To move or board is a question on many parents’ minds as they begin on a new term – but could flex-boarding also be an option, asks Lorna Coward of Hurstpierpoint College
When pupils are asked to describe boarding at Hurst, it’s common to hear them say, “I live 10 minutes away but I board because I enjoy it.” Hurst has become known as a school where you board because you choose to, rather than need to.
Boarding at Hurst, and at many other schools, falls into three categories; full boarding, weekly boarding and the most popular option, flexi-boarding. While full boarding involves living at school seven days a week and weekly boarding is five nights a week, flexi-boarding allows pupils to board for three nights on the days of their choice. In most cases, pupils are even able to choose their boarding nights at short notice. At Hurst, this is possible because all boarders have their own bed in their own room for the duration of the term, so it’s always there if they need it.
“Boarding gives the pupils a work-home balance. School life is busy and boarding enables them the chance to take part in extra-curricular sport, drama or music after school,” explains Adam Hopcroft, housemaster of the Red Cross boys’ house.
However, the benefits of flexi-boarding extend far beyond the option to take part in more activities. Adam also believes it gives pupils an advantage academically. “Boarding pupils have more access to their teachers as well as their friends. In Red Cross, the boys work in study groups during prep time and, as house parents, we make sure they are productive during this study time. If they work well, it allows them to have the whole weekend free without homework.”
The Sixth Form girls in Martlet house agree. “Boarding helps to structure home time because you get all your work done in the boarding house – then home is fun time!” says flexi-boarder, Tori. Fellow flexi-boarder Jess adds, “You get on with your work because you’re already in ‘school mode’.”
Ellie, also in Lower Sixth, adds, “The Lower Sixth doesn’t have to do work during prep time but because we do so from Year 9 onwards, we do it anyway.”
“Boarding also changes the way you work – I can’t study at the kitchen table any more, I have to work in a library or somewhere quiet,” adds fellow student Olivia.
Kathren Lea, housemistress of Martlet, believes that a boarding environment gives students a strong foundation for their future. “With a mix of international pupils and flexi-boarders from across Sussex, Surrey and London, the girls are making connections they wouldn’t normally make. They are making life-long friends.”
Becky Aveston in Year 10 agrees, “When you board, you become better friends with the other boarders because you live with them.”
Boarding school is also excellent preparation for university. St John’s house at Hurst is set up to do this; allowing Upper Sixth pupils their own bedroom in a co-educational house for their final year at college. However, flexi-boarding from age 13 (Year 9) gives pupils independence with the security net of mum and dad close by.
“As boarders, the children have to learn skills for life, which is preparation for their future,” adds Kathren. “In Martlet, the girls grow up surrounded by strong women who are kind and caring.”
In the modern family, where both parents are working full-time and childcare is expensive, boarding means parents don’t need to worry about the school run every morning, and they have the comfort of knowing their child is taking part in activities or being supervised with their homework. This leaves the weekends free for the whole family to enjoy quality time together.
For children, it is a way to spend more time with their peers at one big sleepover, spend time relaxing instead of travelling to and from school, and an opportunity to learn independence, life skills and take part in activities they wouldn’t usually do.
Choosing to move
Junior school parents, Kim and James moved to Broadstairs from South London at the end of last summer. With two boys aged three and five, the move was prompted by the desire for more space and cheaper house prices but all within a reasonable commute to central London.
Attracted by the sandy beaches and the high-speed train into London St Pancras, the family’s priority before serious house-hunting began was to find a suitable school for their children.
“St Lawrence College in Ramsgate made a very positive first impression with its lovely grounds, plenty of outdoor and indoor space for the children, amazing on-site facilities and small class sizes,” reveals Kim.
“Both boys have settled in amazingly well. Their teachers have been very nurturing and made every effort to help both of them settle into the school. It’s been one less stress for us, knowing they are both happy. And it makes the idea of moving to a new area much less daunting. The boys have thrived and excelled academically, especially Oliver who had already spent one year at a school in London.
“Moving to Broadstairs was definitely one of the best decisions we could have made as a family. For us, it feels safer and healthier living by the coast and is perfect for our young family. We are not a million miles from London either, so we still get to see our friends and family on a regular basis.”
Choosing to board
“The decision to move our son, George, from his West London day prep to Farleigh School in Hampshire as a weekly boarder was not taken easily,” admits mum Alex. “He was in Year 5, and although he was happy with his friends and his place in the year’s rugby team, he was struggling to establish himself academically. Since both my husband and I had full-time jobs, the task of finding nannies who could also offer homework support was challenging. Another issue was the discipline. In what we thought was his best subject – maths – he’d been lumped into a lower set where the boys seemed to be allowed to fool around too much.
“Discussions with staff showed no prospect of him being moved up. In fact, the head seemed more intent on managing our expectations downwards.
“Then, friends with children at Farleigh told us their experience. Their daughter, like George, had some mild, dyslexia-type learning difficulties with writing, and had received excellent support. Then there was the school’s ethos, flexible boarding options and breathtaking setting. Discipline was good without being too strict, and the boys and girls seemed to have more time to be children.
“We had an interview with the urbane head. The pupils we met clearly loved the place. It seemed a school where George could flourish. And so it is proving: we find a happy, balanced boy when we pick him up on Saturdays. And a relaxed, cheerful boy returns on Sunday evening, without giving
us a backward glance.”
Where to visit: Boarding options on the outskirts of the capital:
St Lawrence College
St Swithun’s School