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Choosing the right school for your child

– Simon Morris, Head of the Kingswood Foundation
With such a range and diversity of boarding schools to consider, the choice of the right school for an individual child can be a particularly daunting one. So how can you best go about finding the right school, a school which can provide the right environment for your child to be challenged, inspired and supported to be the very best they can? What defines all really good schools, and how does one really know whether a particular child is suited to a particular school?

Good boarding schools come of course in widely different shapes, sizes and styles, but they all have some common defining features. They provide a strong sense of togetherness and belonging and they actively encourage individuality within a community of shared values and aspirations underpinned by a clear commitment to outstanding pastoral care. They are absolutely committed to both academic and co-curricular excellence. 

What is a good school?
There should be no doubt in a good school of the prime importance of striving for academic excellence both in the classroom and beyond, but there should equally be no doubt that the wider aspects of an all-round education such as sport, music, drama, adventure training and service to others are integral to the school’s ethos. Good schools also offer a clear sense of progression, encouraging increasing independence and providing opportunities to take on responsibility. Good schools take very seriously their responsibility for equipping young people with the leadership skills to make a real difference in their lives beyond school. Good schools should feel at ease with themselves and know themselves, but they should also be open to challenge, change and innovation; there should be an ease of relationship between pupils and teachers and between teachers and parents, so that open communication is both encouraged and welcomed. Good schools find ways of celebrating individual achievements for pupils of all aptitudes and abilities, but are also confident in enabling young people to build up important qualities such as resilience and perseverance. Good schools are outward-looking, offering all pupils the opportunity to experience the wider world through relevant trips, exchanges, work experience and community service programmes.

Finding the best fit
So how do you get to know the schools and, most importantly, how do you find the best fit? No two children will have precisely the same needs, so it is crucial to have a detailed understanding of your child’s personality, interests, strengths and weaknesses, gleaned both through your own observations and most helpfully through dialogue with the head teacher of their current school. Not all head teachers will have an in-depth knowledge of boarding schools, but many will, and their professional guidance should be sought wherever possible.

Look at a school’s website and prospectus; these will give a strong indication of style, emphasis, priorities and values. Do these match with your own values and aspirations? Certainly take note of the most recent inspection reports; although these can only ever represent snapshots of a school, assessments are based largely on objective criteria and they offer an important third party insight into the culture of the school. You may already know other families with children at the school – take the opportunity to find out what you can, but do remember that each perspective is personal. Many good schools will offer you the opportunity to speak to current parents before making such an important decision. I would take up this offer.

Having established that a school might be a good fit, the next step is to visit the school. Although open day visits are extremely helpful for gauging the general atmosphere of a school and getting a better feeling for facilities and location, a personal visit with the opportunity for both parents and child to engage with key people is essential. What should you try to achieve from this visit? I would certainly focus on the people and their attitudes. Do the pupils seem happy and purposefully involved? Do the teachers engage with you and your child, and come across as open-minded and interested; do they feel like the type of adults you would wish to have teaching your particular child? Does the Head have a clear vision for how individuals are encouraged to develop their existing interests and to discover new ones? Does the Head lead with purpose and with a clear belief and trust in their staff? Are the pastoral staff welcoming and can you see your child entrusted to their care? Do they have experience of looking after the children of Services families and are they sensitive to the needs of children whose family circumstances may well change during their time at the school?

