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Working in a prep/boarding school

(25 Posts)
AdventuresNew Mon 01-Sep-14 13:11:17


I have applied for a teaching position in a prep school, and as I have very little experience of the private sector, I was wondering if anyone could give me any advice please?

From trawling the internet, I have found that:

You have more freedom with curriculum, but more parental pressures
Lots of people love it, some don't
Pay could be more or less than maintained schools
There may or may not be housing included
There may or may not be a fee reduction for your own children
You work very long hours but have longer holidays

I don't yet have any information other than the job advertisement and the school website. I understand that each school is very different, but I'd really appreciate anyone's experience so I can mull it all over. Oddly, the internet isn't full of anecdotal staff tales! Thanks in advance.

AdventuresNew Mon 01-Sep-14 13:55:02


ElephantsNeverForgive Mon 01-Sep-14 14:01:58

In my experience, you will be taken advantage of. If they can get you to run an extra sports club or activity they will.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Mon 01-Sep-14 14:05:59

OP It might be better to ask for this thread to be moved to Education!

StevesBollockAnalogy Mon 01-Sep-14 14:18:08

Hello, don't know much about working in a boarding school but I know about being in one! It very much depends on whether you're in a pastoral role, especially when the children are younger (in a prep school). You're their school mum in a sense, some will be want to have a reasonably close relationship and some will seem to hate you because you make them follow rules! From my own experiences, regardless of what year I was in, I found that I was just a name to be checked off at the right time and place, and not the person that was attached to my name, if that makes sense? Although this may have been due to the fact that I was impeccably behaved <smug> and always tried really hard so I didn't take up much time. My best teachers (I refer to all adult staff members as teachers, even if they were matrons or cleaners etc.) were the ones who took an interest in me as a person- remember they don't have their parents to ask about their day and their friends, if there is an argument going on, if they feel tired or ill or sad. Most children can be very selfish, so if there isn't an adult taking an interest in you and your welfare it can feel quite isolating. Don't be a push over though, they will push against you as they would against their parents!

As a member or staff, at my school particularly, the school took up almost all of their time in a stressful, exciting whirlwind that just does not stop until term ends. The teachers were very close friends, a lot of them lived on campus so they'd have quiz nights or go out for dinners at the local pub together. Boarding schools are a good opportunity for people who need to work in school for a year before completing their teacher training so there was a constant cycle of new fun, young almost qualified teachers- I gather they rather enjoyed each other's company! grin

In short, working in a boarding school is very tiring, strenuous, intense... You'll be ill at least once a term because of all the new bugs people bring back with them, but you keep going because you just have to! It will push you until you're barely functioning and you get to the holidays and think "How on earth was I still working in that state?!" But the students and teachers are in the same situation, they're in it together and you can build brilliant relationships with some (and secretly hate others!). It takes a lot of you but gives so so much back. Had I become a teacher I there is not a shadow of a doubt in my mind that I would work in a boarding school. Secondary is particularly fun smile good luck!

AdventuresNew Mon 01-Sep-14 15:31:08

Thank you for the information. I'm wondering if it is a feasible option for a family with young kids?

teacher54321 Mon 01-Sep-14 16:07:31

Independent schools vary enormously. I worked as a residential member of staff in a secondary boarding school and currently work in a prep day school. I also have lots of friends who work in other schools-generally:
There is almost always some fee remission for children of teachers. It varies enormously between schools (and in some schools between teachers at the same school)
You have much more freedom of curriculum, but parents are very vocal. They expect a lot for their money and can be demanding.
It is intense like nothing else I've ever known. And i wouldn't live on site again-you are at work all the time. There is no privacy. You are totally owned by your head teacher.

I love my job and have no regrets, but my current job actually has a work/life balance. Boarding schools rely on their teachers to do far more than they are paid for and I was regularly at work 6 days a week from 7.30am till 6pm, with one or two evenings thrown in and possibly a Sunday church service as well. The free accommodation isn't really free, put it that way! Also there is always the anxiety that you're not doing enough/should be doing more. EVERYONE knows where you are and what you're doing all the time.

However I have brilliant memories of my time there and met some amazing kids and am still part of their lives 5 years on. I get asked for references, asked for career advice, invited to family parties etc which is very precious to me.

