Chris Liston, director of boarding at Ashford School, explores the benefits of staying Monday to Friday
Nirvana has arrived! It’s an end to the daily grind of combining our busy working lives with getting the kids to school and activities across London, and the battle of homework. Is this really possible?
‘Tuck and movie night’, fun on the sports field after school, playing with friends and, yes, the odd dorm raid. And that’s just a small selection from the list reeled off by my friend’s 10-year-old son when I asked him why he chooses to live at school during the week.
Weekly boarding is rising in popularity, in particular with busy London parents wanting to protect their child from the rat race. And it’s easy to see why. The shortage of school places in the capital heightens competition and consequently the pressure that is placed on the child to win that all-important place. Often, the schools being competed for will offer an outstanding education, with academic potential being the highest priority. What is harder to find is a school with space, where your child can grow in a safe environment, where expectations are high and the adventure is there to be enjoyed. All these benefits and more are available to the weekly boarder.
Increasingly, parents are waking up to the opportunities provided by the excellent train links into London and the schools, such as Ashford School, which provide accompanied travel to and from school. It offers a breath of fresh air for pressured London parents who are discovering the benefits of space, time, adventure and all-round success for their children in an outstanding school so near – yet so far – from town.
But how do you know if your child would thrive in such an environment? It goes without saying that every child is different but, speaking from experience, the vast majority will quickly adapt to the weekly boarding experience.
The week is short enough for younger children to feel secure in the knowledge that it isn’t long until they see their parents (and vice versa), and also short enough to pass incredibly quickly with a long list of activities, staff on hand to help with prep and the freedom to enjoy time with their friends. All their needs are catered for and contact with you is typically available whenever you want it.
Children who will find weekly boarding a richly rewarding experience are those who are ambitious and open-minded. Our boarders learn to live with people from many cultures and countries, making great friendships along the way. They learn to take considered risks and grasp opportunities thrown their way.
In our case, weekly boarders are housed in a beautiful listed building, in twin or triple rooms with individual bathrooms. Many schools will offer a taster night or two for your child to get used to the house and school. All will provide medical cover and close liaison with you over your child’s progress, particularly in the early weeks.
Five tips for choosing a weekly boarding school
• The school should meet your needs in terms of values and philosophy – don’t try to fit your child into a school that isn’t right just because it has a ‘name’. Outside the M25 there are dozens of excellent schools achieving outstanding results. Look widely and visit a few different ones.
• Most boarders live within 60 minutes of home these days so check out how your child will travel. Ideally, you may want them to be independent travellers as they grow up, so see if this is possible. How flexible is the school about arrival and departure times, for instance?
• Check out the people who will care for your child in boarding. Visit and observe their relationships with the other boarders in the house.
• Talk with boarders and parents of boarders to get a full and honest picture of life at the school – most schools will make this possible. No school is perfect. There will always be relationships problems when teens live together, but how are these addressed when they arise?
• Look at the balance of people in the house. Typically, there will be a good proportion of children from overseas. Well-managed, this can be highly advantageous as it opens all sorts of opportunities to your child.