- 27 Apr 2022 9:12 AM
The vision of large gloomy dormitories, strict routines and hours of homework could not be further from the truth. The reality was a vibrant, exciting community with a real heartbeat, opportunities at every turn, beautiful boarding houses, lifelong friendships and a world of possibilities.
What I found children gained from boarding was a combination of independence, resilience, structure, routine, companionship, lifelong friendships and so much more. Children learn to understand different people, different cultures - by making friends and living in a thriving community based on mutual respect. What a preparation for the adult world.
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 resources in the evenings or at weekends, reminding pupils of the wisdom on their shelves as well as on the internet.
Clubs and activities offer opportunities beyond the academic day to discover and nurture talents, to explore occupations that 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 their skills, has found time at boarding school to get together with like-minded students and start a rock band. And who can tell at the time which of these occupations might lead to fame and glory?
Sport plays a major part in the lives of many boarding schools, with whole afternoons given to its practice to take advantage of the limited winter light and with classroom lessons held in the early evening. Matches are frequently enjoyed by players at all levels of enthusiasm and skill, both after school and on Saturdays.
Many of the UK’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, swim or ride – for their country.
In addition to high-quality classrooms, laboratories, 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 led by children who live a distance from school and are caught by the logistics of transport or parental availability.
Prep (the term commonly used for homework), 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 schools are also adept at providing time and space for appropriate ‘down time’ to relax and recover from the busy day.
But What About the Parents?
Parents who live overseas should encourage their child to grasp every opportunity the school has to offer, both in and out of the classroom. The full boarding life fills the child’s week with opportunity, fun and companionship, and if a child’s first language is not English, their learning will be more or less constant.
For parents, knowing their child is well looked after by professional, qualified and caring staff, and that they are set on the road to future success, goes a long way to alleviating the natural concerns about missing them.
Even for parents based in the UK, 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 of boarders and the houseparent’s in charge of boarding houses are in constant reassuring contact by phone, e-mail and regular meetings.
Modern boarding really is a partnership between school and parents, with both parties seeking the best for the child.
A Place to Learn
Boarding schools are likely to spot the potential in any child, nurture it and expect that success will follow. Some of the schools are among the best in the world academically; others provide the environment in which different talents can develop and flourish. 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 qualified professional teachers, in settings with excellent facilities and an overall ethos of achievement being the norm.
Perhaps more important, in all of them, the very climate is such that 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.’
The responsibility for boarding inspection in independent schools in England in membership of the ISC passed from Ofsted to the ISI in September 2011. ISI boarding inspections take place every three years and are organised according to the National Minimum Standards (NMS) for boarding schools (revised 2013 and subject to further revision in 2014).
Click here for more about inspections at UK boarding schools.
Inspectors will survey parents and boarders and talk to children and 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.
Race and gender equality policies are carefully inspected and there is a clear expectation that schools educating pupils from overseas pay due regard to all the needs of those pupils, just as parents would wish.
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 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, and appropriate training and professional development for boarding staff a requirement of the National Minimum Standards, schools are safer, more secure and more aware of pupils’ needs than ever before.
Many parents see boarding in the sixth form (age 16-18) as the perfect preparation for university life. The pupil feels more independent, taking more responsibility for his or her daily life and for the discipline of study, while parents have the reassurance that someone is keeping a discreetly watchful eye on their child’s welfare – making sure that they eat properly and are not staying up too late at night.
Almost a third of sixth formers in independent schools are boarders, relishing the balance of independence and structure.
All boarding schools have strong links with UK (and overseas) universities, and their careers tutors are well practised in overseeing the application itself. Ninety per cent of boarders proceed to the university of their choice.
Helping pupils get to the right course at the right university, whether in the UK, in the pupil’s home country or elsewhere in the world, 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 resilience, self-reliance 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.
Living in the UK, absorbing language and culture, and developing colloquial fluency almost incidentally to their whole experience of education, equips pupils whose first language is not English to take their place in the global economy.
Developing Skills for The 21st Century
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 21st-century world. And they will take with them achievements, friendships and interests that may last them a lifetime.
For further information or advice about choosing a boarding school please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at the Corinthea Hotel, Budapest on Friday 13th May to meet with school representatives and Education Consultants.
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