Two’s company

King’s Ely principal Sue Freestone looks at the challenges and rewards of having 17 sets of twins boarding at the school

Back in September 2010, King’s Ely opened a special dormitory to accommodate two sets of twins from the same family who had joined the junior school. The girls were then in year three and year four, and the younger set of twins was only just eligible (by two days) to become boarders. We felt it was important that the twins were initially kept together as a family because they were so young. The aim was to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere, so that they could settle in to life at King’s Ely, where we have considerable experience of looking after twins.

In fact, we believe we have one of the highest, if not the highest, populations of twins at a British boarding school with a total of 17 pairs at present. Five years on from the early days in their own small dormitory, the two sets of twins from the same family still have close bonds, but each girl also has her own set of friends and has grown in confidence.

It has been a pleasure to see the girls develop and spread their wings, and the parents of the two sets of twins have also been delighted. Their father, who serves in the armed forces, said that he and his wife very much appreciated the warmth and understanding they and their young daughters had been shown when they arrived at the school. He said that initially they had not realised the true value of the holistic approach towards child development, but it is now what they cherish above all else for their two sets of twins.

This accolade gave me great pleasure because, as a school, we feel a huge sense of responsibility towards the children that have been entrusted into our care and towards their parents. It might seem clichéd to say it, but King’s Ely is a family school, and the way in which we coped with the particular demands of two pairs of very young twins from one family is a reflection of the way in which we nurture our pupils and watch as they develop in confidence and flourish.

In the same way that we always deal with pupils as individuals, so we accommodate twins at the school according to their particular needs. No student is wrapped in cotton wool and the school’s approach to twins is no different. Our preference is to place twins into separate classrooms to encourage them to develop their own identities. The approach, however, will be different for every pair of twins.

Some twins benefit from different classes, or even different schools, while others may feel more comfortable together. This was demonstrated by a pair of twins who joined King’s Ely recently after previously attending separate schools. They are now happily together, demonstrating different passions and skill sets but sharing the all-inclusive ethos of the school, with its vaulted ceilings and 11th-century gargoyles reminiscent of the fictitious Hogwarts.

Of course, there were twin wizards at Hogwarts. Fred and George Weasley were renowned for their pranks and mischief, rather like the two most famous fictitious boarding school twins of all, Patricia and Isabel O’Sullivan, who were the heroines of Enid Blyton’s series of books about St Clare’s. Anyone writing a book about the scrapes and triumphs of 17 sets of twins at a boarding school would almost certainly never see it published since it seems so unlikely. But it is part of everyday life at King’s Ely, and we take pride in seeing our twins enjoying an education that extends beyond the classroom.

Sue Freestone is principal of King’s Ely boarding school, Cambridgeshire.


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