– how boarding affects families
Lieutenant Colonel Terry Southwood and Rachel Southwood have three daughters at Knighton House School
Deciding to send our eldest daughter to boarding school in the UK when she was nine when we were posted to Germany was the biggest and hardest decision that we had ever had to make as parents. However, it has proved to be the best decision we ever made. After many school moves, each with untold uncertainty, we became increasingly concerned about the academic and emotional implications of the regular upheaval and felt that we should consider boarding school.
Knighton House School was recommended to us by another military family. The school is situated in glorious Dorset countryside with views over the rolling hills and beyond. The grounds of the school are beautiful and as we approached the school it was break time and on seeing the ponies, girls running around in their red dungarees, and on later discovering Lucy could bring a guinea pig to school, our first impression was that Lucy would love it.
After several return visits to Knighton House, as well as visiting many other schools, our gut feeling told us that Knighton House was the right one. This was not because the others were not as impressively catered for in terms of facilities but because we thought that it would be where Lucy might fit in best; and we were right! There is a warm and welcoming feel to the school and a great buzz as the girls move around the school. Lucy has been there for five years and will soon leave to go to her senior school. Over the years we have seen her grow into a confident and articulate young lady and most importantly, she has benefited from a wonderful education that will prepare her for senior school and beyond. The benefits of stability, quality teaching, small class sizes and a supportive, individualised approach has produced a great set of results, all achieved without exerting pressure.
As your search for a school grows you will gather a multitude of glossy prospectuses that expound the virtues of each school. Knighton House has met all the claims made in its prospectus and so much more. Such is our confidence in the school, its staff and its whole ethos that our middle daughter, Katie, started there two years ago age seven, and now our youngest, Georgie, has just joined the Knighton family. At the point of embarking on the boarding journey with our eldest we would never have believed that our two younger daughters would have started at seven, but knowing the school as we now do, this was an easy decision to make. On starting at Knighton, this was Katie’s third school and Georgie’s fifth. We really did not want them to miss out on the stability and wonderful experiences and opportunities that Lucy has had as a result of boarding.
If I was asked to describe some common ground between a life in the Armed Forces and a boarding school it would be about family and being there for each other regardless of situation; that’s what being at Knighton House is all about.
Lieutenant Colonel David Willey and Lyanne Willey have two daughters at Barnard Castle School
I used to be one of those parents who thought that I would never be able to let go enough to send my children to boarding school, but after five schools by the time my eldest daughter Chloe had reached ten, and the heartfelt tears she shed after saying goodbye to her friends and teachers each time, we decided enough was enough. Because our family and friends were mainly located in Yorkshire we chose to look around that area so that Chloe and Aimee would always have somebody nearby. We chose Barnard Castle.
As soon as you walk into Barney the first thing you notice is how genuinely happy the staff and pupils are. With the well-equipped classrooms, the safe and spacious school grounds and the beautiful location, what’s not to like! The school worked around our needs – if we needed to drop Chloe off early so that we could catch a ferry back home, or if we couldn’t attend parents’ meetings, the school couldn’t have been more helpful, offering lots of different solutions. In her first two terms at Barney Chloe has already achieved so much and we put this down to her new friends and the very gifted and dedicated teachers who make her learning incredibly enjoyable.
At first, boarding life was understandably difficult for all of us, but because of the amazing care, family values and the wide-ranging opportunities that the boarders receive I was inundated with happy FaceTime calls. We are always very well informed through the comprehensive range of communication, including the weekly newsletter, fixtures and events on the website, telephone calls and letters. Family and friends can go to the many sports events.
My youngest daughter Aimee (nine years old) was left at home with friends moving away constantly. After hearing about all the genuine fun that Chloe was having, she asked if she could go earlier than we had planned. They are now both at Barney, sharing a room, competing together, enjoying the wide range of opportunities available and making some fantastic friends and memories that will stay with them forever.
Squadron Leader Jon Harrison and Christine Harrison have a son at Taunton School
As a military family and the parents of a daughter and two sons we always knew there was the option of boarding school for our children. This was not something we envisaged doing as we were happily settled in our own home in Oxfordshire with very good primary and secondary education provision. However, the best laid plans often fall by the wayside and in our case it was the option for my husband to take up an exchange posting flying the Transall from North Germany. There was the opportunity for the children to be educated at least for a year at JHQ Rheindahlen but then we would be on the move and we would be returning three to four years later at a difficult time for our older children with exams.
‘Boarding school’ was mentioned and we said to ourselves that if the children (firstly our daughter) did not want to go, then we would decline the posting and stay in the UK. We talked to our daughter and as she was just finishing Year 6 and about to move to secondary school she said ‘Yes!’. Mum thought that ‘Harry Potter’ helped quite a bit in her decision.
