Boarding in Britain: a taste of school life at summer camp

The Telegraph, 24/04/15, some top schools throw open their doors to international and expatriate students during the long break. HMC member schools UppinghamDulwich CollegeCaterhamCharterhouse, Haileybury, King's Ely and Mill Hill feature.

At the end of the summer term, when the last trunks have been loaded into cars, classrooms, playing fields and boarding houses up and down the country will fall silent as another school year ends.

But for a growing number of schools, this silence will be short-lived. More and more UK boarding schools are offering a programme of activities over the summer when the main school is on holiday.

Often aimed primarily at international and expatriate students, these summer schools offer a home away from home for those who are either unable to spend the whole holiday at home, or who want to take advantages of the opportunities available at a well-equipped boarding school.

Many combine an academic programme with social and sporting activities, plus cultural and recreational excursions, helping children as young as eight make the most of their summer.

Uppingham School in Rutland runs 20-plus different courses over the summer, ranging from computer game design to big band jazz, while sporting options include hockey, netball, rugby, lacrosse and tennis.

From its beginnings as a young musicians' course 15 years ago, the programme has rapidly expanded and now caters for around 7-800 children over three weeks in July and August. Most courses are aimed at children between seven and 14, but some take students up to 18, says Caroline Lawson-Dick, the school's enterprise manager.

"Children come from all over the country and increasingly they're coming from abroad," she says. "Last year we had children from 20 different countries over the summer."

The majority of courses are week-long, although some run over a weekend, and are available on either a residential or non-residential basis. Most children take a one-week course, but some enrol for two or three weeks, Lawson-Dick adds.

And while some children head home at the end of each day, for those who are staying overnight the pastoral team lays on a programme of evening entertainment, giving participants a taste of what it would be like to go to boarding school.

"It could be anything from a treasure hunt to a disco," Lawson-Dick says. "A lot of the children will be at prep schools, and there are definitely some parents who think it is a nice way for their child to try out boarding for a week or so."

Many of the courses have an English-language element. Our World English Schools is in its 27th year this year, and this summer will be running courses at Dulwich College in London and Caterham and Charterhouse schools in Surrey.

Around 800 students aged eight to 17 are expected to attend, from more than 50 countries, according to Our World principal Tony Binns, who is also deputy head at Mill Hill School in London.

Although Our World began by offering home stays, the students now live in the school boarding houses for the duration of their course. Most will enrol for two to three weeks, although some stay for the whole six weeks the programme runs, Binns adds.

Our World runs two core courses, both accredited by the British Council. One is an English programme, where students combine learning English with activities such as crafts and sport, while the other is a global leaders' course, suitable for native and non-native English speakers, involving debating and critical thinking skills.

The students are able to take advantage of the school facilities, including well-equipped classrooms, sports pitches and swimming pools, and a full range of social activities are also laid on, such as talent shows, sports competitions and discos.

In addition, there are usually two day trips a week, one to London and one outside, typically Brighton or the theme park and zoo at Chessington.

"There is a very lively social programme," says Binns. "Making friends and having fun is very much part of the experience."

Haileybury School in Hertfordshire will host a range of courses this summer, including language courses, music and football coaching, as well as a holiday club for children aged seven and up.

It means the school's grounds will ring to the sounds of around 400 students a week over five weeks of the summer, and for those on residential courses they benefit from the full boarding experience, says Donna Creswell, Haileybury's director of external relations.

Last year the catering team provided around 50,000 meals over the holidays, while the school's cleaners and matrons were also on duty.

"It is about sharing our facilities and it would be such a shame to leave them empty over the summer," Creswell says. "It's very important that we're part of the community and this is one way of showing that."

The idea of a summer school providing a taste of boarding school life is taken a step further at King's Ely School in Cambridgeshire. As well as English, there is a full academic programme, taking in maths, science and humanities over a two or four-week course.

"It will help them see what life is really like in a boarding school," says Alex McGrath, headmaster of the senior school.

"They will learn things in science like dissecting a frog and we will teach them British history in a way that prepares them for how it is taught here."

The course is aimed at 13- to 16-year-olds and many of its summer school graduates go on to King's Ely's international school, where they take a one- or two-year GCSE course.

It's not all study. There are arts and sports activities in the afternoon, social events in the evening and the school organises several excursions during the week.

"They have the full use of the boarding facilities, as well as the sports facilities and the dining rooms," says McGrath. "Many of them haven't lived abroad before and haven't lived in a boarding context, so they get to see how the rhythm of the day works in a boarding school.

"There are all sorts of things on offer, some of them great fun, but they also have to knuckle down to their academic work. It means they're not fazed when they go to a boarding school proper."

Many of those who take part leave not only with their skills enhanced, whether it's their English or their baking, but the kind of memories that last.

"They forge friendships and we get them coming back the next year and asking to share a room with so-and-so," says Lawson-Dick.

"They get quality coaching but at the same time they have a bit of fun as well."

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