Boarding has changed dramatically over recent years, particularly in prep schools; this is in response to the changing requirements and expectations of parents. Long gone are the days of children being ‘sent away’ to board from the age of seven, only going home at Christmas and school holidays. Some parents who are new to independent education can be horrified at the mere mention of boarding due to past connotations of stark dormitories, terrible food and a perceived lack of care – by both the school and parents who are sending their children to board.
There has also been a shift in focus away from prep school boarding as parents are keen to keep their children at home for longer
But times have changed and schools have had to invest heavily in their boarding facilities, accommodation, food, etc. Today, pupils can expect restaurant quality meals, freshly baked bread, en-suite bedrooms and luxurious common rooms. There has also been a shift in focus away from prep school boarding as parents are keen to keep their children at home for longer. As a result, many schools have ceased boarding altogether or have moved across to a weekly or flexi-boarding model.
Flexi-boarding is becoming increasingly common – and very popular amongst parents – because it allows children to board on a regular basis but for just one or two nights per week. Occasional boarding is even more flexible and allows children to board on a one-off basis, for any length of time – if parents are travelling, for example.
Flexi-boarding also allows pupils to take full advantage of the school’s facilities and activities whilst having the company of their friends and peers. Homework can be completed at school under the supervision of the teaching staff, which is certainly a benefit for parents, and let’s not forget that being at school is fun too! More often than not, it is the children who want to flexi-board and have to persuade their parents that it’s a good idea.
Thankfully, schools have moved on from the traditional approaches to boarding of years ago and are now more aware that, within a boarding environment, strong pastoral care and careful, discrete supervision is of utmost importance. The boarding house is no place for a free-for-all environment where children are left to their own devices for long periods of time or where their worries or concerns are not identified and resolved quickly. Boarding staff have to be well-trained and many have trained coaches and independent listeners who visit regularly to talk to the pupils and ensure they are happy and feel supported.
More flexible boarding also fits in with families’ modern lives where, often, both parents are working full time and longer days. Parents recognise the benefits of their young children remaining at school for supper, prep and other activities rather than being picked up at 6pm and then facing a long journey home with limited free time in the evening. It makes perfect sense from that perspective.
Boarding at all ages and levels is most definitely here to stay; I see full boarding in prep schools declining further but the flexi-market continuing to grow. The benefits of remaining at school for additional activities and academic support are obvious and will become more attractive to busy parents with limited time.
There will continue to be strong demand from overseas for those schools committed to the international market and, for them, full boarding will be essential. The quality of boarding will also continue to improve and all schools will be required, by parental demands and inspection regulations, to ensure their boarding provision and facilities are modern, attractive and that the care and nurturing of pupils is innovative and of the highest possible quality.