Get these 8 questions answered – then select a boarding school

For those who have either not experienced boarding themselves, or have visited friends (or friend’s children) who have boarded, the idea of sending one’s children away to be educated can seem rather unusual or un-natural.

Never mind the fact that in the UK boarding schools have been operating for many hundreds of years, only a small percentage of children ever attend one and therefore many stories abound which can provide an incorrect message about how boarding works.

And so with that in mind we thought it would be useful to respond to some of the more often asked questions about boarding.  This list isn’t exhaustive and so if after reading it you have any specific questions please get in touch and we’d be pleased to help you in answering them.

1. Is there a ‘best age’ for a child to begin boarding?

Each child is different and the heads of each Prep-School will have their own opinions too, however, in most instances we’d suggest that boarding commences between 9-13 years old.

Some schools provide for weekly boarding, with the children going home at weekends, however, this is often only an intermediate step as the children may find they are missing out on a wealth of interesting and rewarding activities that take place over the weekend.

2. What is a boarding house like?

Every independent school has it’s own style or ‘feel’ and as such there is no one standardised format for a boarding house.

There are, however, some trends that most would tend to follow.

Within a Prep-School, the boarding structure would be such that a small groups of students have shared bedroom facilities with common room(s) for other needs.  Usually each group would be divided into ‘houses’, often named after local locations, famous local people, or colours.  This accommodation may all be in the same building.

In a senior school the boarding houses will often be in separate buildings, each with their own common rooms and each with quite a different feel or ambience, shaped in part by the head of the house and also by the students progressing through their years of study.

The senior school common rooms may include a television/DVD room, a study area for prep (homework) and a games room with such options as table football or pool.  

Many houses will have a basic kitchen facility so boarders can prepare snacks if they wish, in addition to the food facilities provided within the school itself. 

Most have girls and boys in separate houses according to age.

3. Do boarders share a room?

This is somewhat dependent upon whether the school is based within an older, historic building or a more modern facility. With most schools the youngest pupils usually board in a room with 4 – 9 other pupils and sometimes in their final year they may have the option of separate boarding rooms.

In senior schools most students will have separate rooms, often with those holding particular roles in the house or the school having the option to elect for particular rooms.

Whatever boarding arrangements are available all pupils are encouraged to bring pictures, posters, ornaments, soft toys & suchlike from home to decorate their rooms make their time at school as comfortable as possible.

4. How does the school help new boarders to settle in?

Gone are the days of a student being put on the train by their parents and sent off to a school that they’d never visited before.  Most schools, at all ages, have a policy of inviting incoming pupils to visit the school in the summer term prior to they start.

Oftentimes many of the school students will be out on summer school trips after their end of year exams and so it allows the new pupils to gain a feel for the school some schools invite new pupils to the school in the summer term before they join, this gives them the opportunity to meet other new pupils, the teachers and visit their new boarding house. 

At the beginning of term, boarders will arrive the day before the timetabled lessons start; they will usually have a full induction programme and may be paired with a ‘buddy’.

5. How and when am I able to I contact my child?

In those far away days before mobile phones and the internet the only way to contact your child would have been via a public phone in the school, or by post.  Nowadays all children will attend with a smartphone and a laptop and so keeping in touch won’t, in theory at least, pose a problem.

I say ‘in theory’, since in most instances your child will be fully active during the day and so they may not be as responsive to your messages as you might wish – but that’s only to say they’re probably off doing prep or in some after-hours club.

On that basis, most parents will stay in touch with their children either via email, FaceBook messaging, Facetime, What’s App or Skype. 

6. What do boarders do in their spare time?

Boarding schools are very experienced at keeping their students to a structured timetable, however, this will also include specific times when they can choose whether to take part in sports, hobbies, or simply sit back and read a book.

Often there will be trips out to local facilities, such as the cinema or the theatre.

7. How often would my child be able to come home from school?

All schools provide for breaks at the end of term and at half-term.  In addition there will be ‘exeats’ or ‘leave-outs’ scheduled once per half-term.  These are shorter breaks, usually from around mid-day on a Friday with students returning Sunday evening.

The timetabling of exeats differs across schools and there are usually less scheduled in senior schools compared to Prep-schools.

8. What happens if my child feels unwell when at school or gets ill before returning to school?

Those in charge of each boarding house are used to dealing with children who feel ill and in addition each school will have a registered nurse on site and your child will automatically be registered with the local GP. 

If your child were to fall ill during a holiday & before returning to school a quick telephone call to the school nurse would confirm the best course of action in those instances.

Additional questions

We discuss independent schooling in more detail in our blog and you’ll also find information about day and boarding schools, including state facilities so please sign up to receive new posts – it’s free.

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