As all boarding school teachers can testify, some children eagerly embrace every experience on offer at boarding school from the minute they race through the doors for the first time, while others take a more cautious approach to their new life. Our priority throughout the first part of the school year is to encourage the more reluctant as they adjust, acknowledging their insecurity and anxiety.
Having accepted that the challenges faced by young boarders are very real, we can then support them in the ways we have found best over the years.
The school made the decision some years ago to try to create a life that feels similar to that lived at home by placing all our year 7s in a dedicated house for both boarding and day pupils.
Blake House has been run by houseparents for some years – married couples who are well placed to create a homely atmosphere. Although it doesn’t completely counter the homesickness felt by some pupils, we have found that the familiarity of this set-up gives pupils the confidence to start acclimatising to their new environment and start the process of adapting to boarding school life while continuing to feel nurtured as they would at home.
We have a permanent team of four staff (including the houseparents) who dedicate themselves to Blake House, giving pupils the comfort of familiarity with the adults responsible for their care and the staff themselves the time to get to know the pupils well enough to spot any issues that might arise before they have the chance to develop into anything serious.
Adding to the feeling of a home away from home, we ensure that staff welcome the boarders into domestic tasks, for example baking cakes with matron. Just like home, too, is the requirement for the children to take on chores and responsibilities that help them to feel that the house truly belongs to them and also helps to build the sense of community within the home.
While staff are key to establishing a warm and caring setting, we have also found that locating our year 7 house apart from the hurly burly of the main school increases the confidence of our youngest pupils who appreciate a quieter space that they can retreat to.
Providing a structure
As is the case during the school day, it is essential to keep pupils well occupied and in a highly structured programme during the evenings and weekends, effectively making sure they don’t have time to miss home. By structured, we mean that time is chunked into relatively short periods that include any number of different activities such as snack time, organised games, socialising, homework, mealtimes, lessons, music and sports. We also make sure that evening activities are varied, so that pupils with different interests will always find something that appeals. On offer at RHS are swimming, talent shows, climbing, cinema nights with popcorn, quidditch and a myriad of other events.
Dedicated times for calling home
We have found that allowing pupils too many opportunities to call home can lead to an increase in homesickness, so we do restrict the amount of time that pupils can spend on their phones. We dedicate two midweek nights to phone use when they have up to 30 minutes to call home, and then again on a Saturday evening. Of course, as with everything, there is sometimes the need to make an exception and we remain flexible in our approach, dealing with each child on an individual basis.
Mix of options to grow confidence
As a combination of boarding and day school, we do have the advantage of being able to offer a mix of boarding options which ranges from full boarding to weekly, flexi and even ad hoc. This flexibility enables us to take a softly, softly approach, which introduces our younger pupils to the idea of boarding and builds their confidence.
Over the course of year 7, we find that many of our day pupils will try a few ad hoc days and, as a result of enjoying them, will work their way up to weekly boarding, frequently opting for full boarding by the end of their first year with us.
The close bond we form with the pupils in Blake House, living and learning in a tight community, gives us ample opportunity to assess the group dynamics, identifying where positive bonds have developed and also where friendship groups perhaps don’t work as well. We are very well placed to allocate pupils to the house in which they will spend the rest of their school life, taking into account their special interests and personalities, looking for the best fit which will endure until they move into our dedicated year 13 house, Nelson.
Creating a ‘home’
For us, the vital element when welcoming new pupils as boarders is to create a ‘home’, not just the place where they sleep but somewhere they return to at the end of their school day which offers friendship, warmth, laughs, comfort and an overall sense of security. From that starting point, they have the confidence to embrace all that the school offers over the coming years.
About Royal Hospital School
The Royal Hospital School, located in Holbrook, Ipswich, is an independent co-educational boarding and day school for 11–18-year-olds, providing an outstanding, full and broad education fit for the modern world.
Founded in 1712 in Greenwich, London, the school moved to its site, set in 200 acres of Suffolk countryside overlooking the River Stour, in 1933. The school has continued to develop its purpose-built site and has grown in size and reputation to become one of East Anglia’s leading independent schools.
The school has a unique heritage with connections with the British Royal Family and is the only UK independent school to have ever been continuously granted the Queen’s Banner. It flies its own Admiralty-approved Royal Hospital School Blue Ensign flag.
For more information, please contact: Sally Butler – e: firstname.lastname@example.org – Tel: 07961 730303 www.royalhospitalschool.org
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