The new boarding experience: Perspectives from schools

The modern boarding school could not be more different from the traditional image of draughty dormitories and muddy hockey fields, as some of the country’s leading boarding schools explain.

TASIS The American School in England - students

TASIS The American School in England

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From up-to-the-minute classroom technology and supportive pastoral care in artistically decorated boarding houses to the tailored arrangements of modern flexi-boarding, parents looking for a residential school for their child now have the opportunity to take advantage of a thoroughly 21st-century educational experience.

Modern boarding

“Today’s boarding is about attaining academic excellence and building confidence, leadership skills and independence, as well as gaining a sense of community and cultural understanding. Far from sending their child away, parents choose a boarding school because they believe in making a selfless decision to allow their child to realise their true potential.“The open-door policy of modern boarding, coupled with excellent communication between school and home, means that parents are continuously in touch with progress and can regularly pop in to school for matches, concerts and plays.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country experts“Every boarding school prides itself on the ability to nurture each individual child to enable them to accomplish the highest academic achievement, but boarding schools are about so much more than just academic study. They are about developing knowledgeable, independent, confident youngsters who leave school with the skills to succeed in their chosen further-education option or career.“Sports, music, drama, art, design and technology, debating, the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, Young Enterprise, and community service are just a few of the many extracurricular options.”Catherine Stoker, The Independent Education Consultants 
“d’Overbroeck’s has always been about space; space to have your own ideas, space to be yourself, space to be curious. And with our brand new sixth form teaching facilities in North Oxford, we have an outstanding environment in which students can learn: the latest lab facilities, performance hall, art studios and classrooms that invite students to get up and write on the interactive whiteboards or even the glass walls of the science rooms!“It is an inspiring place; a modern learning environment reflecting our passion for learning.“Our boarders also have a brand new boarding house just opposite which is designed to be a light and airy space, a place that makes people want to come and study with us!”Andrew Gillespie, director of studies, d’Overbroeck’s, Oxford (co-educational independent school for students aged 11–18)

Home from home

“Pupils enjoy boarding houses that are both spacious and cosy, with a sense of intimacy created by a smaller number of pupils per house.“Whether it’s adventure activities in the woods, in-house bake-offs, respecting a quiet and studious prep time, or doing house chores together, boys and girls learn how to work hard, play hard and serve well.”Nick Seward, headmaster, Kingham Hill School, Kingham, Oxfordshire (independent co-educational day and boarding school for students aged 11–18)
“Girls benefit from impressive boarding facilities that are welcoming, warm, comfortable and a real home from home. They really enjoy living in their houses – from the cosy dorms of the lower years to the individual ensuite bedrooms of the sixth form. One of the great strengths of boarding at St Mary’s Calne is that girls board in year groups (what we call ‘horizontal boarding’), which means not only that each boarding house is designed for the needs of that year group but also that the housemistress and her team of tutors are specialists in that year group. They are therefore fully attuned to the development stage of the girls in their care and can plan weekend activities to suit their interests and tastes, whether it’s Reeling with Eton in the fourth form or Wine Tasting Society in the sixth form.“It also means that girls share a house with all of their peer group, and this encourages them to have a wide circle of friends. Our educational ethos is predicated on the breadth of education boarding offers. With longer days, and girls and staff on site working together, all can participate in the outstanding teaching and learning, as well as a wealth of extracurricular activities.”Dr Felicia Kirk, headmistress, St Mary’s Calne, Wiltshire (independent day and boarding school for girls aged 11–18)
“Modern boarding at TASIS England provides students with a home away from home in a multicultural context. Students have the advantage of a holistic education: a structured environment in which our students can achieve their best academically alongside opportunities for them to grow as individuals through sports, travel, exploration and other extracurricular activities.“Within the school culture and community, students are still able to maintain their identities and ties to home and can spend weekends off campus with their families. Students who remain at school have opportunities to leave campus and explore nearby places with friends or see a show and do a bit of shopping in London.”Taniea Engel, house parent and upper school English teacher, TASIS The American School in England (co-educational international school near London for day (ages 3-18) and boarding pupils (ages 14-18))

The advantages of boarding

“Boarding is far from the experience of the past. Boarders themselves recognise that they often have a more diverse social life, a wider variety of interests and closer relationships with their friends than day pupils. Parents often note that their children who board develop high levels of confidence, independence, social skills and self-motivation.“Boarding offers true wrap-around care! Activities are able to run into the evening – from indoor football to school debates and trips out of school. It is easier for pupils to get the amount of sleep they need, without time and energy spent commuting.Tracey Gray, external relations manager, Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh (independent boys boarding school for pupils aged 7–18 

