Junior boarding: a positive experiance for younger children - and their families
– John Baugh, Headmaster of the Dragon School, Oxford
Despite the happy experiences of thousands of children at excellent schools, there are still myths to demolish in any discussion about boarding. So I am happy to report that boarders are not ‘sent away’, denied contact with their families or subjected to cold showers – very far from it as you will see throughout the pages of this Guide.
When it comes to boarding at junior school age however, there can be deeper negative perceptions to overcome: in our society there is far less acceptance of younger children living at school or being away from home than for past generations. Strong beliefs about what is good for a child lie at the centre of this feeling and understandably so. But for parents of children from 8 to 13 whose professional lives mean that boarding at school is a good solution to frequent moves, postings abroad and changes of school, this means there can be guilt and anxiety to deal with alongside all practical considerations. So from the standpoint of both boarding school Headmaster and parent, I hope I can allay some of these doubts.
The Dragon School is a boarding and day preparatory school for boys and girls aged 4 to 13, with boarding from age 8. The emphasis of junior boarding is now very much on pastoral care and working in partnership with parents for the wellbeing of the child. No good school would accept a boarder unless the child, the parents and the staff agree that it is right for the boy or girl concerned; it is all three parties that ensure a happy and successful boarding experience. What underpins this success in every way are the adults who care for the children and the physical surroundings for the boarders.
Welcoming and homely
Boarding facilities for younger boarders today are universally welcoming, homely and full of personal possessions. Boarding children have cosy shared bedrooms, space for games and comfortable areas to relax, read and watch TV. There are gardens for football, conkers and barbeques, and all the space of the fields when school has ended which give boarders scope for traditional childhood play.
Above all, it is the House Parents who make the boarders feel at home. Living with their own children in attractive family homes, the House Parents at a school like the Dragon provide a genuine home life at school for the children; they are indeed in loco parentis. Boarders come back to house during the day and the house parents get to know them well and very quickly. There is frequent communication with home about personal and school matters and a very well-established system of support for any troubles or bouts of homesickness. Boarders identify with their house family and their friends and from my many years’ personal experience I can say they are cheerful and productively occupied the vast majority of the time.
Experienced boarding parents of those who started young will tell you equally of some initial misgivings and how quickly their offspring became confident and settled. They also know how family time together is more appreciated – and ultimately how well the experience prepares children for boarding at their senior schools. In fact one of the best things any prospective junior boarding parents can do is speak to other parents who have ‘gone before’; current parents will tell you how they overcame exactly the same doubts and managed their feelings for the sake of their children. They will tell you that their young boarders are happy at school in the daytime, busy with prep and friends in the evenings and can email and call as much as they like.
Many day pupils ask to board
With ‘full’ junior boarding pupils enjoy the weekends with the attention of dedicated adults and a host of fun activities to try. 'Full' boarding also means regular exeats, weekend leave outs, long half-terms and holidays - all of which help families have time together. At the Dragon, the proof of children’s approval of this regime is the number of day pupils who request to board themselves. So despite what others may tell you who have not tried it, I would urge you to come and look at junior boarding for yourself and I believe you will be very pleasantly surprised.
After spending his early years in Africa, John Baugh became a boarder at an English school at the age of six. Having turned down a career in professional football for a career in education, he taught at Haileybury before becoming Headmaster of Solefield School in Kent at only 29. Subsequently Headmaster of Edge Grove in Hertfordshire he came to the Dragon in 2002. His two daughters attended boarding schools and he was Chairman of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) in 2007.