Turning minimum standards into excellence

Posted: 20th April 2023

by Dale Wilkins, Director of Safeguarding, Professional Development and Accreditation (BSA)

ThBoarding Schools’ Association (BSA) is committed to supporting everyone involved in boarding – adults and children – offering high quality guidance and training that benefits schools, their staff and, perhaps most importantly, the children and young people who board. Our primary objective is to raise professional standards and we have an extensive and diverse continuing professional development (CPD) and training programme through the BSA Academy for all staff working in boarding environments throughout the UK and beyond. 

At the heart of the Academy offer are the core skills for all practitioners, especially those who are new to boarding, through ‘Essentials for Boarding’ for teachers, matrons, nurses, gap and graduate assistants and secretaries, as well as ‘Leading a Boarding Team’, ‘Updates for Governors’, ‘Prep School Issues’ and ‘Preparation for Inspection’. In addition, we offer more specialised seminars on a wide range of specific issues, particularly relating to safeguarding, both through BSA and our sister organisation, the Safeguarding and Child Protection Association (Sacpa). A number of day conferences are also run throughout the year for heads and for other boarding practitioners, as well as those looking at specific issues such as mental health, immigration and safeguarding. Specific training content is also designed to meet the needs of prep schools, senior schools, state schools, sixth-form boarding and international colleges. In 2020 all of this content was moved online, with the immediate advantage that we are now more accessible than ever to our member schools, both in the UK and internationally. A small number of face-to-face events will be reintroduced in 2022.

Our work is centred on the requirements of the relevant National Minimum Standards, but these are only a starting point, with member schools aiming for excellence across a range of key areas relating to the day-to-day experiences of the boarders, and also including important considerations such as policies, procedures and premises. By working together with colleagues from a wide range of schools we are better able to help them benchmark their boarding against the expectations across the wider boarding sector, both in the UK and internationally.

At the end of 2020, the Department for Education opened consultation on its proposed updated National Minimum Standards for Boarding Schools in England. BSA provided extensive feedback on the proposals on behalf of its member schools before the consultation process closed in February 2021. At the time of writing, we have been advised by the DfE that the consultation is still being evaluated, and that the new NMS will not be ready for September 2021. However, we do anticipate additional standards on guardianship and behaviour, and a focus on schools being at least ‘good’, rather than reaching a ‘minimum’ standard.

Alongside our day conferences and seminars, we run an accredited training programme, offering certification to boarding practitioners. At its core is the BSA Advanced Certificate Course. Based over two years, this course looks more deeply into Pastoral Care (Part 1) and then Boarding Management (Part 2) or Health & Development (Part 2), including specialised courses for school nurses and school matrons. The courses are led by the BSA team, supported by very experienced tutors from member schools and specialist presenters who cover online safety, mental health, strategic management and other issues critical to working in boarding. In the last few months bespoke certificate programmes have been introduced to focus on mental health and also on equity, diversity and inclusion.

We also run the BSA Diploma Course twice a year for experienced boarding staff, offering further steps towards senior leadership, and the very popular Certificate in International Boarding. There is also a Masters in Residential Education in conjunction with the University of Buckingham. An expanding INSET and consultancy programme enables further spread around the UK and into Europe and beyond.

We are constantly seeking new areas of interest and responding to the needs of the sector. Our safeguarding portfolio continues to grow, and we deliver bespoke content focused on the boarding environment through webinars and day seminars. In 2021–22 we are launching a Safeguarding Certificate in conjunction with Sacpa.

We also run a guidance helpline, receiving calls and emails on a wide variety of topics from member schools, and helping them deal with compliance issues and move towards best practice. A Member Services team focuses on ensuring that we are best placed to support the whole range of members, from schools which are exclusively boarding to schools with just a few boarders. This is enhanced by our regional Forum meetings in all parts of the UK and internationally, which have been particularly popular while schools have been working remotely, although consultancy and other visits to member schools are also now beginning again.

About the author
Dale Wilkins, Director of Safeguarding, Professional Development and Accreditation (BSA)

Dale Wilkins became a boarding tutor at Norwich School in 1987, shortly after taking up a post there as a language teacher. From 1990 to 1992, he and his wife ran a junior girls’ boarding house at Tettenhall College, before moving to Old Swinford Hospital, a state boarding school where Dale was Housemaster of both senior and junior boys’ houses, Director of Boarding, Deputy Head and Designated Safeguarding Lead. From 1998 he was also involved with BSA as a course tutor and in 2002 he was among the first group of boarding inspectors trained to inspect against the then new NMS. Since 2017 he has worked full-time for BSA, originally as Head of Safeguarding and Standards and now, as Director of Safeguarding, Professional Development and Accreditation. Dale lives in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, close to his former school. Dale is also a Deputy District Commissioner for the Scout Association, Chair of Youth Services for the Rotary Club of Stourbridge, and Chair of the Friends of Dudley Performing Arts, the music, art and drama service for schools in Dudley Borough. He enjoys travel (when COVID-19 allows!) and is a former sports coach and referee, who still plays cricket occasionally.