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Boarding School or constant moves between International Schools?

(55 Posts)
alisita85 Sun 01-Sep-13 09:56:41

My husband and I are battling with the decision of what to do for our two sons education. Stick with me as its a bit complicated...

Both of our jobs take us to live overseas, but neither job is well paid - one as a government employee and one with a Church job. However both jobs provide a choice for our children to either be educated at an international school where we live or go to the UK for boarding school.

Our decision would be fairly straight forward and we wouldn't think twice about international school if we were going to be in one country for all their education. However we will be reposted to different countries every 2-3 years. I am concerned that moving to a new school, new country, new friends (or lack of), up to 6 times during their school lives will be detrimetal to their education and their ability to form lasting relationships. International schools vary greatly and we couldn't be sure they would have the same educational system (UK, USA, etc) from one year to the next.

Even more difficult will be that on occassion we will spend a couple of years working in the UK, at which point they would switch back from international school system into local state schools - taking whichever places are left as we don't have a UK address and won't be part of any regular intake. If however the boys attend boarding school they wouldn't have this issue as they will be entitled to continue in their boarding schools even whilst we are on home postings (potentially during those years as day/weekly boarders).

I've struggled to find any genuine academic studies on the importance of continuity of education, potential effects to relationships as an adult of constant moves as a child, or a balanced assesment of the pros/cons of boarding school (from prep age 9). So any recommedations of studies appreciated.

Also interested in personal experience - neither of us was privately educated so a new world for us!

I know this is a very controversial topic - and some of the old threads on boarding schools are quite offensive, so please keep comments helpful. We don't need you to offer criticism on our job choices and the implications that has and I can assure you we love our boys very much and aren't parents who want to 'ditch' our children at boarding school because we don't want them at home. We would find putting them in boarding school a very hard thing to do but would be prepared to if it is the best in the long run. Hence why we are asking advice on what would be the best for them in our unique circumstance.

So, any thoughts on which is best - boarding school from 9 years (v young to live away but with long holidays at home, supportive family living close by and stability) or regular moves to new schools (with no continuity of education or friends but the opportunity to live at home year round)???

duckylou Thu 19-Sep-13 00:51:59

Sorry for my typos!

duckylou Thu 19-Sep-13 00:50:51

Your OP isa but vague on dates. It sounds like you're I would wait to see if your postings really do change so rapidly and keep the family together in the meanwhile at international schools. For all the anecdotes about screwed up expat children, i know of screwed up boarding school individuals who have all the symptoms of being institutionalised during their teens. In most cultures the only children sent 'away' to school are difficult ones or those below average in their studies. Its very British idea to think that staying at school is better than coming home at the end of your school day.

mirry2 Fri 06-Sep-13 20:17:57

The only caveate I would add to my previous positive posts about boarding school is about age. Most of the children at my school started at 11 but I do remember one ltttle girl of none who was very unhappy. she missed her parents who lived in Africa and used to wet the bed. We were all very supportive of her (no bullying in my school - really). My brother went at 10 and I do remember the night before he went, that he was crying at night because he'd read a Billy Bunter story which i think was about bullying at boarding school My dm came in to comfort him, saying they were very old stories, written long ago when times were different etc and he was fine after that. So you need to make sure your dc are emotionally ready.
The other thing was that we went to a co-ed school, supposedly to keep each other company and I remember my df laughing when we said we didn't speak to each other all term as we were too busy doing our own things and making friends.

I really did love my school and I am still in contact with school friends scattered all over the world. We all loved each other like siblings - sorry to be soppy about it.

oscarwilde Fri 06-Sep-13 17:10:14

I would also think that boarding for second level would work best for your sons preferably at 11 & 13 when they can go together. 9 & 11 seems v young especially since your DS2 is the less gregarious of the two.
Lots of schools offer trial weekends so perhaps it is worth looking into whether they could attend for a week or two as a boarder if you are home during the 9-13 years as a taster.

The only caveat to all of that is your incomes and I would choose schools very carefully on that basis.
How isolated will they be at boarding school especially if your income doesn't run to ski trips etc in half term (too short to come to you)
Proximity to any family for visits
How often can you budget to come and see them, or meet them half way.

