The boarding adventure of a lifetime

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by Robin Fletcher, Chief Executive, Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA),
Boarding Adventure

While boarding may not be right for every child, it’s clearly the right choice for the 75,000 boarders at over 550 independent and state boarding schools in the UK. Otherwise they would not be there.

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The average size of a town in the UK is 20,000 people. So amazingly there are enough young people boarding to fill three towns and still have 15,000 left over. What is it then that makes boarding such an attractive option for parents and their children, despite what critics and protestors might like us to believe?

A great way to answer this question is to look at the hard facts. Take the answers given to a survey we conducted among over 5,000 boarding parents at more than 80 of our member schools. This revealed a huge amount about boarders and boarding families. It told us where they come from, what sort of jobs boarding parents do and how they discover which school is best for their child.  Most importantly however it showed us exactly what parents thought their children were gaining from boarding.

Two key words that jumped out in the answers were ‘confidence’ and ‘independence’, which was no surprise to us.

Adventurer, explorer, broadcaster and writer Ben Fogle said exactly the same thing when he spoke at two of our conferences. He revealed that when he first went to boarding school he was shy and missed home. But once he started to get involved in all the amazing opportunities his school had to offer, seven days a week, without the pressure of the twice-daily school runs, his confidence grew. And he has never looked back.

There will be some parents of course who might worry that boarding might make their children just a little bit too confident, or perhaps so independent that they loosen some of their family bonds. Experience shows however that the earlier young people can increase their confidence and gain some independence, the much better able and equipped they are to deal with the complex, fast-moving world we all live in today.

And far from that confidence and independence being a threat to family relationships, a confident, independent youngster is much more like to be happy in themselves, avoiding many of the pitfalls and setbacks of growing up, and so more at ease with their family and friends.

Another word that came out from our survey which definitely chimes with Ben Fogle’s own experience is ‘opportunity’. One of the great double bonuses of boarding schools is that, when compared to most schools, they simply offer far more for young people to do ‒be that sport, drama, trips, debating, outside adventure, field trips or public speaking.

If you are at school for longer, surrounded by your friends, you have got all these opportunities offered to you on a plate and much more time to try new things and find out what suits you and your interests.

So our survey shows that young people who board can become more confident and independent and have much more time to experiment. And who can argue with that?

Let’s close however with testimony from the front line, not from the keyboard of a parent filling in a survey form. I recently visited a lovely school with around 300 mixed boarders aged from 8 to 18. It was clear I had come to a happy school with relaxed students and staff, which is always a good sign. During the tour, I got into a brief but delightful conversation with a little girl, aged eight, who was about to try her first ever night boarding as a bit of a trial run. As a father to a quartet of young girls, I know what ‘excited’ and ‘happy’ looks and sounds like and this was no exception. Thislittle girl was so, so looking forward to her boarding experience. And she happily shared with me the number of soft toys she was bringing on her school sleepover, their names, and the certain fact that she and her friends fully intended to carry on talking after lights out!

So doubters be gone and supporters be praised. Boarding may not be for all, but for the right child, at the right school, at the right time, it can be the adventure of a lifetime.

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