The popularity of prep school boarding

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by Dr Trevor Richards, Head of All Hallows Preparatory School

With their top of the range facilities and a family atmosphere, today’s prep boarding schools allow children to enjoy their school life with no time wasted travelling each day. A programme of activities catering for all interests and allowing pupils to spend all their time with their friends creates an idyllic childhood where playing and learning together are at the heart of everything they do.

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A generation or two ago, it was unusual for both parents to work, whereas today the opposite is true. As a result, we have seen an increase in ‘flexi-boarding’ where parents can choose the occasional day for their child to board. This gives parents flexibility in their working life and also allows non-boarders to see whether a boarding environment is right for them. For ‘full’ boarders, the introduction of ‘flexi’ boarders creates a vibrant boarding house with a constant flow of different children staying over, making the boarding house an exciting, dynamic and energetic place to be.

Prep school boarding does not have to be miles away from families. Many families choose a school nearby so that they can attend performances or watch Saturday sports fixtures. This also has the advantage of helping a child to settle and learn how to board before moving on to a senior school, which may be further away from home.

Triangle of care

All prep boarding schools want their pupils to be in a triangle of care (child–parent–boarding staff) and this means fostering a close and communicative relationship between families and school. Acting in loco parentis means that we value regular phone calls and meetings with parents. These allow us to deal with any questions or concerns before they become an issue and to ensure that parents have total confidence in the school.

Military families have long relied on boarding schools to provide a safe and stable environment in which their children can flourish academically and emotionally, protected from the difficulties which changing postings every two years can create. Prep school boarding cannot remove all the challenges facing children, much as we would like it to, but it does strive to create a ‘home from home’ and give children stability.

For new boarders, taster days and letters from future classmates all help to make them feel welcomed. Regular video calls allow parents to feel at ease about their children and allows them to replicate those end of day chats in the car or around the kitchen table, even though they may be miles away. At All Hallows, boarders are allowed mobile phones or tablets to enable them to keep in touch with their families, but access to these is limited. We are always flexible if a child needs to phone home outside of set times as we want pupils to be happy and confident and we do all we can to facilitate this.

Excellent prep school education really does prepare the children for senior school and for life beyond school. Most prep boarding schools offer pupils as wide a choice of activities as possible, so that they can really discover what they love to do, and learn who they are at the same time. Our programme at All Hallows includes creative design, drama, a large variety of sport, clay pigeon shooting, photography, newspaper production and many other extra-curricular activities. Sport is fundamental to making sure that children learn to work as a team, encourages competitiveness and school pride, but also how to lose gracefully and develop the art of true sportsmanship. Modern prep school boarding is very much a partnership between parents and school to ensure that every child becomes the best version of themselves they can be.

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