Mrs S - it sounds like a fab school. Is it in the UK?

MrsSchadenfreude Fri 06-Sep-13 14:46:31

Alisita, we asked our two what they wanted or didn't want from a school. This helped narrow our focus hugely, and made them feel as if they had some say in where they were going. DD2 wanted no school uniform, not religious, not single sex, and strong at art, where she could continue her French and learn Japanese as well, and where she could have her own bedroom. A tough ask, but we found what we think is the perfect school for her!

alisita85 Fri 06-Sep-13 03:42:40

Thanks all for such positive responses - I was terrified before posting this would turn into an attack on any parent that would consider boarding for youngish children! I think looking at everyones posts we will definitely start looking whenever we are back in the UK on leave to try and find a boarding school that might be a good fit. Also good tips on starting talking to the boys about it in a positive way so its not a surprise, and think about keeping them with us for another few years until maybe 13 and 11 years old.

It seems to be that the most successful stories have been where parents have been prepared to be flexible and change their plans after listening to their children.
I suppose the real answer is that anything can work as long as it is a decision made with love, for the best of your children and that no matter what the children know that they are loved and have a close relationship with their parents.
Fingers crossed it works out that simply in practice!!!

Shootingatpigeons Wed 04-Sep-13 11:26:51

I would just add to my earlier comments that I have acted as UK guardian to a number of the children of expats, most of whom came over age 11 or 13, at their own instigation. It has been a positive experience for all of them and they do not lose the Third country kid experience since at the right schools they are with other expats and pupils from other cultures, providing it is managed well, CLC are in my experience particularly good at this but I gather, and in one case experienced that, in some boarding schools they allow a them and us culture to develop (and in some schools it starts with the staff) . And of course the holidays are long smile

The only problem I have encountered that was out of the ordinary scrapes and bumps of teenage life was with a 9 year old at a prep that gets mentioned in threads on Mumsnet. They had been sent, rather than wanting to come, and the school were seemingly incapable of acknowledging profound unhappiness. They eventually settled but frankly both parents and school could have shown more empathy and emotional support.

Slipshodsibyl Wed 04-Sep-13 10:13:53

We are very mobile and kept the children with us until 14 and then they went to boarding school. It has been a great success all round. Moving isn't such a big deal as a25 % turn over each year isn't uncommon and schools and children are much better at accommodating this than they are I. More stable communities.

Actually I wouldn't deny your children the fascinating experience of living overseas with you for at least a few years. My children would not have missed it for the world and they were schooled in 5/6 schools in 5 different countries before boarding. it didn't derail them academically.

In practical terms it is the return to the UK with no address from which to apply to state schools which might prove a bit of a headache.

JumpingJetFlash Tue 03-Sep-13 18:56:53

I'm going to go against the grain here by saying that changing schools every 2/3 years is not that big a deal. My Dad was in the forces and we moved til he came out when I was 16 - often part way through a year. Yes it was sad to leave friends but we made new ones and it was what everyone was doing so I never knew any difference. I love the fact that I've lived all over and met lots of different ppl. Educationally it hasn't held me or many of my forces friends back.

mirry2 Tue 03-Sep-13 18:39:06

I am a white UK citizen and lived all my early years in the so called third world and thn spent my teenage years in boarding school, flying back to parents in the holidays. Most of my contemporaries at boarding school also had international backgrounds and cultures. I had a very sophisticated, privileged background and upbringing, but in other ways I and my friends were cushioned from the harsh realities of the First World, for example I had never come across racist attitudes and behaviours prevalent in the UK at the time.

turkeyboots Tue 03-Sep-13 10:12:08

I moved schools every 2-3 years internationally. Was fine, international schools and their pupils are very supportive of this. Some of my friends siblings did the boarding school route though and hated it. But that was more due to the perception of the favoured child getting to stay with parents.

Vietnammark Tue 03-Sep-13 10:06:43

If your destinations are safe and have good international schools then I would go the international route until they at older, then reconsider.

