Boarding at school – the benefits for your family

Posted on 6th May 2021 in School News, Which London School?, Boarding, Independent Schools, Independent Education

Antonia Beary, Headmistress of Mayfield School, explains how there are many ways of boarding

Boarding encourages education in its widest sense, and complements what happens during the day and in the classroom. Moreover, it makes everything much more accessible: no travel to music lessons, ballet and dance rehearsals, drama or sports training. Still more valuable is the range of activities and excursions which take place. Teenagers’ default can be to stay in their rooms, on their phones or computers, often until late at night. However, a boarding programme allows girls to be involved in activities that encourage them to be healthy, broaden their horizons and help them look out, beyond themselves. Weekend boarding provision provides the sort of events, activities and trips that you would like to provide for your daughter, but don’t quite have the time, expertise or connections. You might rue the fact that she wouldn’t be seen walking round an art gallery with her parents, but it tends to be true that she is happier to discuss the context of female impressionist artists with her friends. At the other end of the spectrum, nights round a campfire with marshmallows, after the challenges of an expedition, are where friendships are forged. That is what boarding can offer. Such a network of friends, often from differing backgrounds and cultures, is an advantage when you are performing on a global stage, but more so when you need someone to celebrate or commiserate the inevitable joys and sorrows of adult life.

Mayfield, like many boarding schools, has a thriving sporting programme. All girls are encouraged to be involved in a wide range of sports and the skills they learn from winning and, just as importantly, from losing, provide important tools for negotiating life’s inevitable challenges. Everyone plays, and so there are opportunities to be in a team to suit your proficiency and competitiveness. At Mayfield, staff very much encourage ‘sport for life’ so we want girls to enjoy being active and continue well after they have left school.

Providing a wider engagement with the society in which we live is another advantage of boarding. Whether it be listening to the reminiscing of older local villagers, as part of Mayfield’s Life Stories Project, helping primary school children with their literacy and numeracy, or volunteering at the local hospice, the opportunities for young people to look beyond themselves and to give something of themselves back are just as valuable – if not more so – for them as for the individuals to whom they offer support. Our most recent initiative is the Lockdown Listening Programme in which the girls have been encouraged to reach out to members of their family or local community who may be feeling isolated or lonely (after consultation with their parents or guardians), to see if they would welcome a regular chat on the phone. This has been a great success and I continue to be impressed by news of the girls proactively supporting friends and neighbours, and I hope everyone will gain something from the intergenerational friendships developed and perspectives broadened. For some, an ostensibly unimportant conversation can provide a lifeline, and I hope our girls realise the positive impact they can have.

Becoming self-sufficient is another value and girls often comment, with a smile, that boarding helps them appreciate their parents just that little bit more! An increasingly high drop-out rate from university means that admissions tutors are keen to offer places to those who are able to cope independently with managing the workload and the social pressures of university life. It’s not just about being able to work the washing machine (although that is a distinct advantage), but about learning to balance your work commitments and, most importantly, learning to live with and appreciate, or at the least tolerate, those with different strengths and weaknesses. Such social skills (I feel ‘soft skills’ is something of a misnomer), and resilience, are part of the portfolio of skills that employers are increasingly prioritising as crucial for success in the modern workplace, and for society as a whole.

Underestimate a girl at your peril: girls can and do cope well with and enjoy boarding. While of course it is normal to get homesick initially – I would worry if they didn’t – being able to cope with this sort of emotion is an important step towards maturity: it contributes to making you stronger and more resilient, and also strengthens bonds with your friends. Communication is now so much easier and many boarding parents find they have more meaningful conversations with their teenagers, who want to find the time to talk to them, than those who have their children at home all the time. Often it is parents, not children, who worry about boarding. While it may not work for every family, boarding can provide many opportunities during term time, especially for working parents for whom professional commitments mean they often only see their families at weekends anyway.

There are so many more ways of boarding now, that I am sure you can find one that works for you. If you want to be sure that your children are happy, safe and productive at the weekends as well as in the week, why not give boarding a try?

Antonia Beary MA MPhil (Cantab), PGCE is Headmistress of Mayfield School, a leading Catholic independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18 located in Sussex. Awarded the top rating of “excellent” by the Independent Schools Inspectorate and described by Country Life as “one of the finest schools in the land”, a Mayfield education combines academic excellence, breadth of opportunity and exceptional pastoral care in a nurturing environment, which welcomes all.

This article first appeared in the 2021/22 edition of Which London School? & the South-East, which you can read here: