– how boarding enriches families
Simon and Rebecca Hamilton-Bing have two sets of twin girls at King’s Ely
Before joining King’s Ely, we were feeling increasingly guilty over the lack of extra-curricular activities the girls did. We often rushed home for 6pm to spend quality time with them, which amounted to no more than frantically cooking a wholesome, vegetable-laden meal (not necessarily achieved), while they were in a different part of the house watching TV. So, quality time ended up being tea, bath, bed. To top it all, we were paying someone the same amount as the Military personal contribution to do the school run and sit with them for two hours. The idea of boarding started to gain momentum, especially following a Christmas Out of Area.
We looked at several schools within scope but with no particular thoughts on type or specialisation. However, we both judged the schools on the ‘feel’ of the place, the ‘buzz’, the way the escorts carried themselves and what they had to say, the facilities and the boarding house.
King’s Ely felt right straightaway. We were impressed by the amount of activity going on during the initial and subsequent visits. It seemed every other child was carrying some sort of musical instrument or in some sports kit or other. What was most noticeable amongst the buzz of ordered chaos was how cheerful the children were. The cynic may think this was some sort of St Trinian’s staging but it soon became apparent that this wasn’t the case.
We took home a Yearbook to show the girls, and asked them to circle the pictures they thought looked interesting. This got them quite enthused, especially the Prep Boarding House, the Priory. This eleventh century building was the original Cathedral Priors’ House and with its Gothic proportions, domed ceilings and gargoyles, it was enough like Hogwarts for the girls to want to take a look. Although a rather grand and imposing building, the Priory is a small House with a maximum of 20 or so residents. The Housemaster and family ‘live in’ and are generally aided by a couple of gap students and a tutor. This creates a lovely warm atmosphere where the kids feel safe and soon get used to their second home. This was particularly important to us as our younger set of twin girls were only just eligible (by two days) and boarded for a whole school year before turning eight.
Academically, all four girls are performing ahead of the national average by at least the expected whole grade. However, King’s Ely is not an old style school where children are ‘hot-housed’ to mental exhaustion. Something we didn’t appreciate at first but now cherish above all else is the holistic approach the school takes in growing the whole child. It isn’t just the smaller class sizes, external trips and visiting speakers that make the difference. We are constantly amazed at what they get up to: debating points of history, small enterprise projects, numerous clubs, sports and high calibre stage productions all form part of routine life at King’s Ely. All these are aimed at making each child a well-rounded and confident young adult. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible without high quality, dedicated and enthusiastic teaching staff, whose passion for their subjects shines through at every parents’ evening.
Perhaps the best example of how the holistic approach works is by mentioning one of my elder twins. No star in state school at Year 2, but ahead of the majority of her peers, she received good solid reports. However, it quickly became apparent in her first year at King’s Ely something was not quite right. After a few tests she was diagnosed with dyslexia which affected her short term working memory. The Learning Support Team at King’s Ely has done a most fantastic job and got her from 18 months behind to ahead of the Key Stage requirements. She even loved Latin!
We still miss the girls each night and we’re sure they miss us. We know they are safe and well cared for, that they enjoy going to school (even double maths!) and are benefiting from a well-rounded curriculum delivered by transformational teachers.
Five years on and the girls are now well established in King’s Ely Senior and live in Hill House, an all-girl boarding house on the edge of the campus. We are still amazed at what the girls get up to each week and how much they know. Highlights have included the fantastic drama productions of Joseph and Oliver!, which both younger girls were involved in, both on and off stage (Emily’s Artful Dodger was joyous), and being beaten by the girls at answering questions during University Challenge!
We initially had some concerns over the amount of prep required each evening when the girls moved up to the senior school, especially when the school day was extended to accommodate the new 2016 National Curriculum (although Saturday mornings became free). However, this has actually led to a number of positive changes. Apart from the obvious gain, the biggest benefit we’ve noticed is the fantastic work ethic the girls have. They are very self-motivated, dedicated to completing their work on time and have a strong sense of duty. This often requires forward planning and, sometimes, a little bit of self-sacrifice to de-conflict other activities, sport and social life. Prep is undoubtedly preparing them for further education and should stand them in good stead when they join the workforce (eventually!).
