To Board OR Not To Board
Some of the most interesting stories I’ve heard over the years are from people who have spent their school years in a boarding school. Lifelong friends, dorm room adventures, creating families with peers when one’s own is far away, and developing independence from an early age are just some of the experiences that are unique to a boarding school education. Though many cherish such years, the decision to choose and stay with boarding education isn’t always easy for all families.
I remember sitting in my lovely big bedroom as a young girl, looking out at the beautiful rural countryside and thinking there was something missing. As an only child, to parents who had me at a late stage in life after years of trying for a baby (my mother had been 36 and my father 38), I was very much the centre of their universe. I was a sociable child who enjoyed the company of cousins and younger family members.
When a few of my close friends started leaving primary school to go to local boarding schools, I went to argue the boarding case to my parents. I told them I would benefit from the constant presence of other children and they wouldn’t need to take me to my ballet and music lessons, nor would they need to worry about who would take me or collect me from school. My weekends would be busy with activities and trips and I would be having a lot of fun with my friends whilst being well looked after. It really was a win-win for the whole family.
However, my mother, would always come back with the same response, “I didn’t wait so long to have you, to send you away to live in a school!” So alas, my entire school career was spent being a day girl and yearning for that little sense of freedom I knew boarding would have given me. It wasn’t until I went to University where I got my first ‘boarding’ experience and sense of independence but living in University halls at the age of eighteen wasn’t the same as boarding with my friends at the age of eleven.
There are many opinions on the question ‘To board or not to board?’ and to be fair, it isn’t as easy as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I always tell our parents and pupils that each child is different and their journey is theirs; it will never be the same as anyone else’s and nor should it. I have always enjoyed school and being part of a close-knit community and I am sure it’s a big part of why I became a teacher. If a school gets it right, they can make a child feel like they’re in a second home; where teachers know your name and pupils look out for each other. A boarding school takes this to another level entirely. The pastoral care involved, the time taken to get to know each child, the experiences they share with each other is only heightened in a boarding environment. Some children enjoy boarding thoroughly and never look back, whilst a minority do get home sick (to be honest, we would be worried if they didn’t miss home at all) and it takes them time to adapt. Might I add at this point, this also applies to parents!
As much as we talk about whether boarding is right for the child (which is obviously the first question to ask), we also need to ask if it is right for the family? The concept of boarding has changed from when I was a young girl. The family structure has changed significantly, with dual income families, the norm. I am a big believer in being close to your child at the formative stage of their life; and this is even more important during their teenage years. Children need their parents close by, so when they are anxious about something or have some exciting news to share, their mothers and fathers are only a phone call away. Children also need guidance about which university they should go to and be able to discuss future career aspirations; all key areas of their life in which parents’ advice is invaluable.
The Boarding offering has changed significantly over the years, gone are the days where boarding meant only going home in the exeats and holidays. The majority of boarding schools in the UK offer full, weekly (like we do at Harrow International School Hong Kong), occasional and even flexi boarding. It is a parent’s market. I only wish these options would have been available to my family when I was growing up. I think I could have convinced my parents to let me try boarding if they were!