Flexible Boarding: the modern approach meeting parents’ needs

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.

Flexible Boarding: the modern approach meeting parents’ needs

Vinehall School

Boarding remains a popular choice for families, and student numbers at UK boarding schools have remained consistent for the past 17 years, according to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) 2017 census.For relocating families, boarding schools offer an anchor point, and for those on international assignments, they provide the added benefit of internationally recognised qualifications, allowing a smooth transition to the new school and continuity of education.

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). More than 50 of these are in the UK alone – the IB has become a popular choice with globally mobile families.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.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsSevenoaks School in Kent has taught the IB programme for 35 years, Jerudong International School teaches the IB programme in Brunei Darussalam. Whatever corner of the globe a relocating family is moving to, it is likely they will find an international boarding school that caters to their needs.UK boarding schools are some of the world’s best performing and most sought-after schools. Research by the British Council shows there has been unprecedented growth in the export of UK boarding schools in recent years due to the “perceived rigour of a UK-style education, as well as the international recognition of the qualifications”.South East Asia is a particular hotspot that has seen Dulwich College, Harrow School and Wellington College open schools in China, and Malvern College open its fifth international campus, this time in Hong Kong.This growth is good news for globally mobile families who are in a strong position to take advantage of a British education wherever their relocation or international assignment may take them.
ACS common room
ACS Cobham International School

Brexit and the effect on boarding schools

Following the UK’s decision to leave the UK, ongoing negotiations have so far failed to clarify the terms of the new relationship and rules surrounding the free movement of people.Therefore, many employers are making contingency plans to support access to the European Union by moving business out of the UK. A survey of 306 companies conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in October revealed that 24 per cent required greater certainty surrounding Brexit by January 2018 to prevent them from implementing ‘no-deal’ contingency plans. For 10 per cent of businesses, that deadline has already passed.“Brexit is only 508 days away, but for many businesses their alarm clocks are set even earlier than that,” said Paul Drechsler, CBI president, speaking at the CBI Annual Conference in November. “For 10 per cent of businesses, the alarm has already rung and they’ve begun moving staff or slowing recruitment.
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“Without a transitional deal, when EU leaders gather in Brussels for the March 2018 summit, 60 per cent of businesses will have done the same. The clock is ticking.”Nathaniel McCullagh, founder and managing director of independent education company, Simply Learning Tuition, winner of this year’s Relocate Award for Excellence in Employee and Family Support, describes the impact on families who are potentially having to relocate because of Brexit.Mr McCullagh says, “The climate of uncertainty makes this an anxious time for employees and their families, particularly those with children, who are naturally very concerned about schooling amidst all of the other considerations about relocation.”“I believe the Brexit uncertainty is the main reason we are seeing a massive increase in enquiries about UK boarding schools, and many UK-based families who would traditionally have sent their children to a day school are considering boarding as well, so children have continuity of care and education should their parents need to move abroad.“UK boarding schools are already geared up to look after children whose parents are overseas, and they are world-renowned academically and for their pastoral care and proxy parenting.”Schools are also optimistic, with many reporting record numbers of attendance at open days and increasing interest from local families.

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,” Mr Attewell 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.
Boarding at St Francis School
St Francis College
“Boarders often recognise that they have a more diverse social life, a wider variety of interests and closer relationships with their friends than day pupils,” says Tracey Gray, communications manager at Merchiston Castle School, a boys-only school in Edinburgh.“The environment and ethos allows activities to run into the evening, from indoor football to school debates and trips out of school. It allows for growth of independence in a secure, caring environment, and with the added benefit of access to an international set of friendships, which is increasingly significant in a global world.”ACS Cobham International School opened a £15 million boarding house in the summer to provide world-class facilities for an extra 113 students.“With the new boarding house, we asked ourselves, ‘How should boarding be?’” explains Mark Venn-Dunn, head of boarding. “The family style design of the new boarding house provides students with an open space shared with peers, so they have a place to socialise, study and cook, just like at home.”Mark London, the school’s head of marketing emphasises that the school was responding to parental demand for a more premium boarding experience. “The ensuite rooms, cinema room, eight student lounges and single rooms for senior students aims to meet this need,” Mr London said.Jerudong International School (JIS), located in the tiny country of Brunei, has consistently invested in its facilities over the years, and it now has the largest international school campus in the world. 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 February.“The facilities on campus allow students to challenge themselves to become the very best they can, and I am continually amazed at what’s available to our students,” says principal, Barnaby Sandow.“The 120-acre campus is situated just five minutes from the South China Sea. Next door to the school is the jungle of the National Park Bukit Shahbandar. “Our alumni often comment when they return to visit, that it was only when they left that they truly appreciated the privilege of being able to board in this unique environment.”