Andy and Natalie Flay have two sons at Taunton School
Natalie and I have discovered that Taunton is truly interested in all children – not just the incredibly bright or sporty ones. It’s very egalitarian, both in its attitude to its pupils and in its parent base, and we’ve found this attitude permeates through Taunton School pupils. They really do understand that the more they put into life, inevitably, the more they get back. And we’ve discovered that both our boys really do have the most unbelievable opportunities to ‘put into’ their school careers. They’ve gone from a limited appreciation of the technical aspects of many sports to fully-fledged rugby, athletics, hockey, cricket, tennis and swimming aficionados. It’s been fantastic to watch them both develop such a love of sport. When we can, we do try and watch matches – though this is often difficult. However when we do we’re so impressed by the fact that Taunton regularly fields A, B, C and D teams. The mantra is that everyone should play competitive sport and have the opportunity to represent their school.
Previously English was a cross our eldest son bore with fortitude – if nothing else. It’s now his second favourite subject. How and where Taunton found the key to unlock this is beyond his frankly astonished parents – but we’re truly grateful – for his sake (not just our own!). We’ve also discovered that both boys can sing – and the eldest one seems to have developed a love of ‘treading the boards’! Last term we were both fortunate enough to watch him in the winning group in the Group Acting Class at the Taunton Arts Festival. He also made a brilliantly terrifying Chief Pirate in the Year 6 play, Pirates and Mermaids. We had no idea that he had any interest or ability in speech and drama and yet Taunton found it and drew it out of him!
As for the boarding aspect, our worries about how the boys might settle evaporated almost immediately. (Frequent postings have meant that they had both been to several schools and so we worried that it might take them a while to settle.) The boarding team at Thone are kind, caring and imaginative and the boarders seem to absolutely love being there. Recently, when we finally managed to track our eldest son down via the telephone to wish him a happy birthday, he promptly informed us that he ‘couldn’t talk right now’ as he was too busy playing ‘Capture the Flag.’ That told us!
In a nutshell it would be accurate to describe Taunton as a school that brilliantly draws children out of their comfort zones while managing to remain grounded, kind and caring. As a military family I really don’t think we could have picked a better school for our boys.
Gavin Genthall’s children are at Clifton College
As a Service family, we decided on Clifton for a variety of reasons. Of course, the school’s high reputation across the academic, sporting and pastoral disciplines was our paramount concern and Clifton holds its own against its west country competitors. Also, having a son and daughter with an age difference of two years, we clearly wanted a co-ed school that offered both preparatory and upper school on the same site in order to simplify the logistics. Similarly, in the event that we are posted abroad in future, and with our nearest family being in Scotland, we wanted a school that was easy for national and international travel. With Bristol International Airport only 25 minutes away, Bristol railway station 10 minutes away and the M4/M5 15 minutes away, the school was certainly the best linked of the dozen or so West Country schools we looked at.
Although we didn’t initially realise it would be a major factor, the healthy ratio of day to boarding students has been a major bonus – our children have as many friends who are day pupils as boarders. This has meant they are regularly invited for ‘sleepovers’ and now consider Bristol their home, something every Service family will recognise as important.
We initially looked at schools in rural or small town settings but we are delighted with our choice of a city school (albeit in a very leafy suburb). Its proximity to Clifton Village is perhaps one of the school’s unique selling points, being a wonderfully safe environment for the children to begin to venture into the city by themselves and with all the cosmopolitan attractions of Bristol to hand.
Finally, Clifton manages to strike that fine balance of being receptive to the needs of Service families, but without having too many pupils from Service families. We wanted our children to grow up with children from a wide range of backgrounds.
All in all, we would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Clifton to other Service parents looking for a great place to educate their children.