On boarding

As part of National Boarding Week, Paul Mitchell reflects on public perception of boarding schools

An eagerly anticipated part of every year seven school year at Cobham Hall is Boarding Week. Although the boarder/day girl split at Cobham Hall is nigh on 50:50, all of year seven have the option to become boarders for a week. Take up is 1,005 virtually every year. Although the vast majority of our boarders are full-time boarders, events such as Boarding Week have led to a massive increase in flexi-boarding, i.e. staying for one or two nights a week. For some it is always the same nights, for others it varies from week to week. Our day pupils’ parents really appreciate the flexibility and convenience of being able to stay as when needed, e.g. after a late return from a theatre trip, ahead of an early morning swimming practice or just to be together with a whole group of friends for a night.

Of course, boarding hit the headlines earlier this year with the news that EastEnders character Ian Beale’s son Bobby was going to boarding school. If you have no idea who either of these people are then rest assured neither did I, until some of my much better-informed pupils told me they are characters in EastEnders. Apparently Bobby Beale murdered his sister and his father then paid for a new building at the boarding school he is going to. I did wonder if I should revise Cobham Hall’s entrance examination criteria but, on reflection, decided current practice serves us well.

Certainly boarding schools have an obvious advantage and tremendous opportunities to build the real community (unlike the fictional one in EastEnders) that is at any good school’s heart

Further research, prompted by those same well-informed pupils led me to read a statement by an EastEnders spokesman (soap operas apparently have their own spokesmen now, it really was an educational time for me). The spokesman said: “EastEnders is a drama and although we cover real life issues, our characters are fictional. At no point has EastEnders ever implied that Bobby Beale received his place at boarding school through anything other than merit. His father, Ian, merely suggested that he would like to make a donation in the hope of speeding up the process.” If anyone out there whose daughter we are considering offering a place to for next year would like to buy us a building, I have to confess I may consider putting a first class stamp on the offer letter. 

I am not sure what reasons, if any, Ian Beale advanced for deciding a boarding school was best. Certainly boarding schools have an obvious advantage and tremendous opportunities to build the real community (unlike the fictional one in EastEnders) that is at any good school’s heart. At Cobham Hall, both day and boarding pupils frequently take advantage of the high level of support and care offered round the clock by both live in boarding staff and teaching staff. Although potentially clichéd, so many of our girls literally do use words like sister, family and second home to describe elements of their school environment.

It does sound if Bobby Beale could do with a bit of the support Cobham Hall’s girls enjoy. The boarding school style ethos produces a community where pupils ultimately can feel comfortable being themselves and being single sex they can make important decisions based on their own ambitions and desires rather than stereotypical expectations. A growing sense of confidence and self-worth, often despite some difficult moments, characterises so many of the young woman who populate our school. It is no surprise to me they perform so well academically and can also find time to keep me abreast of the latest “current affairs”. And, as I am regularly reminded not only during Boarding Week but at many other times of the year too, it’s fun.

National Boarding Week is part of the Boarding Schools’ Association’s Golden Jubilee celebrations and takes place from 20-26 June 2016. Tell us what you think about boarding on Twitter using #BoardingBecause

Paul Mitchell is Headmaster of Cobham Hall

W: www.cobhamhall.com  




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