Dispelling Old-Fashioned Notions of the Relevance of Boarding School in the Modern Educational Landscape

Boarding schools have been a part of the education landscape for centuries, offering an immersive and comprehensive educational experience. Nonetheless, boarding is sometimes perceived as old-fashioned, and people can have mixed views. However, anyone thinking independent schools are old-fashioned may have forgotten that during the school closures of lockdown many of these establishments led the way in the ability and promptitude with which they embraced online learning. Recalling Sedbergh Prep School’s own experience of the ‘overnight’ move to online teaching, it definitely wasn’t easy – but our dynamic, agile teaching staff had the skills and experience to transition quickly from physical to virtual classroom.  

The reality is that boarding schools have become even more relevant to parents and to education than in the past. Far from being an outdated concept, the benefits boarding schools provide to parents and pupils have expanded: 

“At the risk of sounding a bit like a dinosaur here, I’m going to come right out and say that the number one reason that I believe boarding is more relevant today than ever before is because of the day-and-age in which our children are growing up. Social media is top of the list, but there is also screen addiction, phone addiction. I think you would find many parents say – and I hear it all the time – ‘I’m glad I don’t have to grow up in this day-and-age’.  

Families find it difficult to resist and to avoid because of the FOMO [fear of missing out] comparison that a child will make from one child to another. There is a huge fear of missing out if they don’t have a phone or if they’re not on social media. They feel that there is a currency that they don’t have in the playground, around school, outside of school. That’s a very common theme amongst families today. I don’t think, if they had a magic wand, that it is anything that people would wish for.  

Boarding is an opportunity – not to wind back time to a bygone era, because there is still all of the fun, enjoyment and excitement that comes with this day-and-age, things like swimming pools, astroturfs, X-boxes etc – but it’s the opportunity to take away that fear of missing out. Parents can place children in a family-like, comfortable, fun environment with each other where they can continue to learn how to have fun, make friends and entertain themselves face-to-face, person-to-person – in a way that is otherwise becoming increasingly difficult. Boarding is a way to manage that environment.  

We’ve massively controlled phone usage at the school over the last few years. It’s a means to call home, that’s it. It’s not for social media. If you ask a ten or eleven year old who comes into the boarding house, and who has a phone at home, if they want their phone – they’ll say yes. It’s our job to be the grown-ups in the room. There’s a time and a place and the boarding house is not the time nor the place. We do offer them alternatives though, so they learn other things to do with downtime. You don’t pick up a device – you play, talk to your friends, read, go outside.”

Will Newman, Headmaster, Casterton, Sedbergh Prep School  

Parents of pupils who board also cite additional, compelling reasons for their interest in boarding, which the Headmaster expands on below.

Educational excellence outside the Classroom

Parents consider the benefits of small teacher to pupil ratios but Will Newman explains that education comes in many different forms.  

“If you’re thinking about what is the academic teaching difference between day and boarding, we’re not teaching any lessons after 5pm. What that overlooks is that education comes in many different forms. The biggest part of education for our boarders is a hidden curriculum and I would strongly argue that the educational offering that boarders receive is very different to day pupils. Whether they know it or not, you’re teaching the children how to rub shoulders alongside somebody who is not the same as them – may have different views. They’ve got to be harmonious in the way that they live together as a part of their extended family. You’re teaching them to be independent, teaching them to be organised and to have, at times, resilience – I hesitate to use that word because it makes it sound like it’s a routine of cold showers in a freezing dorm with cross-country runs at dawn! And nothing could be further from the truth! But there are times when they’re going to have to get over bumps in the road on their own. These are experiences that are invaluable to them as they grow up.  

Public exams and grades are, of course, extremely important but I think that when we look at the world in which our children are going to emerge at the end of prep school, the end of senior school, into university and beyond, what will be important is what else have you got. So, you’re highly academic and you’ve got 3 A*, that’s brilliant! But can you keep going when you’re tired? Can you overcome obstacles? Can you work as a team? Can you collaborate? Can you be inspirational to others? So, I think that the educational offering can be different but you’ve also got to consider what kind of education are you talking about?

Educational excellence in the classroom

If we were to look at just the academic education, I think that’s better too. We’re not bound by current government policy and political influences. At an independent school we’re able to remain true to our own course and educational philosophy. That brings stability and a focus on what we know to matter most of all. There’s greater opportunity; our parents work hard to pay the fees and as a result of that we can provide them with facilities and opportunities that otherwise they wouldn’t have access to. It’s mostly about the independence of our offering.

Reasons we see families choosing boarding at Sedbergh Prep

Articles talking about reasons parents choose to board will often refer to the stability that boarding schools provide to children whose parents might move around a lot or might be very busy. Whilst it is a benefit, it’s not something that is a major consideration for parents of Sedbergh Prep School pupils.

We’ve got some military families for whom that is definitely true. I’d say that for the majority of children that come to us as boarders it’s either because they are in a rural area, or we’re a rural prep school. It’s a beautiful part of the world where you have less dense population and there are fewer schools. So, in order to send their children to an independent school, boarding is part of that decision – or else you’re driving two hours to school every day and that’s not going to work.

Other times children’s parents are from overseas and they want to experience a completely different culture to the one that they’re used to at home, improve their English, improve all of the other things that boarding brings – independence, organisation and so on. Or we have local children who see the value added in boarding regardless of their travel time. We get a lot of that. We get many pupils that will start as day children and then board more and more because they see their friends benefiting and talking about how much fun they’re having.

Other times parents have got one eye on what’s happening at Year 9 and beyond. If they want their child to board at senior level, then it makes sense for them to get experience of this in the Prep School.

You can find out more about boarding at Casterton, Sedbergh Prep School at www.sedberghschool.org/prep/explore/boarding or complete for form below and a member of our team will get in touch.

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