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Work in a boarding school

Working in a boarding school can be one of the most rewarding jobs you can have.  You will be there to guide each child as they grow and develop into confident young adults.

As a member of the boarding team you should:

• relish the opportunity to be more involved with pastoral care of the pupils that extends far beyond the schools day  

• You have an interest in, and wish to develop your skills in, counselling and pastoral support of children

• You wish to extend your range of experience so that your hand is stronger for future applications, which can then include senior positions in schools with boarding - there are 500 independent and state boarding schools in the UK and more overseas – this role can provide you with worldwide experience

• You are interested in headship - a successful spell in boarding will add an extra dimension to your CV

Boarding schools typically have longer holidays than most independent schools. The reason is that many teach or run activities on a Saturday morning and hold serious sports sessions on Saturday afternoons. Those days add to the calendar and bring a boarding school in with a longer, albeit compressed, teaching year. Accommodation is usually provided for live-in pastoral staff and you will be on call should the pupils need help in the middle of the night, much as a parent would be if their child was at home.

Boarding schools come in all shapes and sizes. There are large schools with small boarding operations, and boarding schools with no day pupils at all. There are single sex and co-ed, and prep schools and senior schools, and the configuration of boarding is likely to differ. 

Mostly, boarders are divided into ‘Houses’ which means a single building shared by pupils of all ages, with the senior pupils having lots of opportunities for leadership and mentoring of younger pupils, and, ideally, keeping a watchful eye on younger pupils almost on behalf of the staff.  It provides opportunities for a close family feel within the house, and for youngsters to feel an identity within the bigger reality of their whole school, and senior pupils can experience leadership roles responsibly.

Senior students, particularly in the Sixth Form will tend to be housed in separate accommodation, often in single study bedrooms, with en suite facilities.  Numbers of boarders rise in sixth forms, and schools are responding to this growth.

If you are looking to work in a boarding school find the right place for you.  Schools are micro-climates. Never mind the boarding for a minute, what about the school? Will it suit you and your interests and your style of teaching? Is it selective?  How does the school value sport or the arts? Can you participate in school productions?

It’s never been easier to check out a school’s record – ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) reports for education and boarding are publicly available.

The National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools have set in stone the right of anyone working in boarding to a proper induction upon arrival, and to continuous professional development thereafter. If you have had no training before applying, ask if it’s possible before appointment, and if not, as soon as possible thereafter. 

The BSA provides many training opportunities including day seminars, on-line courses and a number of conferences throughout the year to aid the professional development of boarding staff.  Topics include working with international students, how best to deal with cyber bullying, from homesickness to bereavement. 

But if you are serious about working in boarding, you should be asking your school to finance you through the BSA’s Certificate in Boarding Education, accredited by
Roehampton University. It takes two years and focuses on research into a topic of interest to the students in their particular boarding circumstances. This is the gold standard for training, increasingly demanded by schools making senior appointments in boarding staff.

Once you have gained the Certificate and experience, and you seek a more senior post, the BSA Diploma in Leading Boarding is the next step..

The likelihood is that any boarding community will have a number of international students. The magic word for many schools in their recruiting is ‘diversity’ and they actively seek pupils from different countries around the world so that their boarding houses do not become wholly populated by children from one country, and by definition one culture. 

Ask for clear information about the boarding house you will be joining - where do most of the boarders come from?   Learning English is of course one of their prime reasons to come to a UK boarding school, but it is useful and even courteous for any member of staff to equip themselves with the basics of a language in order to help children settle in to their new school.

There will be cultural differences also which are probably more easily learned that the language itself, and certainly more easily researched. For instance, a Confucian education respects scholarship in the form of
learning and being able to repeat that which was known before - reading and learning, whereas in the western system, more credit is given to individual and creative thought, going beyond what is already written, discussion and debate leading to inspiration - if we are lucky. Hence the different views of the copying out of what is already written - in the east this may be seen as scholarship; in the west, it is frowned on as plagiarism.  A second major difference is the eastern preference for
silence, as opposed to the western approval of talk, and the capacity to do it well - compare how many great western leaders are renowned for their rhetoric and capacity to talk, as opposed to eastern leaders who may be better known for what they did rather than what they said.  Get acquainted with at least some of the background to your students. Many things may be explained, fewer mistakes may be made.

Master time management.  This may be another target area of training, though, for some people it comes naturally. Just know before you start that working in boarding will expand your working day exponentially and you will need to be on top of it all the time. Be very clear with the Head about your time commitment to academic teaching   

However you manage it, whatever it takes, your health comes first. It’s a bit like the advice in a plane - attach your own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. You need to stay fit before any other advice, here or elsewhere, can be acted upon. You are no good to yourself, your family, your students, your boarders or the school if you are off sick.

Finally, enjoy your boarding role.  It is the most rewarding job you can have and you are looking precious cargo, assisting them to develop into confident young adults.

For further information please see the Boarding Briefing Paper below So you think you would like to work in Boarding? 

CREDIT: Image header taken from BSA member school Oswestry School

of boarding pupils proceed to the university of their choice.