The importance of extracurricular activities

Parents are increasingly looking for a holistic education – one that balances academic provision, pastoral care and co-curricular activities in the belief that it better prepares children for managing the challenges involved in living in an increasingly globalised world.Therefore, extracurricular activities are an integral part of a boarding school’s offering and many provide an extensive variety of options. “We have more than 60 extra-curricular clubs throughout the course of the week, superb sporting facilities that are open until 9pm, and the library is open until 9.30pm each night,” says Olivera Raraty, headmistress of Malvern St James Girls’ School (MSJ), a day and boarding school for girls aged three to 18.“Boarders are able to take full advantage of this, and it helps them to find the things that really interest them. Girls can even set up and run their own clubs where none already exist.”Access to school facilities outside of the normal school day is a major perk of boarding. “Boarders at Junior King’s have access to the school’s facilities all of the time,” says the school’s head of boarding, Rob Stonier. “They can use the music school, sports hall, classrooms and ICT suite in the evenings, and our activities programme provides a wealth of different options for pupils to participate in.”Caroline Jordan, headmistress at Headington School, a girls’ day and boarding school in Oxford, believes girls who fully embrace all of the extracurricular options available benefit hugely from boarding.“Boarding allows girls to fully take part in all of the different activities the school offers. We have more than 150 clubs and activities in everything from the Combined Cadet Force to coding. We put on special activities just for the boarders such as creative workshops in-house. We take them rock climbing, to the cinema, shopping, ice skating, on social events with other schools – the list is endless, and we always welcome new ideas from our girls.”The provision of additional help with academic study is also an attraction for many parents. “Boarding offers the advantage of supervised prep sessions, helping to build the work ethos and providing additional help in pupils’ academic work,” says Merchiston Castle’s Ms Gray.


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.
Junior Kings boarders
The King's School, Canterbury
The flexi-boarding approach is a growing trend, with schools reporting that even pupils living nearby are choosing to board regularly to spend time with their friends.Steve Gardner, head of lower school at King Edward’s Witley, says, “With so many parents working longer hours, and the average commute stretching by the day, modern boarding offers a simple, sensible and affordable alternative – flexi-boarding and occasional boarding has really taken off here. A bed can be booked at less than 24 hours notice.”“We have full boarders, weekly boarders and flexi-boarders,” says MSJ’s Olivera Raraty. “Even if your child is a full-boarder, you can still take her out any weekend if you would like to. Likewise, weekly boarders can stay for the weekend if there is something going on and they would prefer to sleep over. Flexi-boarders’ nights can change, dependant on what works best for them and their family.“We fully appreciate that family time is important and precious, and that circumstances can change, even at late notice, and as such we remain relaxed and flexible.”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.At St Mary’s School, Cambridge, they also aim for flexibility in programmes that specifically cater for international students. “Depending on a particular student’s native country’s curriculum, and the age at which they wish to join us, we offer a variety of programme options to suit international students. Some students will join us for a term or two, or one academic year, to gain the experience of a British education,” explains headmistress, Charlotte Avery.