Then the difficult process of looking for a suitable school started. Do we go for a prep school then move again for senior or a school that covers all ages; single sex or co-educational; facilities; location? The list is daunting. The prep school and move for senior was ruled out as to me it defeats the reasoning of ‘stability’; life to me is mixed so I preferred the co-educational option and we also wanted the option of all our children to go to the same school if possible. Location? Well as we were overseas we needed our family to act in loco parentis so the West Country was looming as a hot favourite as their grandparents live in Plymouth.
So far we had made a few decisions without even visiting a school but now we need to visit some establishments. We received several brochures and they all looked marvellous. Taunton School not only looked lovely, when we visited it had a lovely ‘feel’, we also had personal recommendations from two families, both military, who had children at the school. Our daughter did a ‘taster’ visit and came back full of how brilliant it was. Decision made! Further down the line both her brothers joined her.
Now, I would love to say that life in boarding school has been plain sailing, but I would be lying. There have been ups and downs. However, the prep school was brilliant at dealing with the dreadful bouts of homesickness that my daughter and youngest son had. I would also love to say that my children are paragons of virtue and discipline has not been an issue, however that is not so. Any disciplinary issues have been dealt with fairly but firmly, helped because we have been able to develop a good relationship with all of the houseparents in my children’s boarding houses. Fortunately these have been few!
The school encourages you to take part in events where possible, although this is difficult when serving overseas. The pastoral care has been great and has helped our children develop into the young adults that they are today. The school seems to treat each pupil as an individual and helps to promote their stronger attributes, whether they are academic, sporting or artistic. There is a realistic goal set for each pupil and I consider Taunton School to be a good all round school.
Now we only have our youngest son Sam, at Taunton School, he has been well supported academically: as he attended a German primary school for 3 years we assumed his difficulties in English were because of this. However, he was assessed and found to have dyslexia; this has meant he has had extra support and his English has improved markedly. He is in the fortunate position of taking German as an A level in a class of two pupils, something that would not happen in a state school. I believe the smaller class sizes in lessons mean that the children ‘do not get lost in the crowd’ and any difficulties are addressed promptly. Although I should add that class sizes are not normally that small.
Socially Sam has thrived and from this September he is a School Prefect, Cadet Warrant Officer in the Cadets and Head of his Boarding House. He has embraced singing and although not taking music as an exam subject, he loves to sing in various choirs, singing lessons and school productions and has represented the school in competitions. The music teacher even invited him along to a concert with the pupils who are taking A level Music to help extend his appreciation for music.
Have we felt guilty about sending our children to boarding school? Yes! Have we missed them? Yes! Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Yes! Would we do it again? Yes!
Colonel Alex Potts and Anna Potts are very happy with Hanford School, the school they have chosen for their three daughters
While living in Scotland and having a blissful family time, we knew that with our next posting, boarding school would be a major factor in giving our girls the educational stability they needed. We have three daughters and although our eldest Mary was only eight at the time, she would then be starting her third school so we had already experienced moving schools. It is not an easy process however lovely the new school is. Dealing with change was difficult for our children, particularly saying goodbye to established friends before starting all over again somewhere new.
So we took the big decision to look at boarding schools and we were recommended Hanford by a fellow army friend of my husband Alex. Setting off from Scotland to look at a number of schools we visited a handful but on arrival at Hanford it was obvious this was the school for our family. It has a beautiful setting, with ponies, chickens, walled gardens full of flowers, happy children running around and a real sense of home, but on a slightly larger scale. Hanford is hidden in the Dorset countryside, set mostly in a fascinating Jacobean Manor house with an ethos based on cherishing childhood. The school seeks to nurture simple family values including kindliness and good manners, as well as developing the confidence that comes through success in both academic work and play, focusing firmly on drawing the potential out of the individual girls. I can honestly say it does just that.
Six years on, Mary and Ella have left and Phoebe has just started Year 4. I have become a Governor and am involved more than I ever imagined I would be. The school has added something to all of our lives and all the grandparents have been taken by its unique charm.
The school really does look after the individual with its small class sizes and talented teachers. The girls genuinely don't realise how hard they are working. They have all secured places in their preferred schools, with an abundance of scholarships to boot, as well as enjoying outstanding academic, sporting and musical results. All done while still being able to go for their early morning pony rides, clambering up the Cedar tree (all branches named), gardening, handwork, but above all allowing them to cherish their childhood.
We ask Mary and Ella what they miss about Hanford and there is an endless list focusing on friends, teachers, ponies, dares, committees, rollerblading, plays, music, art and sport. Both girls sit there with huge smiles on their faces knowing that Phoebe's adventure is just beginning. Phoebe couldn't be happier – sadly for her Mummy! It is her third school and Alex and I really appreciate how important it is to select the right school to support our nomadic lifestyle. The girls would have really struggled without the stability and continuity that a boarding school provides. It's a huge decision sending your children away to school but one that is made easier for us knowing that Hanford's staff are looking after them and the children are truly happy. We owe much to Hanford and I'm in a very lucky position of being able to help secure its future for other families in years to come.