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British boarding - Lessons learnt from the latest lock down

By the time we went into our third lockdown, boarding schools across the UK had built on the experiences they had gained from their first rapid adaptation of remote learning in March 2020. In the ensuing nine months many schools had tweaked and, in some cases, entirely changed the way they delivered their distinct holistic educational offering.

From an academic perspective, most schools spent the summer term and subsequent break refining their programmes, especially during the period of blended learning, to make sure that online lessons were as effective as possible. Recognising that seven hours a day in front of a screen is nobody’s idea of an education, they implemented changes that included reducing screen time and increasing one to one and small group work in class to make sure that learning continued to be effective. Some schools are sufficiently confident in their online offer that they are now developing online programmes to be delivered more widely.

However, by their very nature, British boarding schools are living communities of pupils and staff who not only focus on academic excellence but who also use a wide range of co-curricular activities, as well as pastoral care to bring out the full potential of their pupils. Remote learning divorces learners from teachers, the school community as well as their class and boarding housemates. This meant that schools were very focussed on concerns about the lack of socialisation, loneliness, and apathy that could creep into many a child's life and what steps they could take to make sure that enjoyable and enriching education could continue to take place.

Boarding schools were hyper aware of the need to support all the members of their communities, be they pupil, parent or teacher. Ensuring that the pastoral care, for which they are renowned, was still offered in an effective way to the community was increasingly seen as being as important as academic learning. Hence, normal boarding systems were adapted to suit the ‘remote’ environment with every effort made to ensure children were given effective opportunities to speak to a tutor, the House Matron, their houseparent or teacher on a one-to-one basis. Friendship groups within schools were encouraged by “Virtual Break times and Meals” where socialisation was timetabled. Identifying and helping those members of the school community who were struggling with the situation was, and is, a priority and schools were hugely aware of the need to deal effectively with the important issues which arose, including mental health and safeguarding challenges.

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As the parent of a two boarding children, it was a unique opportunity to see what goes on in lessons and to observe the different approach schools took for different age groups. Our Prep School encouraged active parental participation with opportunities to join in exercise classes and bingo nights, as well as turning the family kitchen into a ‘bombsite’ as science projects involved an ‘all hands on deck’ approach. Senior schools expected less parental involvement, placing a strong emphasis on individual learning which for some pupils was a valuable lesson in taking ownership of their own learning. I, along with many other parents have a greater knowledge and understanding of subjects and the demands of an academic programme, which has given me a new respect for both the teachers and their pupils. I was equally impressed that many schools continued to host those boarders who were unable to return home for the months of lock down, and pupils report having loved having the run of a campus in their social bubbles, even if lessons were taking place on screen in the boarding house. Parents too, were hugely comforted to know that their children were in a safe environment and being well looked after by the school.

There was also a definite emphasis from the schools about thinking of those who are less fortunate and charitable initiatives seemed to really take off during the lockdown. Whether individual efforts such as cycling a certain distance for sponsorship or whole school efforts, attempting weekly challenges to raise money for the NHS or a local food bank. The schools benefitted from bringing their pupils and families all together at a time when no one could meet each other.

The parental and family involvement encouraged in this period means that many schools have reported that they now feel more engaged with their wider parent body than before the pandemic, particularly those who live overseas, as school activities, such as guests lectures, parents meetings and school assemblies were suddenly available to all online. Few schools will return to the pre lockdown method of running parent meetings now parents have discovered the effectiveness and efficiency of the online version.

No online/remote learning can replace a British boarding education; however it has been good to see how boarding schools have responded to the situation in innovative and supportive ways. Out of the awfulness of this pandemic a number of positives have emerged. The important benefits of living and learning together in a boarding community have been emphasised and schools have once again realised their need to work holistically with pupils, their parents and the staff to provide excellence in developing their pupils’ mind, body and spirit.

Carfax Consultants are a team of education experts who are skilled at finding the right school for each child. Contact us on +971 44385276 to find out more about how we support families to make this important decision.


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