Why choose boarding?

From boarding house pets and paintballing to fantastic facilities and academic rigour, boarding schools have moved with the times to meet the needs of the modern family. We take a look at why families around the world choose boarding.

TASIS The American School in England

TASIS The American School in England

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Boarding has undergone a renaissance in recent years. Long gone are the days when families waved their children off on the first day of term, not to lay eyes on them again until the last. The modern offering now provides a range of residential options to choose from, including full boarding, weekly boarding or flexi-boarding.
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For relocating families the option of a residential education can be a particularly appealing option, providing an anchor point in a sea of change.Karin Purcell, of Marymount London, a Catholic boarding school for girls, believes that choosing a boarding education can have very obvious advantages in the global mobility context. “The benefits of continuity and academic consistency provided by remaining at the same school are immeasurable,” says Ms Purcell. “It removes the stress of changing systems, languages, climates, cultures and friends, especially in the final years of education, when disruption is least desirable.”

Modern boarding: meeting the needs of modern families

John Attewell, head of boarding at Box Hill School, a co-educational day and boarding school in Surrey, sums up the shift in boarding. “Traditionally, boarding existed as a means of accommodating students who were schooled away from home. In that sense, in many ways it just existed to provide meals, a bed and sometimes hot showers. Academic development was paramount and the boarding element was almost inconsequential. What modern boarding seeks to do is to contribute to the social and personal development of each student,” he explains.It is this holistic approach that has gained in popularity, and has seen schools developing state of the art facilities to provide as much for the well-being and interests of children outside of the classroom as within.Jerudong International School (JIS), located in the tiny country of Brunei, is a case in point. It has consistently invested in its facilities over the years, and it now has the largest international school campus in the world. Its boarding facility caters for students between the ages of ten to 19 within four boarding houses (2 Boys and 2 Girls). The school’s arts centre contains a 725-seat auditorium, dance studios, smaller theatres and rehearsal rooms and the impressive range of sports facilities was boosted further when the new sports complex – including a fully equipped gym, two large sports halls and an eight-lane, 25- metre indoor pool – was completed in 2017.

Curricula to suit the globally mobile family

Many boarding schools around the world choose a US or UK curriculum as their focus, but there are now almost 370 schools with boarding facilities across the world that offer the International Baccalaureate (IB).ACS Cobham, an international day and boarding school in Surrey and TASIS The American International School in England offer the best of both worlds – a US-based curriculum with the Advanced Placement and the IB Diploma.Sevenoaks School in Kent has taught the IB programme for 40 years, Jerudong International School teaches the IB programme in Brunei. Whatever corner of the globe a family is moving to, it is likely they will find an international boarding school that caters to their needs.

The growth of flexi-boarding

Over the past 10 years, boarding schools have endeavoured to respond to the ever-changing needs of the modern family lifestyle. Busy parents have increasingly pushed for a more flexible approach to boarding, one that enables students to switch from traditional boarding patterns to staying the night on a flexible basis.Flexi-boarding allows working parents the freedom to pursue their busy careers in the knowledge that their children are well cared for, but they can come home whenever they want to.Explains a spokesperson from International School Eerde in the Netherlands, “Expat families in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany get the best of both worlds when they choose a flexible boarding package. We are the only international school in the Netherlands to offer multiple flexible boarding options: five-day boarding, two and three-day boarding, and even 90-day boarding packages. We also offer summer schools and school holiday boarding packages, lasting two to four weeks.”This flexible provision is typical of many boarding schools today, enabling spontaneity within a traditionally rigid system and providing for the evolving needs of their market.Weekly and flexi-boarding offer a more tailored boarding experience to suit the needs of individual families. While weekly boarders can opt to travel home at the weekends, flexi-boarders can take advantage of boarding for part of the week, perhaps to break up a week of long journeys to and from school.

The benefits of boarding

But parents don’t choose a boarding school just because of logistics. There are many benefits of boarding as Lynsay Scott, Science Teacher and housemistress at Jerudong International School in Brunei is quick to point out.“Boarding students learn to be responsible for themselves and their possessions, developing character traits like self-reliance and independence in a community environment,” she says.“International boarding schools host a diverse range of international and domestic students who share meals, Houses and classes – fostering a close bond that transcends gender, geographical, racial or ethnic differences. Students learn that a person’s character is as meaningful as their background – an important lesson boarders can take with them for years to come.”Tracey Gray, External Relations Manager at Merchiston Castle School, an all-boys boarding school in Edinburgh, emphasises the benefits of a single-sex education.“At Merchiston, we really believe in the boys-only model. We are now the only boys-only boarding school in Scotland, and is an important part of what makes the Merchiston product special – it is a factor in our academic and sporting excellence and helps provide the safe, nurturing and collegiate environment where Merchiston boys can grow into the confident, purposeful and charming young men for which, as a school, we are famous.“Meanwhile, with our extensive links with our partner schools, boys enjoy an active and fulfilling social life – it really is the best of both worlds.”These current pupils certainly agree: “Before I came to Merchiston, I wondered if a boys-only school would be insular and suffocating. The reality couldn’t have been more different. You get to know people for who they really are, building friendships twice as quickly as you would somewhere else. At the same time, the boys-only environment really helps with lessons and sport. We sometimes enjoy being competitive, but you get much less acting up or feelings of insecurity than in a mixed environment. Socially we also really benefit – conversation and humour is light-hearted and relaxed, with none of the negative aspects you sometimes see in a mixed environment.”“Boarding at Merchiston is great fun, and I would recommend anyone to try it. You make lifelong friends as you progress through school and it teaches you valuable social skills for later life. There is none of the bravado which boys put on when girls are around, and we can really focus on our studies. The social skills we learn here are very easily transferable and you’re certainly not missing out. Boys-only schools can offer a different type of experience to co-ed: many pupils will find a single sex environment very beneficial, like I have.”

How boarding schools foster ‘international mindedness’

Indeed, education experts suggest the international-mindedness that comes from being exposed to new cultures and nationalities can help children to empathise with the needs of others different to themselves, which will pay dividends when they move into the workplace.Erin Woodhams, director of admissions and marketing at the British International School of Chicago, part of the Nord Anglia Education group, says, “On top of the global-mindedness our students acquire, it seems families want their children to see their world as bigger than their local city and to someday find themselves studying, working or living in many different locations.”It is this unique environment at boarding schools, where students from different nationalities live, work and play together that fosters this mind-set. As one boarding student at Jerudong International School explains, “I really value the diversity at JIS. I have friends from all sorts of different cultures and nationalities. It makes the discussions in class and activities such as the Model United Nations a lot more interesting, as we have a wider range of experience and attitudes to draw from.”Sevenoaks School in Kent, a coeducational day and boarding school for students aged 11-18, has seven boarding houses and was named Independent Secondary School of the Year in The Sunday Times 2017 Parent Power rankings. Its international reputation often attracts globally mobile families.“The global appeal isn’t just the huge variation of nationalities at the school. Many of our parents are expatriate; they work in a vibrant global mix and recognise a similar mix in the make-up of our international boarding houses. Their children are here because they believe the connections they make will open up a whole world of opportunity in the future,” says head of boarding, Nichola Haworth.Although initially it is a huge step for children to board, good boarding schools have excellent pastoral procedures in place to ensure a smooth transition. In fact, counsels Elaine Jameson, house parent for Kent College Canterbury’s girls’ boarding house, you may end up missing them more than they miss you. “Prepare yourself as your daughter will be so busy that she won’t necessarily phone you every day! This is a good sign as it shows that she is happy and making new friends.”
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