Prior's Field September 2018

Boarding School Myths

Published Thursday 28th of January 2016 12:51:44 PM

1) Boarding Schools are a Parent-Free Zone A common misconception is that children who are sent to boarding school are abandoned by their parents, dropped off in front of their new boarding house with a moth-eaten teddy under one arm and a tuck box nearly as big as them under the other. That as the dust from the car settles the child mentally calculates the next time they will see their parents in weeks rather than days. Not so with boarding now. Technology has done away with the once-weekly phone call home and, although it is perhaps not advisable for new boarders in particular to be on their mobile every spare minute of the day to a sobbing parent, communication channels are firmly open. Similarly, boarding schools offer a multitude of ways to see children ‘in action’ and to mix with other parents. This is especially reassuring for those whose family may be experiencing boarding for the first time. Sports matches, school concerts, ‘at-home’ afternoons, even ‘come and toast our post-inspection success with a glass of fizz’ evenings all contribute to a widening of the family atmosphere. It also allows day and boarding parents to mingle and share stories, which is key in maintaining a happy school (you’ll find Parent Associations are instrumental in putting on a number of social events). Check schools’ websites for information on how often parents are encouraged to get involved with the life of the school outside of exeats. 2) Boarding is like ‘a Big Sleepover’ I have been to many a sleepover in my time and I am sure many parents have experienced the joy of their own children’s friends all bundling into one bedroom, fuelled by that heady mix of pizza, chocolate and fizzy juice all consumed in front of a film/ video-gameathon, and attempting to suggest it might now be time to turn out the lights. Mysterious clunks, giggles and thunderings perpetuate through the night; luckily you’ve stuffed in some ear plugs, hidden under your pillow and can remain undisturbed until morning. However, when breakfast is ready they descend like a zombie apocalypse, invading the kitchen, barely able to keep their forehead from dunking into their Coco Pops. There is, you see, a fundamental difference. Whilst boarding may have all the good bits of a sleepover (friendship, gossiping, playing together) it also provides that elusive life-enhancer absent at every single sleepover I attended: sleep. Even on Saturday movie nights with a gaggle of children in the TV room, duvets dragged down from dorms and all squashed together on sofas stuffing popcorn into their mouths, they will still go to bed when they are told, especially if their Housemaster or Housemistress happens to have their own living quarters fairly close to their dorm! 3) Boarding Schools are Austere, Cold and the Food is Terrible Let’s get one thing straight- children, especially teenagers, will always complain about the food. I have worked in the independent sector for over 11 years and I have never encountered an infamous Turkey Twizzler (which is possibly why they are complaining…). Boarding schools take catering very seriously and I have eaten some of the best food of my life within them. Some schools’ match teas would put a Michelin Star restaurant to shame. Innovation, encouraging experimentation (frog’s leg anyone?) and providing a proper balanced diet is the life-blood of the school. If the food isn’t good, neither will the students be. Some schools even have on-site cafes where proper coffee and cakes are served, which give a sociable alternative to a break-time bag of crisps. So no- the food is not terrible, nowhere that has a salad bar with rocket and pine nuts in or gives demonstrations about how to cook with game can provide bad catering. This association of boarding schools and a gruel-like culture goes hand in hand with the ideas that the accommodation will be equally as grim. This is possibly not helped by the use of the word ‘dormitory’, however I have yet to come across a bare floorboard, metal bunkbeds or a horsehair mattress yet. Many boarding schools, whether in modern or traditional buildings are keenly aware they are creating a ‘home from home’. Therefore you are more likely to encounter en-suite wet rooms, architect-designed living areas that have been planned on a mood board and funky interiors than you are a curtainless window. Boarding school understand that the decision to send your child away to school is not made lightly and so they make it their business to make the Houses feel welcoming and much, much nicer than the Halls of Residence you stayed in at university. Again, check the school’s website and make sure you get to see a dorm/ room on any visit. 4) Boarding School Pupils are ‘Out of Touch with the Real World’ I’m not exactly sure where this myth started (perhaps see point 5 below) there seems to be this idea that going to boarding school removes you wholesale from the ‘real world’ and drops you into ‘boarding world’, where you will spend your formative years thinking solely about yourself and how you can get on when you have to go back ‘out there’, your biggest concern being whether Matron has managed to find your gum shield. Boarding schools are absolutely rooted within the societies in which they reside, both locally and globally. Many schools have partner academies or work with state schools in their area, sharing facilities with them and the public. I would put my life on it that every boarding school had some kind of charity committee (it would be unfair to suggest that this is done for any other reason than pupils wanting to support others). Boarding schools will also be able to give you longlist of co-curricular activities that extend beyond lessons to ensure that the pupils understand their place in the world and to fire up passions they didn’t know they even had. Look out for current affairs, literary, arts and debating societies. Ask whether the school is involved with, for example, Amnesty or Model United Nations. Check if they encourage pupils to mentor across age groups and give training in this. Pester about community involvement- do they sing carols in the local church, for example? Twitter feeds are excellent for keeping you informed of all the extra things that appear during the terms that aren’t published in the official calendar at the start of each term. 5) Boarding Schools are only for Rich, Posh People. I take umbrage at the use of the word ‘posh’ when it is used to slight people who are in a different financial bracket to others and prefer to consider people as individuals. However, this is probably one of the most common myths surrounding boarding schools, particularly emphasised in certain facets of the press. It is true that full boarding can be expensive, but when you consider what the boarding school has to do and what it offers, there has to be a certain of level of remuneration for this to continue. That said there are a number of options available to people who cannot immediately afford the full fees up front. There are such a wide number of scholarships (academic, arts, sports, choral- the list goes on) and bursaries that go from part to full fees offered by boarding schools. Some schools will also have links to charities that will also help support children from disadvantaged backgrounds for whom boarding would be beneficial. There are state boarding schools too. Boarding schools do not live in an isolated ‘for the privilege few’ bubble- they actively look to recruit boarders from a wide-variety of backgrounds because they understand this is best for everyone. The question should not necessarily therefore be: ‘Can I afford it?’ but ‘Is boarding school right for my child?’ Once that has been established then the practicalities of funding a boarding place can be discussed. Vicki Rendall is a Housemistress and Teacher of English at King Edward’s Witley. She is also a writer; focusing on Education English Literature and Parenting.
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