A home away from home

Despite the rising cost of living, the number of boarding pupils in the UK is on the rise. According to ISC data from their census on boarding numbers, there were 65,232 boarding pupils on census day – 21 March 2021. Despite this showing a drop from the previous year – 73,500 in 2020 – the number of pupils registered to board at any point during the academic year 2021/22 was back on the rise at 69,937 boarders, an increase of 4,592 from the previous year, so why is boarding proving so popular?

Schools have worked hard to develop the boarding model and respond to the needs and expectations of families. This includes parents having impromptu opportunities to see their children more frequently, such as taking them out for mid-week pizza nights, and pupils having access to their mobile phones to call or message home regularly. “21st-century boarding needs to fit in with family life and be flexible,” confirms Ben Evans, Headmaster at Windlesham House School.
In addition, the trend in recent years towards weekly and flexi-boarding continues – 22.8% of boarders are in these two categories compared with 20.2% in 2020. Woldingham School has been a trailblazer of the flexi approach for some time. “Day students of all year groups have the opportunity to flexi-board. It’s a great introduction to boarding and is very popular, especially with our younger students,” adds Suzanne Kuster, Marden Housemistress at Woldingham School.
Boarding life presents many opportunities for young people to develop greater independence. Here are some of the key advantages highlighted by some of the boarding schools.

A sense of community
“The primary aim of any boarding house is to create a warm, supportive sense of community which feels like a home when at school; where there is a natural sense of fun and camaraderie, where juniors can look up to strong Sixth Form role models and where teenagers can develop a deep sense of belonging and identity. The inclusive atmosphere and shared experience develops these deep bonds and lasting friendships and pupils become highly socially adept with strong ‘people skills’. The best boarding schools have a culture where senior students take prefecting and role modelling responsibilities seriously and develop a strong sense of duty and service.” Simon Bird, Deputy Head, Cranleigh School.
“Boarders learn what it means to be part of a community that lives together. Children learn vital life skills such as empathy, care and understanding, even during the most challenging times. When children are tired, anxious, feeling unwell or have just woken up, boarding spirit really comes in to play and it is wonderful to see children come together and support each other. Boarding helps children to learn about themselves and others, while having fun in the process.” Ben Evans, Headmaster at Windlesham House School.

If you are tempted to take the boarding route, preparation is key to ensure as smooth a transition as possible

Enriched relationships
“Lifelong friendships are formed at boarding school. Students work, rest, and play together and develop familial bonds with their peers. In such a close environment they learn how to manage conflict and compromise earlier than non-boarders. This is of particular benefit to only-children, who sometimes lack the skills that are developed through sibling relationships. We often hear that parent/child relationships flourish when a son or daughter begins boarding; when students return home for holidays or exeats, they are focused on family time rather than academics and co-curriculars.” Shirley Mitchell, Director of Boarding, DLD College London.

Inter-year friendships
“Boarders at Whitgift are enabled to form close bonds both within and across year groups. All boys will automatically be paired with at least one other student from their year group to help them settle in. Additionally, Founder’s House (our boarding house) operates a family system whereby boys are grouped vertically and attend meals, activities, meetings and social events as a group. Boarding often forges bonds and a kinship which last a lifetime; we intentionally harness the power of the environment to foster belonging among the pupils in an open and inclusive atmosphere.” William Chaloner, Senior Boarding Housemaster, Whitgift

Positive working habits
“Most boarding schools will provide a structured form of ‘prep’ or ‘study time’. In younger years, this encourages students to build study into their daily routine, allowing them to form good habits which carry through to their future learning. It also facilitates the work/life balance we urge our students to strive for; completing homework and academics during allocated periods
of time means students are free to relax and socialise without worrying about the last-minute deadline. For on-site boarding schools, the availability of facilities outside of the school day is an added bonus, as is the availability of tutors at evenings and weekends.” DLD’s Shirley Mitchell

Parents with limited experience of boarding schools today will naturally have reservations about enrolling their child. Here are some top tips on getting your child on-board with boarding:

• Boarding houses should feel homely, warm and inviting. Your child should be encouraged to personalise their room and surroundings
• Compassion and kindness matter, as do friendships. Make sure your child has the opportunity to experience boarding before you enrol
• Speak to other young boarders about their experience and ask questions
• Having free time to develop social skills is essential for young children. Find out what opportunities and activities the school offers
• Parents should be invited into the boarding environment to see how it operates first-hand
• Make sure you explore different boarding options to find out which is right for your child.

