The words ‘boarding school’ seem to stimulate deep emotions within all parents. Some look upon the concept positively and will vigorously defend their decision why they have chosen to ‘send’ their children away to school, while others strongly proclaim they would ‘never’ make this choice, as they want their family to remain close, with their children at home. This strength of feeling, one way or the other, usually comes from personal experiences of boarding, from hearsay or a lack of knowledge and understanding of exactly what modern boarding is all about. I challenge parents to put aside their own personal experiences for a moment and take an open-minded view towards evaluating boarding as an option, by taking time to investigate what kind of educational opportunity boarding offers now in 2012.
Home comforts and communication
Gone are the days of bare floorboards, curtain-less windows, reciting poetry outside the housemistress’ office after lights out and cold open-plan showers. Modern boarding schools provide extremely comfortable living accommodation, often with power showers, internet access and personal study space in cosy dormitories as well as common rooms with flat screen TV, squashy sofas, beanbags, pool tables, Wii, and kitchens for toast and hot chocolate before bed.
Mobile phones, email and Skype make regular communication with home easy. Parents are actively encouraged to engage fully in their child’s education, as schools welcome parents to see their children regularly through attending concerts, sports matches, house social events and plays. This is one of the reasons why many UK based parents tend to look for boarding options that are no more than one hour from home.
Parent portals or intranet and online reports keep parents fully informed of their child’s educational progress and the Housemaster or Mistress gives an additional pastoral support system for boarders, in addition to the tutor or form teacher.
The current financial climate means many more parents are finding that they both have to go to work. This can often lead to a constant juggle between work commitments and the school runs, after school clubs, sports practices and fixtures, getting the homework done, birthday parties, cooking supper and getting the children to bed. Often parents feel like the local taxi service, taking two cars in different directions to cater for different children’s interests and commitments, which leads to the question, where is the quality family time anyway? Think also of the cost in terms of food, fuel and your time!
For those in this situation, it must surely be worth considering the increasingly fashionable option of weekly boarding, where the focus for parents and children alike is work in the week, freeing up quality family time at home at the weekends. Boarding gives your child after school access to the library, computers and assistance from both peers and teaching staff, while they are working on their homework, coursework or projects. A far more cost-effective approach than paying for home tutors or becoming an expert in the GCSE History syllabus or Latin vocabulary yourself and far better than dealing with conflicts at home, to push to get the homework done! Those studying art or design and technology benefit from access to school facilities to continue their work in the evenings. Early morning starts to drop off at school in time for pre-school sports practice or choir rehearsal or early evenings sitting in the car outside school waiting for the coach to return from ‘the match’ become a thing of the past.
In short, rather than spending time on the school bus or in the car to and from school, your child can be studying, taking part in a breadth of extra-curricular activities or just relaxing with friends, while you gain hours of additional time to get the chores done in the working week, freeing up time for fun at weekends.
More and more schools are offering the opportunity for day pupils to board on an occasional basis. For young school children in particular, this can be a very good way of practising staying away from home on one or two nights a week, if parents are considering whether they might be suited to weekly or full-boarding later on. Many children find this a far more exciting option than a babysitter. For parents, it can mean a lie-in without the school run, after a late finishing dinner party too!
In conclusion, 21st century modern boarding is about access to a breadth of opportunity, building confidence, leadership skills and independence, learning a sense of community and cultural understanding, as well as full parental involvement through communication and a partnership between school and parents. Far from ‘sending’ their children away to school, parents who ‘choose’ a boarding school education are making a decision to invest in the opportunity to release their child’s full potential.