Boarding school tips from headmasters
Tips and advice from a range of headmasters for parents and children to remember about boarding schools.
If you think your child is likely to be homesick, be meticulous about choosing a boarding school that offers good pastoral support. Ask about their homesickness policy – some schools are more sympathetic and willing to compromise than others.
Try not to speak to your child endlessly on the phone. Encourage them to focus on the positives – how well they’re doing in lessons, for example, or on an activity they’re looking forward to at the weekend.
Don’t let them know that their homesickness is upsetting you. It will make them feel worse if they’re worrying about you.
Take decisive action as soon as your child is homesick. Speak to the school, find out how they’re handling the situation, and ask for regular updates. If it’s not working, then do something about it.
That said, don’t remove a child from a school until you’ve explored all the options. Ask if the school is willing to compromise. If a child can go home for a night on a Saturday evening each week (for full boarders) or a Wednesday evening (for weekly borders) then there’s a chance they will find boarding more manageable.
Include your child in the initial decision. What are the pros and cons of boarding for your family in particular? Could it wait a couple of years? Anna Tyzack
I’m a great fan of boarding, but I am not totally convinced about boarding below the age of 11, unless circumstances make it unavoidable. The essence of a successful boarding life is a successful home life; and that needs time to mature both ways. Anthony Seldon, educationalist and Master of Wellington College, Berkshire
Whether single-sex or co-educational, boarding prep schools seem to know the value of real education and how to make it fun. When younger it is easier to assert your identity as a boarder before you have to question your identity as an adolescent. Melvin Roffe, principal, Wymondham College, Norfolk
Children aged 11, 12 and 13 find it toughest to settle in to a boarding routine, while younger children – those aged eight or nine – usually adjust fastest; and generally, children who have had a say in the decision to go to boarding school, are less homesick than those who were given no choice. Dirk Flower, child psychologist
More ways of learning
Boarders benefit from additional non-classroom contact with teachers in the evenings. They benefit from supervised homework and music practice time, and they can also participate in extra-curricular activities such as debating societies, choirs, plays and bands without their parents having to collect them from school later in the evening.
More opportunities for play; less time for technology
Few parents will be able to compete with a prep school in terms of facilities such as indoor swimming pools, cricket nets and playing fields. Instead of interminable stretches in front of screens playing Red Dead Redemption or Call of Duty MW, or on social networking sites, or watching Gossip Girl, children are kept occupied in the evening in the art room or sports hall.
Even in unstructured, lightly supervised free time they will often be outside, building dens in the school grounds and playing traditional games such as British Bulldog and Murder in the Dark.
What’s more, they will talk to each other after school – thus learning the art of proper conversation – and will complete their homework to a high standard without needing to be nagged by mum or dad.
A stable complement to family life
Prep boarding schools are designed to be like an extended family with a three-way relationship between children, parents and house parents so that school and home can complement rather than compete with each other.
These communities encourage children to live together unselfishly and to grow up as individuals, celebrating their differences and forging friendships that last a lifetime.
Taking the rough with the smooth
Children will be asked to do plenty of things they don’t much care for – go to chapel, marshal their laundry, keep their bedrooms tidy, write letters home – but all these are worthy disciplines and good preparation for senior school and adult life in general.
Less stressful for parents (and the environment)
No more fractious, carbon-emitting school runs on jammed roads twice a day. You can enjoy just being with your children at weekends and in the holidays, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to concertina homework, social engagements and school and work commutes into a four-hour evening.
By Anthony Wallersteiner, headmaster of Stowe School, Buckinghamshire
First published in the Telegraph on 10 Jun 2011 via Boarding school tips – Telegraph.
Photo credit: Pupils at Stowe school Photo: Michael Walter / Troika; Eleanor Bentall; Photolibrary.com; Alamy
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