sitters, au pairs with dubious English skills, or passing on the stairs at the end of a long day.

    Indeed, boarding education can be a very cost-effective solution to the problem of busy parents and active, interested children who need ferrying to judo on Monday, jazz band on Tuesday and rugby practice twice a week. In addition, there will be savings to be made on food, laundry, heat and light and travel costs.

    For many parents, the biggest worry about children going to boarding school is how much they will miss them. Happily, contact with parents has never been easier. Parents and Houseparents in charge of boarding houses are in constant reassuring contact by phone, e-mail, fax and regular meetings. Boarding houses will have private telephone kiosks and booths for student use, and few children go to boarding school without a mobile phone. No, they won't be able to use them in lessons or during school hours, but everyone acknowledges the importance of keeping in touch with home, parents and siblings, by phone or e-mail or Skype or MSN. Modern boarding really is a partnership between school and parents, with both parties seeking the best for the child and the child drawing reassurance from that supportive team.

    Many boarding schools are more flexible than ever before, offering full boarding, weekly boarding or even occasional boarding to suit parents' and pupils' needs. Weekly boarding has been a modern response to the wish of parents both to provide the best all-round educational experience for their children, and have time to spend with them. There is often a tacit agreement that the whole family works hard all week, but they spend weekends together - the sometimes mythical ‘quality time'. This is another element in the diversity of schools - whatever your family wants, you are likely to find a school which provides it in the wide range of boarding schools available.

  • A Place To Learn

    Boarding schools are likely to spot the potential in any child, nurture it and expect that success will follow. Some are academically the best in the world; others provide the environment in which less high-flying talents can develop and flourish. Some specialise in helping dyslexic pupils achieve their full potential with their particular skills, whatever the damage which may have been done in a less sympathetic educational environment.

    You can be certain that all UK boarding schools seek to help all pupils achieve their full potential. Their academic record is second to none, a consequence of small classes taught by highly professional teachers, in settings with excellent facilities and an overall ethos of achievement being the norm.

    Perhaps more important, in all of them, academic success is something of which to be proud. As one boarder recently remarked, ‘It's definitely cool to do well - people expect you to do your best in everything, and there's loads of help available if you're finding it tough.'

    In addition to the evidence provided by league tables and examination results, education in independent boarding schools is subject to inspection every six years by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. Their reports are published on their website, and the schools' websites will also carry their latest report. Use them as part of your selection process. They offer an objective view of schools which should be useful to inform your final decision.

  • Safety First

    In April 2007, responsibility for inspecting the boarding element in schools passed from the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) to Ofsted. So important is the welfare of children, that boarding inspections takes place every three years, with reports published on the Ofsted website.

    CSCI inspections had been organised according to the National Boarding Standards, against which schools were judged. These Standards, covering the range of welfare, health and policy issues appropriate for boarding schools, will be used by Ofsted as they continue what will be called welfare inspections in boarding schools.

    Inspectors will talk to children and, increasingly, seek their views as primary consumers of the service offered by schools. Any concern raised by a child will be rigorously pursued, as will any suspicion of child abuse.

    All schools will have firm policies to deal effectively with bullying. Staff are scrupulous about taking action to deal with situations as they arise and before they become serious. Schools are accountable to pupils themselves, to parents who have entrusted them with their most precious child, and to the inspectors who watch over their proceedings. With boarding staff increasingly availing themselves of the university-accredited training offered by the Boarding Schools' Association, schools are safer, more secure and more aware of pupils' needs than ever before.

  • And Then...

    Many boarding schools have links with universities which enable a student's progress through the process of applying for a degree, and Careers Departments and tutors are well practiced in overseeing the application itself. 90% of boarding pupils proceed to the university of their choice. Many go on to university having at some point in their academic careers believed that they would never make it to university, but having enjoyed the support and encouragement which made it possible. Helping pupils get to the right course at the right university is part of the boarding school package.

    Whether or not a student decides to go on to further study, a boarding education is one of the best possible starts in life a young person could wish for. Boarding pupils develop independence and confidence, a capacity to get on with others and relate to people from all over the world and from cultures very different from their own. Kevin Roberts, the Chief Executive Officer of Saatchi and Saatchi worldwide, said at a recent conference that boarding makes the rounded people today's market place demands, with many of the skills over and above academic achievement which are the corner-stones of success.

    In developing lives of their own from a young age, by learning to live with others and understand and respect them, as well as resolving conflict when it occurs, these young people will develop all the skills they will need to go out and meet the challenges of this twenty first century world. And they will take with them achievements, friendships and interests that may last them a lifetime.

    Robin Fletcher

    National Director of the Boarding Schools' Association

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