The advantages of starting boarding in a preparatory school
Simon Barber, Headmaster of Ludgrove School
Boarding in a prep school brings a wonderfully diverse range of advantages, most importantly the amount of fun the children have. You only have to see the smiles on their faces and the excitement of planning what to do with their free time, to realise just how much boarding can enrich a child’s life.
Long gone are the days when parents would drop their children at the school gate and wave goodbye until half term. Schools offer a variety of boarding options – weekly, flexi or full – giving something for everyone.
For parents in the Armed Forces, it is a great comfort to know that their child is benefiting from the structure and consistency of a full boarding environment. The full boarding model we offer enables parents to relax with the confidence that their children are safe and secure, getting a huge amount out of the school day, surrounded by all their friends, and that at weekends everyone is in school fully occupied or at home for an exeat with family.
Moving house is as much a part of life in the Forces as wearing a uniform and for some Service families this can mean many changes of school and friends. Boys coming to the end of their first year are confident in the knowledge that they will be back next year, relieved to be returning to a staff room they know, food they enjoy, friendships they can build on, teams they look forward to playing in and with a curriculum and style of teaching that they understand and enjoy.
Children, and often adults too, are creatures of habit. Knowing what to expect makes them feel safe. They look forward to the annual Nativity play, in which they can spot the costume they wore a few years before, they know the format of Sports Day and the fun of the picnics, they set their sights high on trying to get into a particular music ensemble or sports team. All this helps them feel confident and consequently they thrive.
Warm and caring
The continuity of care and education that a boarding school can offer is invaluable in providing a stable platform for a child’s development. All schools should be educating children well, but a boarding school must be a particularly warm and caring environment where children’s confidence is developed, and they are valued as individuals and learn to live in a community. At Ludgrove, we are lucky to have outstanding staff members who get to know the boys very well and understand what makes each individual ‘tick’. Across the school the resident matrons, school nurse and boarding houseparents, as well as the teaching and domestic staff are all committed to ensuring that the ‘spotlight’ is on every child so that their confidence and character are nurtured at every opportunity. Unless children are healthy, happy and eating well they simply cannot fully flourish either inside or outside the classroom.
With the competition ever increasing for places in our senior public schools, boys and girls must shine earlier and earlier. It is for us as staff in schools to find that little something in everyone that makes them feel good and a boarding prep school is wonderfully well prepared to achieve this. Having everyone together on site in free time through the day and in the evenings means there is time for extracurricular activities, including music, drama, the creative arts and many sports. Events such as poetry recitations, speeches competitions, choral days and inspirational lectures will also enrich their learning. If a child can speak freely and with genuine interest about something he or she really enjoys doing, they will shine in interview and be a pleasure to be with.
Communication is key and boarding pupils can have regular contact with their parents via email, telephone calls, Skype, FaceTime, and handwritten letters. At a boarding school, children of Service parents overseas can relax knowing that every other boy is enjoying the same routine. To be surrounded by others who enjoy doing similar things and to always be able to find someone with similar interests is very comforting and of course great fun. At Ludgrove, friendships are made for life, boys can be boys and our unique spirit allows them to thrive in an atmosphere of happiness, high achievement, good manners and kindness.
Simon Barber is a third generation headmaster of Ludgrove, following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. Educated at Eton and Durham he first taught in the State sector at secondary level and then, following a brief spell in the City, returned to teaching at Ashdown House in Sussex from 1997 to 2002. He joined the staff at Ludgrove in 2002, becoming Deputy Head in 2004 and Headmaster in 2008. A keen sportsman, he still loves his time in the classroom teaching all the boys in Years 4 and 5 (Latin and PSHCEE). He and his wife Sophie, who oversees the pastoral care in the school, have three children.