The importance of pastoral care

Dr Douglas Ota, a child psychologist and author of Safe Passage: how mobility affects people and what international schools should do about it, explains that a move can be beneficial to children, but only if it is handled well.“Mobility across cultures can be one of the richest sources of learning and personal growth that life has to offer. But these benefits only occur when mobility’s massive challenges are managed well,” Dr Ota explains.The days are long gone when a child was just dropped off at the boarding school gate, suitcase in hand. The provision for pastoral care in modern boarding schools is extensive – from housemasters, tutors, mentors and prefects to chaplains and nurses, most schools aim to provide a home-from-home, with the added benefit of experts on hand.
Boarders at TASIS The American School in London
Boarding at TASIS The American School in England
However, there are things that parents can do to prepare children for boarding. TASIS England has 165 boarders made up of 20 different nationalities. Its boarding programme is based on the idea that young people of all nationalities and backgrounds can live, work, and learn together in a structured environment; one that will probably be quite different to what they are used to at home.“The best way to prepare students to board is to encourage them to keep an open mind to all of the new experiences they will have,” says Taniea Engel, upper school English teacher and house parent.“Motivate them to take advantage of the many opportunities that will be provided for them to get an education, not only in the classroom, but also outside of it.“Prepare your child for the fact that there will be challenging times, but for each difficult experience there will be three or four unforgettable experiences to take its place.”On a practical level, Quelli Coles, housemistress at Vinehall School, a co-educational prep school in Sussex offers this advice, “One of our top tips for preparing children to board would be to teach your child a certain degree of independence. Get them to do chores at home like laundry and helping at mealtimes. Then these things will not then seem so alien to them at boarding school.”
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Schools have learned from experience about what helps new boarders to settle into the unique environment of their school. Most schools will offer a structured induction programme with the focus on making relationships.“For the first two weeks of a new boarder’s time, they have a ‘shadow’. This is a friend who is assigned to them and who is charged with looking after the new pupil, explains a spokesperson for Cottesmore School, a co-educational prep school for children aged three to 13.“In addition to a form tutor, they are also given a pastoral tutor who keeps track of their feelings and emotional state – this tutor will encourage them to speak about how they are feeling.”Feeling listened to is a vital part of children accepting the new situation according to Dr Ota. “The stress of moving unleashes powerful feelings. For a successful mobility experience, these feelings need to come out. Do not underestimate the healing power of simply attending to whatever a child is saying.”Older role models also play an important role says TASIS’ Ms Engel, “Prefects play an instrumental role in helping new students adjust by providing support and encouragement because they too were once new boarders.”There is no doubt that the softer side of boarding has a significant impact on helping students to feel at home in their new environment.“We have a very family orientated boarding offering,” says Elsbeth Rankin, Vinehall School’s marketing manager. “We have various pets – the housemistress has a golden retriever, Woody, and a cat, and the headmaster has two golden retrievers. The boarders often take Woody out for walks.”Single-sex schools will also tailor their pastoral care towards the unique needs of the relevant sex. Merchiston Castle School caters specifically for those of boys. Every boy has a housemaster, a tutor and specific prefects to safeguard their welfare, but the school also recognises the distinctive pastoral needs of boys.“Implicit in the ethos of the school is the awareness that as boys enter and pass through puberty, many important and difficult issues will confront them. An extensive personal, social and health education programme appropriate to each year group is run within the curriculum,” explains Ms Gray.

How boarding schools foster ‘international mindedness’

As students face an increasingly interconnected world, they need to learn to communicate with people from a wide range of different cultures and traditions.
Merchiston boarding
Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh
Education experts suggest the international-mindedness and cultural agility that naturally follow a successful global relocation can help children to empathise with the needs of different nationalities and cultures, which will pay dividends in the workplace.Erin Woodhams, director of admissions and marketing at the British International School of Chicago, part of the Nord Anglia Education group, concurs, “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 has been 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.Most boarding schools foster an atmosphere that aims to celebrate diversity. The Parent-School Organisation at ACS Cobham hosts popular monthly feasts, which reflect boarders’ own home countries by encompassing a variety of international cuisines. Junior King’s hosts a Nigerian night and organises activities to celebrate Chinese New Year.Jane Bedborough, head of boarding at St Francis College, a girls’ day and boarding school in Hertfordshire, counsels students to be open-minded to relationships with students from other cultures. “As an international boarding house, we aim to encourage the development of cultural understanding and language opportunities and strive to encourage students to be open to exciting friendship opportunities,” Ms Bedborough says.

Looking to the future of boarding

Rob Stonier of Junior King’s, believes the future of modern boarding looks bright. “There will be a greater demand from international pupils for places at UK schools as parents aspire to have their children educated in a UK boarding school.” Mr Stonier also believes flexible arrangements will continue to be popular. Ms Coles from Vinehall School agrees, “Wrap-around care for busy, working parents, such as early drop off for breakfast and optional stays at the weekend will increase, as will further boarding options.”The role of technology, which has changed communication between parents, teachers and children at boarding schools beyond recognition, will also have crucial part to play.“Modern boarding is all about communication,” says a spokesperson for Cottesmore School. “We are always trying to find better and easier ways to communicate with parents, who may well be in London or abroad. Technology is seemingly the answer. We are installing a new parent portal and use several forms of social media and modern smart phone apps to communicate with parents.”Perhaps the final words should go to Steve Gardner, head of lower school at King Edward’s Witley, as he describes a typical Wednesday evening during term time, “It’s 8pm, my boarders are with my wife undertaking a musical theatre rehearsal which involves blasting out top West End hits in our new music room.“An hour previously and they were all studiously working on their prep. And let’s not forget the 14 Under 13 footballers who returned from a rival school with 12 goals. All of the boarders will soon help Matron make toasties for the house, followed by social time before completing 10 minutes of house jobs and then heading off to bed.”“Parents have become acutely aware that modern boarding is a nurturing and family based environment, and they are embracing it with open arms.”
Relocate Magazine Winter 2017 front cover
For the full version of this article and to read more about some of the hot topics in Education visit the Winter issue of Relocate Magazine – out now!

For related news and features, visit our Education & Schools section. Look out for the launch of 2018's Relocate Awards, entries open in January. Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  © 2017. This article first appeared in the Winter 2017 edition of Relocate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.

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