Source: Windlesham House School

Peer-to-peer learning
“Study sessions are done all together and girls can quietly work together and go through the day’s homework. They love being able to help each other, especially those who have found a topic easier than others and so can peer teach to their friends. Most of our boarders continue with studying after the allocated time as they also want to do the best that they can.” Woldingham’s Suzanne Kuster

Developed life skills

“Confidence and resilience are skills which are strongly developed in boarding students. Communal living exposes students to a wealth of experiences with trained staff on hand to help them navigate difficulties. Cohesion, compromise, conflict resolution, respect, tolerance, all of these are developed and nurtured in a boarding environment. On a practical note, students also develop life skills like cooking, cleaning and washing – skills which are essential for independent living.” DLD’s Shirley Mitchell

Improved organisation
“One of the huge benefits of being a weekly or full boarder is the degree of independence that is required of pupils when it comes to being responsible for themselves in managing things like room tidiness, ensuring they put in their laundry daily, and doing chores around the house, such as cleaning and tidying communal areas, including Common Rooms and kitchenettes. We are here to support each boy as much as possible, without doing everything for them so that they develop habits of caring for themselves that will set them up for life.” Whitgift’s William Chaloner

Better work/life balance

“Students have access to co-curricular activities, workshops, excursions, study – everything they need for a balanced life. They are monitored to ensure they are engaging in a range of various activities
to promote good mental health and are guided by key staff if they are neglecting
a particular area. By incorporating these healthy habits into everyday life, it is more likely they will become established, and students will continue to practise this throughout life.” DLD’s Shirley Mitchell

Prepared for further education
“Boarding life in the Sixth Form is yet another step forward towards independence, while also feeling supported by a wonderful, warm community. Pupils have more choice in how they manage their studies, extra-curricular activities and free time, always under the helpful guidance of our experienced residential team. Students in Woldingham’s Sixth Form live in purpose-built modern accommodation, providing the perfect transition from school to university.” Woldingham’s Suzanne Kuster

Common pitfalls
“It can be a challenging transition to boarding and homesickness is likely to be a factor in any pupil’s enjoyment of boarding, no matter how mild or severe. Pupils often try to put a brave face on their true feelings, yet we encourage open discussion of the matters that pupils find most challenging about how to manage and overcome any concerns. Don’t try to contact home too often – in the connected world we live in it is very easy to contact parents and indeed old friends, which can hold pupils back from fully embracing their new environment. Get involved – pupils are often keen to ‘settle in’ or see how the land lies before deciding which activities to commit to, but it is important to engage with any co-curricular pursuits or hobbies early to settle in and feel at home. First and foremost, this will expose you to other like-minded peers and open up the possibilities of new relationships, while also allowing you to begin to develop a sense of belonging to the school.” Whitgift’s William Chaloner

If you are tempted to take the boarding route, preparation is key to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. Before they go, encourage them to learn to look after their belongings, fold and hang up clothes, learn to make a bed and change a duvet cover. Warn them it’s not all Hogwarts! Sneaking out with friends for adventures after curfew will end in ‘gatings’ (being made to stay in) or worse, so manage their expectations. Tell them some days will be difficult – a number of pupils will be homesick – this is all normal and expected. “Listen to your son about their hopes and fears for their new experience,” says Whitgift’s William Chaloner. “There will be an intense mixture of excitement and nerves at being away from home that can be managed. Spend some time discussing them. Do reassure your son regarding their worries and be compassionate towards their feelings.”

By the end of their boarding school journey, pupils will be well-versed in independent living with the skills they need for survival in the real world. “One of the key things they take away is knowing there are people they can ask for help,” adds DLD’s Shirley Mitchell. “Boarding teaches students that there is always someone on hand to help you to learn how to do something for yourself, and this is a vital lesson.” Whitgift’s William Chaloner concludes: “The structure and balance that life as a boarder affords pupils is an excellent blueprint to take forward, both in terms of staying on top of studies and getting involved in university life.”

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