The many benefits of boarding

EdExec, 28.09.15 HMC Head Alan Stevens, headmaster of leading independent Barnard Castle School, on the myriad benefits that boarding offers pupils and parents alike.

My wife and I were taken aback when our shy 11 year-old son announced that he wanted to board at school. With every expectation that he would be back by teatime for home cooking and his comfy bedroom, we arranged a few trial nights in a boarding house where he shared a room with 5 other boys of his age.

He did come home, of course, but only to collect the rest of his belongings and tell us that he’d see us at exeat three weeks later (the weekend off). Five years on and we still see him at exeats and we adore our time together as a family on holidays. He loves coming home, but he regards his boarding house as a second home and his friends as an extension of his family. Even those who have moved away, some to other countries, enjoy a special bond and remain in touch by electronic means, planning reunions which we can already see will become a beautiful feature of his adult life.

For several reasons, boarding is a hugely popular choice for those for whom it’s an option. For some children, it gives them a unique opportunity to experience lasting friendships and stability while their parents’ occupations take them away from home; it’s not unusual, for example, for the son or daughter of a soldier to have had nine different homes and schools by the age of 11.

For others, boarding creates valuable time which would otherwise be absorbed by long bus journeys to and from school. Some appreciate the structure of prep (supervised homework) during week nights and the abundance of support from the range of pastoral and subject specialists who live in a boarding school. As boarders grow older, typically they enjoy greater privacy and independence, with Sixth Formers in most schools having private study/bedrooms which often make university digs look quite shabby.

Many, particularly those in the Sixth Form, enjoy a level of independence from their parents which, while still being cared for within school, provides an invaluable experience of communal living before they move away to university. The practicalities of compromise and the development of heightened emotional intelligence as sensitivities to others’ needs become part of everyday living, produce great maturity.

Boarding today’s as far removed from Tom Brown’s Schooldays as quidditch is from the modern sports facilities and swimming pools which today’s boarders can enjoy and which rival many private sports clubs. Moreover, full boarding schools offer a selection of weekend adrenaline-filled activities for teenagers which are simply beyond the time and energy available to even the most indulgent of parents – it’s not unusual to find boarders regularly engaging in Sunday go-kart racing, paintballing, skating, scuba diving and much more.

As our son enters the Sixth Form and towers over his mother, poised, confident, well-rounded and accomplished, my wife and I agree that there are few better ways to invest in a child’s future.