Summer camps: a taste of boarding life

Marina Gardiner Legge, Headmistress at Heathfield School, explains why her school opens during the summer holidays to provide a taste of boarding life

Choosing to send your child to boarding school is a huge and life-changing decision and often parents and their children feel they are stepping into the unknown. Here at Heathfield, we appreciate that, which is why we run an annual summer school and camp to give girls a ‘taster’ of boarding life so they can decide if it is right for them.

The format of the summer school and camp closely resembles boarding life in terms of the structure of the day, support network and pastoral care. This means that attending summer camp prepares girls effectively before they join the main school, helping them to feel settled quickly. Summer camp offers so much more than a daytime activity camp in terms of the depth of the relationships between students, the intensity of the friendships as well as working towards pupil independence and self regulation. Attendees have the chance to mix with girls from around Britain and the world, learn to live with and understand the ways and views of others, learn independence, build their confidence, self-esteem and most importantly try new things.

With girls aged from eight upwards attending our camp, many far away from home, excellent welfare and pastoral care are our priorities. The British Council, who inspected our summer school, commented on the ‘truly exceptional pastoral care’ we provide for our boarders. UK girls have a set time each day to phone and talk to their parents and parents know they can contact us at any time to check on their daughter’s welfare – something, I might say, they rarely do as they trust the girls are being well looked after and entertained. Parents can also come and watch their girls perform in the regular shows and visit their exhibitions.

The ‘all girls’ environment at Heathfield is a big draw, with girls commenting that it is ‘more relaxing’ or ‘a gentler and more supportive atmosphere than a mixed gender camp’ and that ‘we can just be ourselves’, without feeling embarrassed about trying things or the need to impress boys. 

Girls can participate in a huge range of sports and activities – from football to photography – within our safe and beautiful tree-lined grounds and excellent modern facilities. Being ‘all girls’ means that individuals can choose how to spend their time without feeling pressured to conform to expectations of any kind. This year girls will have the opportunity to play football in our own Women’s World Cup, as well as take part in special events inspired by successful British women athletes. Inspirational women is one of our themes this year, and shows and exhibitions will be linked to this. Here at Heathfield we are passionate about inspiring today’s girls and tomorrow’s young women and demonstrating that with self-belief and hard work they can achieve incredible things. 

Our camp – which has been running for over 20 years – is expertly coordinated by Helen Madaras, Director of Summer Courses, a specialist in the field with 30 years’ experience who sat on a British Council committee for eight years as the expert on welfare and junior courses. It has yielded many memorable successes for both girls and staff. The fact that we have staff from the main school, from other UK schools and from overseas who return year after year shows that they really enjoy the experience, giving up their summer holidays to be with us at Heathfield. It is also wonderful preparation for younger staff who are embarking on teaching and coaching careers. Girls who have attended for a few years and show exceptional qualities and potential can become student helpers and then assistants. The very best move on to be staff – five of our current staff team started this way, several of them having spent every summer with us from a young age.

Most importantly, Heathfield’s summer camp allows great friendships to flourish and girls’ confidence to blossom – as one father who just re-booked for 2018 said: “You have worked miracles on my daughter!” 

Heathfield School:

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