How boarding schools and boarding parents can work together
– Louise Moelwyn-Hughes, Head of St Edmund’s School
In choosing a boarding school for their child, parents are signifying the greatest possible level of trust in that institution. It is an investment that no good boarding school takes for granted, seeking instead to ensure that parents know they will be able to communicate quickly and directly with the school and that the school will understand its role in closing the distance between pupil and parent. By considering the ways that boarding schools can work with boarding parents, a greater level of care is achieved and boarders are happier and more successful.
I believe there are two key areas in which schools can achieve a close working relationship with boarding parents:
This is perhaps the most important aspect for any boarding school–parent relationship. Boarding schools want to be able to communicate readily with parents and parents should expect to hear regular news about their child. Schools usually make contact with parents shortly after a boarder has settled in, partly to update them and partly to check that email addresses and telephone numbers are correct.
Most schools also provide parents with a list of useful contacts. Parents should feel free to ‘test out’ these lines of communication as soon as they like. This will help parents know they have the correct email address for the boarding house their child is in or know which telephone number to call before or after a particular time of day (helping, of course, with communication across time zones). A quick email or phone call, even to say ‘I am just checking that this is the best way to make contact’, should always be greeted warmly by the school.
As well as contact lists, many schools provide timetables for the school day as well as extra-curricular activities and boarding routines. These may also be on the school website. In addition to helping parents gain a sense of what their child will be doing, this reassures parents about when they can expect to be able to contact, or hear from, their child.
Although parents should remember that no news is often good news (with boarders quickly becoming so busy and engaged with the many opportunities available to them that they forget important matters such as checking in with home), boarding staff understand the need to facilitate communication between parent and child. A good understanding of how the school day – and evening – is structured means parents can make the most of the opportunities for communication if they need to.
I would always advise parents to contact the school early if there is something they wish to discuss. A member of the boarding team should reply with an email to let them know the matter has been acknowledged and to provide a timescale for a fuller response, at the very least. At St Edmund’s we value prompt and direct communication as a means of ensuring our boarders receive our best possible care. We also believe if a parent considers something to be an emergency, then it should be treated as such; like all boarding schools, we have staff available throughout the day and night. Likewise, parents can expect early contact from the school, including notifying them of their child’s most recent accomplishments in the classroom, on the sports field or in the boarding community.
Consistency is key
While boarding schools must cater for a variety of boarders, and rules will be carefully designed to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all pupils, a parent might want to know that behaviour that would be recognised and rewarded at home will also be picked up in a boarding school. Once open lines of communication between school and home are established, it allows both parties to project a consistent message to boarders. All boarding schools should have a statement of boarding principles and practice and this should be made available to parents, staff and boarders. These principles should match parental expectations. Parents should be familiar with this document and expect it to be fulfilled; in this way, parents can work with the school to reinforce the principles. Boarding schools will have clearly stated rewards and sanctions and parents benefit from knowing the ways that positive behaviour is encouraged and what measures are likely to be taken to address behaviour that falls below expectations.
For many Service families, boarding schools with a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) can provide a useful touchstone, helping to establish a consistent set of ideals that are referenced to a familiar background. Many children of Service families find they excel in the CCF and in doing so they build closer links with their lives at home.
Louise Moelwyn-Hughes was appointed Head of St Edmund’s School in 2011. She was educated at Methodist College Belfast, where her love of music and sport in particular was fostered. She then read Classics at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Her teaching career began at Marlborough College where she was a Housemistress. She then moved on to The Perse School in Cambridge where she was the first female Deputy Head and then Senior Deputy Head.