Choosing a boarding prep school – in Scotland!


by Henry Knight, Headmaster of Belhaven Hill School

The modern boarding prep school has enjoyed a bout of ‘Hogwarts’ popularity since the ‘Harry Potter’ films. Many children now envisage boarding as a ‘magical’ time spent with friends while enjoying many adventures. In today’s modern boarding school this is nearer the truth than one might imagine and the friendships that boarding pupils make will last a lifetime.


However, today’s boarding schools are not ‘Hogwarts’ and, in separating myth from reality, children and their parents choose prep school boarding for many reasons, which does not include Quidditch. Good teaching in small classes with staff who offer excellent pastoral care means pupils can grow and flourish in a warm and supportive community.

There are many good boarding prep schools. Although the majority have adapted to weekly or flexi boarding to meet demand and the needs of parents in their local area, there are still ‘traditional’ schools that offer full boarding and where at the weekends you will find busy, happy and contented children making the most of the opportunities on offer – not least in enjoying the company of their fellow boarders – and perfectly at ease in the company of their peers and adults.

There is much to be said for schooling in Scotland. The country is well served by airports, like Glasgow, Aberdeen or Edinburgh, there are ample railway and motorway connections, and there is a time-tested tradition of boarding. Scottish prep schools are often smaller in size, resulting in many more children enjoying the opportunity of playing in teams, singing in choirs, acting on stage and being given more responsibility than is possible in some larger schools, while there is still an emphasis on ‘traditional’ values, such as everyday courtesy, manners and service.

The pace of life is a little ‘slower’ than in some other schools, with an emphasis on the individual and the belief in opportunities outside the classroom. There is no need to grow up too quickly and the children may not be as ‘streetwise’ as some. The need for mobile telephones or electronic gadgetry and games is not seen as essential as it is elsewhere. Pupils can of course communicate with parents and friends by phone, email or Skype – but it is not an overriding necessity that drives a child’s day.

Scotland is awash with beauty and culture on its doorstep. One is never far from stunning scenery, while a healthy outdoor life is seen as a natural progression of everyday school life. Children are also within touching distance of museums, theatres and sites of historical or cultural significance in thriving Scottish cities. Belhaven Hill, in Dunbar, is only 45 minutes from the centre of Edinburgh, one of Europe’s most popular centres of culture, but outside its back gate is a golf course, leading directly on to the sandy Belhaven Bay.

One of the great benefits of the Scottish boarding prep school is the extraordinary range of extra-curricular opportunities on offer – from skiing, surfing, riding and golf, to drama, music, sport and art, not to mention the more traditional pursuits of reeling and piping! However, more often than not the children are just as happy to play with their friends, enjoying each other’s company and friendship. Indeed, such is the children’s perception of boarding that many believe they are ‘missing out’ by not boarding and those that are local enough to be day pupils usually elect to board. There is no better recommendation than that!

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