Boarding school mythbusting

Vicki Rendall offers advice for schools to address parents’ misconceptions about boarding

“Boarding schools are a parent-free zone”

A common misconception is that children at boarding school are abandoned by their parents, dropped off in front of their new boarding house and don’t see their parents for days.

Not so with boarding now, says Vicki Rendall, housemistress and English teacher at King Edward’s Witley. “Technology has done away with the once-weekly phone call home and, although it is perhaps not advisable for new boarders in particular to be on their mobile every spare minute of the day to a sobbing parent, communication channels are firmly open,” she says.

“Similarly, boarding schools offer a multitude of ways to see children ‘in action’ and to mix with other parents. This is especially reassuring for those whose family may be experiencing boarding for the first time. Sports matches, school concerts, ‘at-home’ afternoons, even ‘come and toast our post-inspection success with a glass of fizz’ evenings all contribute to a widening of the family atmosphere. It also allows day and boarding parents to mingle and share stories, which is key in maintaining a happy school.”

“Boarding schools are austere, cold and the food is terrible”

No matter the effort, some children will always complain about the food, Vicki says.

“I have worked in the independent sector for over 11 years and I have never encountered an infamous Turkey Twizzler (which is possibly why they are complaining!) Boarding schools take catering very seriously and I have eaten some of the best food of my life within them. Some schools’ match teas would put a Michelin Star restaurant to shame. Innovation, encouraging experimentation (frog’s leg anyone?) and providing a proper balanced diet is the life-blood of the school. If the food isn’t good, neither will the students be. Some schools even have on-site cafes where proper coffee and cakes are served, which give a sociable alternative to a break-time bag of crisps.’

This association goes hand in hand with the idea that the accommodation will be equally as grim, but schools should communicate the ‘home from home’ feel of boarding houses, says Vicki.

“Many boarding schools, whether in modern or traditional buildings, are keenly aware they are creating a ‘home from home’. Therefore you are more likely to encounter en-suite wet rooms, architect-designed living areas that have been planned on a mood board and funky interiors than you are a curtainless window.”

“Boarding school pupils are out of touch with the real world”

“I’m not exactly sure where this myth started – there seems to be this idea that going to boarding school removes you wholesale from the ‘real world’ and drops you into ‘boarding world’, where you will spend your formative years thinking solely about yourself and how you can get on when you have to go back ‘out there’, your biggest concern being whether Matron has managed to find your gum shield,” Vicki continues.

Many schools have partner academies or work with state schools in their area, sharing facilities with them and the public. Parents will be interested in seeing a list of co-curricular activities, societies and community involvement, and an active Twitter feed can help communicate all of this.

“Boarding schools are only for rich, posh people”

‘I take umbrage at the use of the word ‘posh’ when it is used to slight people who are in a different financial bracket to others, and prefer to consider people as individuals,” says Vicki. “However, this is probably one of the most common myths surrounding boarding schools, particularly emphasised in certain facets of the press.”

While boarding is expensive, schools should be able to communicate its value and present options for those who cannot immediately afford the full fees up front.

Vicki concludes: “The question for parents should not necessarily therefore be: ‘Can I afford it?’ but ‘Is boarding school right for my child?’ Once that has been established then the practicalities of funding a boarding place can be discussed.”

Vicki Rendall is a housemistress and teacher of English at King Edward’s Witley. She is also a writer, focusing on Education English Literature and Parenting.

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