“In 1976 my boarding house had no central heating. There was a coal fire in every room; boys were given enough coal to burn for an hour each evening. In the morning the room was icy, so we would burn a newspaper to create enough heat for a few delicious seconds to get changed. Rooms often caught fire.”
I am sure that your view of modern boarding school is somewhat different from the recollections of journalist Jonathan Noakes. Alongside an increasing need to engage with a rapidly changing and ever more global society, such schools have been required to move with the times. They have responded to educational reforms, to tighter inspectorates, and also to the expectations of modern parents and their children. There is much less certainty about pupil futures too. Choosing a boarding school environment offers a child the opportunity to develop the crucial skills of resilience, tolerance and ambition to face the many challenges along the way with both confidence and a sense of purpose.
We need to equip pupils with the life skills to face up to failure, to engage in honest reflection about those experiences and to have the self-assurance to bounce back. A boarding school environment, where you are working and living together with your peers, sharing both the highs and lows of daily life, produces an empathy towards different characters and personalities, tolerance and a sense of mutual support. In this type of school setting, strong pastoral care is crucial, a point well recognised by the Boarding Schools’ Association which now runs more than 50 courses on boarding each year. As Victoria Goldman and Catherine Hausman wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Chips has undergone a millennial thaw.”
Life for young people growing up in the 21st century is challenging, and boarding schools have adapted radically to meet the ever changing pressures and embrace new opportunities. Increased social anxieties as a result of the rise of screen based lifestyles through social media has added yet another layer of emotional demands on our teenagers. A boarding school education offers pupils a sense of place and a sense of perspective. It gives them the time and space to grow, allows the development of social skills in a nurturing environment, and fosters a sense of purpose in all that they do combined with the ability to adapt positively to change. Such characteristics are crucial if our pupils are going to make the most of their own futures, and to contribute all they can to the world in which they live.
Extracted from an article in the latest edition of Absolutely Education - Autumn/Winter 2017