Preparing children for boarding

“There is no easy way to prepare a child for boarding, and any preparation will be dependent on the individual student. The student may have some anxieties, and these need to be addressed with some positive reinforcement.“Parents should speak openly with the child about the experience/adventure they are about to embark upon. Familiarity of surroundings is also important as an initial step to relieving homesickness, so if you do have the opportunity to have a taster session, this will help.“Most boarding schools will have an induction process to help the student settle in. This will include orientation sessions, icebreakers, bonding experiences, and so on. At Box Hill School, we have in-house activities; the sixth-formers all take part in an assault course, house meetings, marshmallow and hot chocolate evenings, and other activities. All house staff must complete an induction sheet for each individual student, which covers the crucial information they need to be aware of.“We also have an orientation trip to Dorking, to show pupils where to catch the bus, the library, banks and mobile phone shops. In addition, each student receives a welcome pack that includes Oyster cards, bus timetables, a school map, school information, and some goodies.”Alison Vernon, director of communications and development, Box Hill School, Surrey (independent coeducational boarding and day school for pupils aged 11–18) 
“The best way parents can prepare their children is to help them with organisational skills, as they will have responsibilities within the boarding House. Parents should also encourage their children to speak about their feelings and be open with the people around them.“We recognise that every child’s needs are different and reflect this in every aspect of our approach to schooling, including boarding. There is always someone to talk to at Culford.”From a discussion with boarding staff, Culford School, Suffolk (coeducational independent day and boarding school for pupils aged 1–18)
“Honest conversations at home are very important when preparing a child to board. Parents should involve the child in the selection of the school and we encourage prospective pupils to have a taster day and overnight stay to help them understand the boarding experience before they join the school.“St Lawrence College has a long tradition of welcoming boarding pupils of all ages and the school rapidly becomes a reassuring source of stability for families who like that siblings can be kept together and educated in the same place as the school offers boarding from 7–18 years.“Communication is an important element of successful boarding. Parents should teach their child to use Skype, Facetime, email etc. as pupils will enjoy seeing a family face wherever they are in the world.”Melissa Gabbott, marketing and admissions manager, St Lawrence College, Kent (coeducational independent school for pupils aged 3–18) 

Extracurricular activities

“An extensive range of lectures and talks is held every week, and there is usually a full programme of sport on Saturday afternoon. Sundays are more leisurely – a brunch is offered in the late morning and we provide transport to a local shopping centre in the afternoon. The art studios, design and technology centre, music school, library, sports facilities and swimming pool are made available over most weekends.”Diana Cree, director of external relations & communications, Lancing College, Worthing (independent day and boarding school for pupils aged 13–18)
“Sport plays a pivotal part in Haileybury life, and the college believes it is important for building confidence and resilience and developing teamwork and leadership skills.“Haileybury has a team of highly experienced sports staff, including specialist coaches who have played at an international level. These include former Wales and British Lions captain Michael Owen, who is Haileybury’s director of rugby.”Fran Pemberton, marketing officer, Haileybury, Hertfordshire (independent coeducational boarding and day school for pupils aged 11–18) 

The Boarding House structure

“Both day and boarding pupils develop a sense of identity and belonging in their houses, learning how to cooperate to achieve goals together and to take a pride in what they present, whether that is the House Song Contest, debating competition, or on the sports pitches. Fierce though inter-school rivalry is, house competition is more important!“As pupils progress through the school they increasingly take on greater responsibility, culminating in a bespoke leadership programme for Sixth formers.”Nick Seward, headmaster, Kingham Hill School, Oxfordshire (coeducational independent day and boarding school for pupils aged 11–18)
“Most teaching staff are involved in the life of a House. New pupils find themselves in a safe and stimulating environment, with a highly experienced, enthusiastic pastoral team on hand to encourage and supervise.“As they progress through the House, pupils are challenged to take on increasing responsibility for the care and leadership of others. In all Houses there are excellent arrangements for study, with two hours of supervised evening school on five nights of the week.”Diana Cree, director of external relations & communications, Lancing College, Worthing (independent day and boarding school for pupils aged 13–18)

The importance of pastoral care

“A buddy system is in place for all relocating children and there is always a period of induction at the start of the academic year to help pupils get to know each other. The housing system incorporates multiple year groups which helps to create Culford’s family feel and offers support throughout the age groups.“We support children in maintaining a sense of wellbeing by having in-house counsellors in all boarding Houses in addition to an on-site medical centre. These measures are in place to make sure children are happy at school and they are encouraged to seek advice from one of the many counsellors if they are struggling with any aspect.”From a discussion with boarding staff, Culford School, Suffolk (coeducational independent day and boarding school for pupils aged 1–18)
“By providing a safe and structured environment, students can immediately focus their attention on their academics and on making new friends. Prefects play an instrumental role in helping new students adjust by providing support and encouragement because they too were once ‘new boarders’.“The faculty also come from many different countries; the experience of living outside of our home country allows us to share and understand the uncertainties and difficulties that come with living in a new environment.”Taniea Engel, house parent and upper school English teacher, TASIS The American School in England (co-educational international school near London for day (ages 3-18) and boarding pupils (ages 14-18))
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