There are, of course, many more specific questions which relate to specific individual circumstances. Good schools will want you to ask these questions and will want to answer them fully and honestly. They are, after all, also seeking the right match between school and child, and indeed school and parent. Meeting and talking to senior pupils can often provide real reassurance to parents as they navigate the complexities of this particular journey. Those at the end of their school career are a rich resource for those seeking to start a school career. If you like what they say, you like the way they present themselves and you would be pleased to see your child presenting himself or herself in a similar vein in the future, then you might very well have hit on the right school!
Following a Cambridge Modern Languages degree, house mastering at The Leys School in Cambridge and Deputy Headship at St John’s, Leatherhead, where he was responsible for boarding, in 2008 Simon Morris was appointed to the headship of Kingswood School, a co-educational boarding and day school in Bath.
Boarding at an independant school
School Address Phone Type PR Weblink
Dean Close SchoolShelburne Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. GL51 6HE01242 258044Bo(7-18), D, M, 13-18 
Wycliffe CollegeStonehouse, Gloucestershire. GL10 2JQ01453 822432Bo, D, M, 2-18 
Rookwood SchoolWeyhill Road, Andover, Hampshire. SP10 3AL01264 325900Bo(8-16), D, M, 3-16 
St Lawrence CollegeCollege Road, Ramsgate, Kent. CT11 7AE01843 572931Bo(3-18), D(3-18), M(3-18), 3-18 
Kingham Hill SchoolKingham, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. OX7 6TH01608 658999Bo, D, M, 11-18 
Erskine Stewart\'s Melville SchoolsQueensferry Road, Edinburgh, Scotland. EH4 3EZ0131 311 1000Bo(10-18), D(3-18), B(3-18), G(3-18), M(3-12), 3-18 
Wellington SchoolWellington, Somerset. TA21 8NT01823 668803Bo, D, M, 11-18 
Holbrook, Ipswich, Suffolk. IP9 2RX01473 326136 Bo, D, M, 11-18
St Davids CollegeLlandudno, Conwy. LL30 1RD01492 875974Bo, D, M, 9-19 
Windermere SchoolWindermere, Cumbria. LA23 1NW01539 446164Bo, D, M, 3-18 
King's College TauntonSouth Road, Taunton, Somerset. TA1 3LA01823 328204Bo, D, M, 13-18 
Queen\'s CollegeTrull Road, Taunton, Somerset TA1 4QS01823 340830Bo(7-18), D, M, 0-18 
Denstone, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire. ST14 5HN01889 590484Bo, D, M, 11-18
Stonar SchoolCottles Park, Atworth, Wiltshire. SN12 8NT01225 701741Bo(9-18), D(2-18), M(2-18), 2-18 
Iwerne Minster, Blandford Forum, Dorset. DT11 8LL01747 812122Bo, D, M, 2½-18
Bucknell, Shropshire SY7 0BG01547 530303Bo(9-18), D(4-18), M(4-18), 4-18
Warminster SchoolChurch Street, Warminster, Wiltshire BA12 8PG01985 210100Bo, D, M, 3-18 
Moyles Court SchoolMoyles Court, Ringwood, Hampshire. BH24 3NF01425 472856Bo, D, M, 2-16 
Pangbourne Reading RG8 8LA+44 (0)118 9767 416Bo, D, M, 11-18
Hailey Lane, Hertford, Hertfordshire. SG13 7NU+44 (0) 1992 706353Bo, D, M, 11-18
Green Lane, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG2 9JP +44(0)1423 566358Bo(8-18), D, M, 3-18
Rossall SchoolBroadway, Fleetwood. FY7 8JW01253 774201Bo(7-18), D, M, 2-18 
Penn Road, Wolverhampton. WV3 0EG01902 341230Bo(11-18), D(4-18), M(4-18), 4-18
Blundell's SchoolBlundell's Road, Tiverton EX16 4DN01884 252543Bo(11-18), D(2-18), M(2-18), 2-18 
Shiplake CollegeHenley-on-Thames, RG9 4BW0118 940 2455Bo(11-18), D, B(11-18), G(16-18), 11-18 
Taunton SchoolStaplegrove Road, Taunton, Somerset TA2 6AD01823 703703Bo(7-18), D(0-18), M(0-18), 0-18 
Cheltenham Road, Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4PL 01993 823303Bo, D, M, 11-18
High Street, Abbots Bromley, Staffordshire WS15 3BW01283 840232Bo 8-18, D, B, 3-18
The Settlement, Ockbrook, Derby, DE72 3RJ01332 673532Bo(11-18), D(2-18), M(2-18), 2-18
The Old Palace, Palace Green, Ely, Cambridgeshire. CB7 4EW01353 660707Bo(8-18), 1-18
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