The benefits of co-education
– Jonathan Leigh, Master of Marlborough College
Modern co-educational boarding is a highly inclusive experience. Full weekends of activities, usually planned at a house level, are at the heart of engaged boarding. Pupils who get the most out of boarding enjoy social interaction, want to take part in the many events available, and have a well-developed sense of self-discipline
There are three cornerstones to successful co-educational boarding:
Pastoral security and happiness are fundamental to all boarding. Without happiness and fun, nothing else can really work. Finding the right boarding house for each child is a collaborative process between families and the school and is worth careful research. In many schools, each house develops its own culture, even though houseparents change from time to time. The existing incumbent is there to uphold the culture and traditions of the house, to guide pupils and to create a happy environment for them.
Encouraging and sustaining strong academic results is the yardstick of any aspirational family and school. Regular form placements and assessments are key and these require careful monitoring. Schools should not apply so much pressure on pupils that it becomes stressful, but they should offer challenging and realistic targets. Each pupil has a natural threshold which they should be able to attain. Once they have reached a threshold, the target can be realigned and the next hurdle defined. It is all about building confidence. Great learning has no ceiling. It is a lifelong process.
A co-educational boarding environment needs sensible rules and guidelines.These should be based on respect for each other – and for the other gender – and a responsibility to make sure that boys and girls are equally involved in all activities in the school.
Fifty years as co-educational
In 2018, Marlborough reaches the fiftieth anniversary of admitting girls, under the Mastership of the visionary John Dancy. There is a secure acknowledgement that co-educational boarding is flourishing. Once another girls’ house has been completed, the ratio of boys to girls at Marlborough will stand at 56:44, though we are closer to an equal split in the sixth form. A School Council (Governing Body), Management Team and Common Room group keeps a close eye on the need to be representative of the co-educational make-up of the school. We are constantly revising the central strategic planning process to make sure opportunities are available and balanced. For example, our co-curricular programme reflects the need to be even-handed in opportunities offered in sport, music, drama, science and subject choices.
After 25 years of being Head of three different co-ed boarding schools, I am convinced of the excellence of the system. Young women and men growing up naturally in each other’s company have an ideal preparation for life.
Jonathan Leigh has been involved in co-educational full boarding since 1976. He was at Cranleigh School for 16 years where he was Head of Department, a housemaster of a co-educational house, and Second Master. He was Headmaster of Blundell’s School for 12 years and took it to full co-education. This was followed by eight years as Headmaster of Ridley College, Canada. He is now in his fifth year as Master of Marlborough College as it reaches the fiftieth anniversary of accepting girls in 2018.