Boarding school - the best environment for learning in time of Covid?
For many students who have just come through months of remote learning and are now facing the fact that they may not be returning to full schooling in September, the prospect of being educated in a boarding environment is suddenly looking like an interesting option. It is not too late to apply for boarding school places for this academic year and our Head of Education, Fiona Mckenzie explains how schools are going to manage a full boarding environment in light of the Covid pandemic, and looks at why families may choose a boarding education at this uncertain time.
Boarding schools in the UK are reporting a surge in enquiries for places this September, as families consider whether being educated in a residential environment may ensure a better continuity of education. While families choose to educate their children at boarding schools across the globe for a variety of reasons, being safe and continuity of education are paramount in many people’s minds at the moment.
Many boarding schools are blessed with large grounds that are secure and far removed from high risk areas. The space allows plenty of opportunities to social distancing and with pupils all living on site, it is easier to ‘bubble' them. Most British boarding schools have signed up to the BSA ‘Covid Safe’ charter. See here for more details. https://www.boarding.org.uk/userfiles/bsa/Covid%20documents/Covid%20Safe%20Charter.pdf
This covers all the protocols for schools to stay safe in the face of the pandemic, in line with government requirements. It offers guidance on everything from quarantine provision for international students arriving into the UK, to social distancing requirements and deep cleaning policies.
All schools are taking the situation very seriously and are putting in place stringent rules to manage the situation, to keep pupils safe and monitor their physical and mental wellbeing. This can range from creating a school ‘bubble’ by altering exeat and half term arrangements to ensure that the pupils have minimum contact with the outside world; introducing one way systems around schools; maintaining the highest standards of hygiene; and having clear policies in place to react swiftly and efficiently to minimise any risk in case of any outbreaks of the virus.
Continuity of Education
Boarding schools have scored highly with their online education during lock down, with many of them maintaining a full online curriculum, with lessons being taught in much the same way as if the pupils were still in school and a high level of contact time being maintained.
This has been much appreciated by parents, who have been impressed by the structure and routine that has enabled their child to keep learning with the minimum of disruption. Most have also maintained excellent pastoral support on an individual level and have also checked in regularly with parents to make sure they are coping with the home schooling arrangements too.
Reassured on the safety and continuity of education fronts, there are plenty of other reasons why parents may consider boarding schools at this time.
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For many, the academics are key. Boarding schools are renowned for their excellent teaching and their high level of academic achievement. It is interesting to note that fee paying pupils achieved nearly 20% of all A*s awarded in last years A Level results.
Schools pride themselves on the academic ‘value add’ with pupils exceeding their target grades as predicted by assessments such as CAT4. This is largely due to small class sizes, top quality teachers and the extended school day which allows for more teaching time and additional support when required.
For others, it is the stunning facilities on offer that make a boarding environment an attractive choice; whether it is academic facilities, some schools such as Rugby, have a parliamentary style debating chamber, others, like Bryanston have top of the range science facilities. Schools such as Oundle have legendary design and technology labs whilst others, including Millfield, have exceptional sports facilities. Many schools have invested heavily in art, music and drama provision to provide opportunities for pupils to grow and develop their talents in these areas. These state of the art facilities extend a child’s educational opportunities, allowing them to explore new areas and acquire new skills.
One of the enduring appeals of boarding schools is the traditions that have been built up over centuries of educating the pupils in their care. Each school has a unique set of values and their very own ‘feel’ and ethos.
Being part of a long history and being educated in ancient buildings are just part of what makes a boarding experience so different. Walking in the footsteps of famous alumni can be very inspiring, just as playing on a rugby pitch where the game was first invented can be an awe inspiring moment.
The boarding school structure, with its 24/7 approach allows plenty of time for pupils to enjoy activities such as the Combined Cadet Force or Duke of Edinburgh, debating, being part of an orchestra or the Chapel Choir. There will be societies catering to every interest group whether it is Biology or Bee Keeping, Jazz dance or Judo all of which allow pupils to learn about time management, working out their priorities, working as part of a team and building new skills and forging close friendships.
The boarding house tradition, where pupils live together in their own ‘family’ groups allows them to get used to a level of independence, which is professionally supported by staff who are highly trained and experienced in understanding teenagers and how they flourish best. They are there to mentor and guide these young people, to make the most of the opportunities available to them. There will be matrons to look after their daily welfare, academic tutors to ensure that they are keeping up with their work and a wide array of other adults who act as role models and advisors to the pupils as they grow up and learn more about themselves.
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