It’s a huge decision to be faced with. Here, two school heads reveal the benefits of both day education and boarding
DAY SCHOOLS – Andrew Johnson, head of St Benedict’s School, Ealing
Having been the headmaster of a boarding school for 10 years, I know that boarding can offer an incredibly rich, immersive educational experience. For some children, boarding is the best option. For others, however, it simply isn’t.
The most obvious advantage of day schools is that they allow children to stay closely connected with family life. Some children need to return to their home at the end of a busy day in order to reflect on the day’s experiences and to have the space they require to be themselves.
Day schools help children to learn how to be organised and independent, and to manage their home-school life. Day schools move at a pace, and carpe diem is in their DNA. There is an energy and focus in the school day as every minute is used intelligently, beginning for some at 7.45am, and ending any time between 4pm and 6pm.
Another considerable advantage for certainly any London day school is that museums, galleries and many other wonderful places are on the doorstep, and bring children’s learning to life. Inspirational speakers are easier to attract to a London school, too, as many are based in the capital (six children’s authors recently attended our Book Week). City day schools benefit from a high degree of connectivity. What we may lack in rolling acres of green space, we make up for in enriching visitors and opportunities.
But what about safety in an urban setting? The challenge for city schools is to teach children to engage safely with the real world. Schools have to protect children, while giving them the freedom to flourish and be happy, giving straight-forward advice about the negative influences young people are exposed to. We educate them to make good life choices, which will serve them well in the future, both at university and beyond.
Good schools are like micro-societies: orderly, yet exciting communities in which children thrive and feel they belong. London day schools reflect the hugely rich and diverse demographic of the city, rather than being hermetically-sealed, rarefied or remote. Our pupils, of 33 different nationalities, are not termly visitors from overseas; they live here, in the same society. London’s cosmopolitan and multicultural environment is a positive feature of school life.
In the end, a good education is all about relationships: between teacher and pupil; parent and child; school and family. If your choice of school starts with your child’s individual personality and needs, you stand the best chanceof getting it right.
BOARDING – Emma Goldsmith, head of Winchester House School, Brackley
recently spoke at an event where London parents came to hear about how to get into the school of their choice. The feeling of anxiety was palpable as parents questioned the merit of interviewing pre-school children and tutoring seven year olds. I was asked to talk about an alternative education – the country boarding prep school.
I have to say, I firmly believe it’s a great alternative to London day schools, and an option that still delivers academic excellence but also gives children the freedom to enjoy childhood. Boarding schools give children time. Time to enjoy activities such as golf, riding and STEM activities in our Tinker Shed. Time to complete homework. Time to spend with friends. Our children often cite the late evening (or early morning) swims in the summer term, or roasting marshmallows as their favourite memories.
A sense of community is key to a happy boarding school. This is best captured at breakfast time when all the boarding community enjoy a cooked breakfast together. Once a year we enjoy a special ‘Boarding Breakfast’ where parents and their young families are also invited to come and experience it.
Boarding has changed dramatically over the last few years. We recently invited 500 alumni back to our school and they were quick to compare the colourful, welcoming dorms full of posters and photos to their experiences of lumpy beds and drafty rooms.
Boarding also allows the children in the top years to help look after the younger ones, giving them experience and teaching them the valuable lessons of empathy and leadership. If you have never been to a prep boarding school or haven’t been to one since you were a child, then I would recommend a visit.
Boarding schools also help with the often bumpy path of early puberty, as the children live with adults who have experience in working with young adults, and in an environment where they feel comfortable to ask for advice. As friends become a significant aspect of a child’s support network, it is important to have people around you who you know well, and the friendships formed at boarding schools are strong.
Most prep boarding schools are also strict regarding the use of technology, with very few allowing mobiles. This takes away the social pressures and reliance upon online social interaction within the school day. Young people need help in managing their online behaviour and this can be done effectively in the supportive environment of their boarding school.
And so we find, when they leave to go to senior school at 13, they are well-rounded, happy and confident children, ready for the challenges of life ahead. By boarding, they have learnt key skills, including problem-solving, resilience and communication skills. We are increasingly aware that the most important aspect of a child’s development is their emotional wellbeing. Now, there is finally new research which highlights the emotional resilience that boarding provides – a welcome relief after the stereotypes of boarding in years gone by.