Dunlurking Tue 03-Sep-13 07:32:34

I recommend following up on FairPhyllis's mention of Third Culture Kids. There is a good summary on Wikipedia. It gives you an idea of the impact on kids of the different scenarios.

FWIW I was a missionary child and my parents brought us back to the UK when I was eleven, having homeschooled my brother and I until then. I was lucky enough to be based in one Asian town for most of my first 11 years, but other expats came and went around us every few years and I now see why I am hopeless at keeping in touch with friends - I mentally assume that friendships are only meant to last the 6 months, 1 year, 2 years etc that you live in the same geographical area as that friend! Of course in those days it was snail mail only, I'm sure skype helps enormously now.

I went to an state day school from 11 to 16 and no one understood my background, in fact I would say I felt Asian, in a very white town. I was happy enough, but moving to a school with a large International Sixth Form at 16 was very welcome. There were pupils from the country, and even the town, where I had lived. I have married an Asian man who also has a third culture kid background, probably unsurprisingly! On the plus side, I am incredibly close to my parents still. They have retired next door to me....

I hope you can find what is best for your family alisita85.

MogwaiTheGremlin Tue 03-Sep-13 06:40:02

I went to boarding school by choice and absolutely loved it but ime boys have it a bit tougher than girls so I would wait til secondary age at least and then send them together.

SubliminalMassaging Tue 03-Sep-13 06:31:15

I would suggest you keep them with until at least aged 11, possibly to aged thirteen, then let them board. Lack of continuity is unlikely to be much of an issue academically until senior school, and as for lack of continuity from a social/pastoral perspective, I can't imagine it could be any more damaging than the risks of sending them to board at too young an age.

On the other hand, I would be very wary about moving them around every two years in senior school.

MrsSchadenfreude Tue 03-Sep-13 06:09:01

We are in a similar situation to you, and about to put both of ours in boarding school. DD1 is 15, and has been in an American school for the past four years, so has gone to an American international school in UK, where she is a weekly boarder (and will do the IB - it was too late to move her back to the UK system for GCSEs). She was adamant that she didn't want to move schools again, and we have promised her that this will be her final school. DD2 is 12, and is going back into the UK system, again boarding weekly, but will board full time if we go overseas again after 4 years.

We have been lucky in that the schools our two have attended have been excellent, but the quality of international schools does differ from place to place. And neither of mine have picked up an American accent!

Madsometimes Mon 02-Sep-13 20:30:45

I would say send them to an international school until secondary school, and then choose a boarding school which meets the needs of your family. Possibly, you may want to put them into a boarding school at the beginning of Y6 if a move happens to coincide with this age, otherwise Y7.

I think that continuity in secondary school is very important. Once children start their GCSE courses, then moving schools is very disruptive. Many schools now get children to choose their options in Y8 and run 3 year GCSE courses, so definitely boarding school for secondary school.

Shootingatpigeons Mon 02-Sep-13 13:06:11

Only downside to our expat experience was a French International School, zero pastoral care. my husband's side of the family are French, and bilingual so it seemed an obvious choice. However after DD1 had to cope with a bullying teacher, and finally came home with concussion because there was a daily battle of Agincourt in the playground and she was knocked out, but teachers just sent her home in a taxi, and my DD2 aged 4 came home with her French friends humiliated because they were wet (it turned out Reception kids were taken to the bus 10 mins before the older pupils and when she and her friends needed the loo they were told that they had now left the school and the teachers no longer had responsibility for them, they were therefore in the charge of the bus company, so the driver had no option but to tell them to pee on the pavement ) my DH was first in the queue to get them out of there. I have heard many similar stories of disinterest in any aspect of child welfare beyond the academic and the classroom. Their British system school could not have been more different, nurturing and child centred.

Needmoresleep Mon 02-Sep-13 07:22:20

Another option used by families who move frequently is the French system. There is greater central control over what is taught on a day to day basis, which makes transfers relatively easy and allows for a greater level of consistency.
One family I know happened on this by chance. They were in a French speaking country when their children were starting school so thought they might give them the chance of a second language. Then discovered they could remain in the system through a varied career encompassing not just the third world but London and New York. They discovered they were far from alone.
FWIW the Lycee in London has a good reputation and is far cheaper than comparable private day schools.

