Considering boarding

Boarding schools are a traditional part of British life.

The government is examining broadening state boarding for disadvantaged children.

Other European countries find the British concept of sending children from functional homes away to institutions strange and even cruel.

Parents consider boarding for many reasons:

  • family tradition
  • parental aspirations for their children
    the demands of their careers
    or the belief that boarding schools produce a better product than the family can.

Many schools, in modern times, have gone to some lengths to change from the past. They have introduced a myriad of activities and opportunities for their students. They have even introduced weekly and flexi-boarding to accommodate clients’ needs.

Boarding Concern notes and researches these changes with interest. However, there remain two mitigating arguments against boarding that cannot be erased by the schools – no matter how hard they try to accommodate client needs.

1. Schools are institutions and as such cannot possibly replace the time it takes to support and develop a new interest in a child as they grow.

Nor can institutions give the level of emotional support to children who are striving to overcome learning and other difficulties: personnel, time and intimacy can only be approximated in a school with many children.

The rules governing an institution cannot cater for individual needs and predilections. Students still sleep in shared quarters and are subject to the regulations of sleeping times, meal times and study times. Discipline and good habits are laudable when balanced with the intimacy and spontaneity that the privacy of home and family affords. Institutions cannot provide this balance in a consistent and thorough way.

Perhaps the most mitigating factor of life in institutions is that children are living around the clock with their peers and, as a result, have to ‘perform’ to fit in with peer patterns. A family environment allows a child to be with peers, experiment with their teen or young adult persona and then retreat to the privacy of family and home to reflect or discuss their development.

2. The emotional development of children, adolescents and teenagers is interrupted by the necessity of surviving separation from parents. During this separation, young people live in an institution where adults are not available to support natural experimentation and growth.

Children often feel abandoned or rejected by their families when sent to boarding school. At the same time, children are expected to grow up very quickly and to meet their own needs before reaching late adolescence – the developmental stage when these changes should occur in the life cycle.

At boarding school, a child is forced to create privacy for him/ herself in an institution where no privacy exists. A child has to distort their natural emotional development in the face of their peers.

The rules of the institution disallow the child doing this in his/her own space and time. Once this set of coping behaviours is established, the length of time a child stays at the institution – which is usually several years – results in distorted patterns of thought and behaviour. The organisation of an individual’s emotions are often set for life.

Therefore, many boarding school graduates feel comfortable only in institutional settings, and find it difficult to develop emotional intimacy in adult relationships in later life.

Indeed, many parents of boarders note that their children’s behaviour changes rapidly once they have been at the schools for a term or two.  Their children become less intimate, less receptive to parental advice and requests, and often begin to call school ‘home’.

One typical example of how children have to adapt to life at boarding school is the fact that in the first two to three weeks, many schools disallow phone call, letters and any contact with parents at all. The children are alarmed and homesick on arrival, so rather than parents receiving pleading communications from children that they come home, the school disallows contact until the child has been absorbed into the institution.