How boarding schools and boarding parents work together


by Caroline Kirby, Head of Shebbear College

Major developments in boarding education in the last 20 years include an increase in the number of co-educational schools and the global digital revolution. But the importance of keeping pupils and their development at the centre of learning has remained. A key part of this is keeping parents in touch with pupils’ academic and personal progress, achievement, successes and also challenges. Regular communication between home and school is essential for a happy pupil and boarding experience. 


Modern technology allows us to update parents through social media and enables regular communication between home and school. Pupils can use technology to maintain a closeness with their parents, even if there is physical distance. Having said that, at Shebbear College, we maintain a culture of ensuring that pupils go first to their housemaster, housemistress or tutor if they have a problem or worry. For parents with a child in boarding it can be very worrying to receive a message or call from an upset son or daughter, when in reality we can usually resolve a problem quickly and find solutions in the boarding house and through the tutor. Staff at school who ‘need to know’ can be kept informed and we can communicate with parents before a situation escalates

Being proactive, not reactive, in spotting any concerns or worries minimises problems and challenges before they arise. Pupils thrive if communication and trust are visible between tutors, house staff, teaching staff and parents.

At Shebbear College, we are a ‘talking school’ where communication and collaboration with pupils and between house staff and parents is key to ensuring we can personalise and support the academic and pastoral journey for every child. 

The diamond approach to academic and personal development

We use a diamond approach of support to ensure the development of the whole child and to offer a personalised and child-centred approach. With the pupil at the heart of the diamond, the four essential cornerstones are the pupil’s parents, tutor, house staff, and teaching and co-curricular staff. 

This approach allows us to work together to personalise the development of each child. Every child is unique and has different needs and requires support at different times. 


When I ran a boarding house, my mantra for parents was always ‘Pick up the telephone, keep us informed and together we can solve any problems and develop a coordinated strategy together. Equally, we should celebrate success and achievement through instant communication.’ These days, it might be a WhatsApp message or a photo sent to parents so that a celebration can be shared immediately. We believe it is just as important to send positive news and messages to parents as communicating about any concerns and issues.

Every young person experiences setbacks and difficulties – that is perfectly normal. The diamond approach means that in a boarding school environment young people can be helped and encouraged to face a challenge and turn it into a positive experience. This can only be achieved if there is a successful partnership between school and parents, working together to create a home-from-home environment for pupils.


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