Eastpoint Mon 02-Sep-13 06:58:42

I have friends with children at Windlesham who are really happy there - impressive extra curricular opportunities and they seem to look at each child individually. I think it's hard to sustain relationships as an adult if you have to keep changing environment during your childhood & adolescence. It's only now in my 40s I've lived in the same place for more than 6 years (& that was 0-6).

happygardening Mon 02-Sep-13 06:50:33

Heres my admittedly anecdotal experience both my DS's full boarded from yr 3 one is still full boarding now yr 11 neither are dysfunctional sociopaths in fact at a recent family party so many commented on how "charming" and normal the younger one who can't really remember not boarding is. The relationship between me and them is fantastic. We obviously know lots of boarders in similar situations I'm talking 100's 99% are the same. Boarding can work even for younger children that yours OP the key is to find the right school Windlesham has an outstanding reputation with lots of children from abroad so lots of full boarders which is essential in your position. Go and look with an open mind I think you'll be more than pleasantly surprised.

FairPhyllis Mon 02-Sep-13 04:50:36

I have a couple of friends who describe themselves as 'third culture kids' - parents were diplomats, so they went to international schools in a different country every 2-3 years. They don't have much real connection with their native cultures and feel like outsiders there. They only really have a lot in common with and hang around with other super-mobile expats.

OTOH I know a lot of people who went to boarding school and only one of them had a really bad experience.

Could you wait until they are 11 and 13 and send them to board then? I think there is something about growing up with a stable peer group that is a really valuable thing, as well the educational continuity.

Shootingatpigeons Mon 02-Sep-13 04:31:37

My DDs years at International Primaries were the best of their educational experiences. The turnover is an issue but it is negative and positive, sad when friends move on or they have to start over with new friendships but also positive to have had friends from different cultures, and to have learned the flexibility and open mindedness needed to fit in. Living in other cultures was very stimulating, for them and us, it was an adventure the family shared and is still important to us.

However come 11 DD1 and many of her peers started to want the consistency and familiarity of a home country school, fitting in and understanding the norms is very important to teenagers and they find having to adapt to new norms very difficult when they are already wrestling with the challenges of growing up. We moved back and missed our expat home hugely (and the DDs do find children who haven't experienced other cultures to sometimes be a bit narrow minded and lacking in empathy for not just other cultures but also other social groups) but when we had a chance to go back when DD1 was 14 she was vehement she didn't want to return, and have to fit in to a teen culture that was no longer familiar.

I would take your lead from your DCs, when an International School is a positive experience then it gives them all sorts of useful life skills and experiences but once they start to want the consistency and familiarity they will soon let you know. In the end most of DD1s Year 6 class ended up in home country boarding schools, even when parents started out anti boarding.

teabagpleb Sun 01-Sep-13 21:50:52

I went to an international school for last year of primary, then boarded. My parents gave me the choice age 9 of boarding immediately or having that one year of international school first.

For me, boarding was great (well, it involved being a teenager, but possibly easier to be away from parents for the duration!), and the international school was a social disaster as all the other kids there in my year were seasoned expats and 2-3 years older than me. In retrospect it would have been better to send me to a local school to pick up the language, and then board for the start of secondary.

I would look into options for local education for primary aged kids, especially if there's the opportunity to learn a language - for secondary I think continuity and education in English are needed, which probably means boarding. With Skype and email and texts, many kids are talking to their parents as much as they would if living at home!

nooka Sun 01-Sep-13 21:34:45

I agree 13 and 11 are probably the ages to be thinking about boarding school. One thing to note though is that lots of boarding schools have junior and senior schools with very little interaction between them.

If you've close family living near the school could they potentially weekly board and live with family at the weekend? I've friends who do that with their girls and that seems to work well, the girls have very close relationships with their grandparents who are very happy to have them.

I went to boarding school for sixth form and generally my friends who boarded later were happier than those that boarded earlier. The ones that had been to international schools before boarding had mostly really enjoyed living abroad.

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