StevesBollockAnalogy Mon 01-Sep-14 18:47:37

Many HMs (House masters/mistresses) at my school were families, my school I know preferred them. The children were adored by the whole house, they were spoilt rotten. I would say they are very family friendly. I don't know that other roles would be so good for families as the school will take up a lot of your time. Like teacher said! there is some fee remission which I think varies on how much you need. My school was happy to do whatever they could (including reducing the fees amongst other things) for their teachers.

Dancingqueen17 Mon 01-Sep-14 19:52:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AdventuresNew Tue 02-Sep-14 12:29:20

Thanks so much for the information.

I have no idea if there will be any boarding duties as yet. Is it usually that some do and some don't?

StevesBollockAnalogy Tue 02-Sep-14 12:51:58

Most teachers are tutors in a boarding house if they don't have other sport/pastoral/year responsibilities. You'd be expected to 'keep tabs' on around ten students, visit them in house each week and chat to them, keep track of any achievements or significant events, check that they are doing well academically and emotionally.

AdventuresNew Tue 02-Sep-14 13:12:43

I see, so sort of mentoring?

How usual is it to work on site? Do most staff or only boarding staff usually?

ZeroSomeGameThingy Tue 02-Sep-14 13:34:40

In a boarding prep (ime) only the admin staff would live off-site and keep normal hours. (And even then each one might have an area of expertise / enjoyment like helping out with drama or trips.)

The teaching staff would have been hired because, beyond their subject teaching expertise, they have the enthusiasm and energy to throw themselves into the life of the school. One teacher might have played rugby or rowed for their university, another might be an authority on art history and lead regular expeditions, another might run all the debating events etc.

Prep schools are actively looking for teachers with young families who will commit to living in a boarding house. Boarding life is so different to what it was a generation or two ago - you would in fact be very unlikely ever to become a house parent without bringing your own children to the house.

You have not so far given any indication of your own feelings OP. Are you asking because you like the sound of the life or because you would prefer to avoid it?

AdventuresNew Tue 02-Sep-14 13:53:54

I really love the sound of it Zero, so long as it will work for my family. I'm just trying to gauge the likelihood without getting my hopes up! I love having lots of people around me, and so do my kids and husband, so I really think it could be great for us.
We're both prepared for the extra hours and being in the middle of all the action. I am a little concerned that I woouldn't see my children at all, but I'm hoping there would be some time away from it all? Or at least, for them to be involved too?

How does it work with visitors? I'm presuming it is OK to have friends and family stay?

Thank you so much for your help, I'm really excited and keeping my fingers crossed!

ZeroSomeGameThingy Tue 02-Sep-14 14:13:30

Oh good - you sound enthusiastic.

Of course you'd see your children, they'd be part of the house.

As regards visitors staying in the boarding house.... Think about it - they would need to have been through enhanced dbs (crb) checks! I certainly wouldn't be happy if you were entertaining random friends and relatives (other than your own student children) overnight in any boarding house containing a member of my family. Schools are very, very, very careful about safeguarding these days. (Naturally)

But, even if you did eventually become house parents you would still have probably two evenings off in the week, plus an empty house every three weeks, plus half terms, a month at Christmas and Easter and two months at Christmas. You would of course be expected to keep your own home as well. So.....

AdventuresNew Tue 02-Sep-14 14:57:07

Oh, I didn't expect to be living in the boarding house itself - is that likely? It is a teaching role, not a HP one.

In terms of being expected to 'keep up your own home' - do you mean we would be unable to let it out of there were accommodation on site provided?

ZeroSomeGameThingy Tue 02-Sep-14 15:16:05

You probably wouldnt be offered a house parent role straight off with no prior experience - but if you showed no interest in progressing towards that... It may be less intense in a weekly boarding environment, I don't know.

The way it seems to work is that at least one of a married couple would be teaching in a boarding school and gradually taking on a relief role in a house (when the main HPs have their evenings off). He or she would then produce a spouse and a couple of tinies and apply for a full HP role. The spouse may or may not be employed by the same school.

I don't know the details of employment contracts and boarding but I doubt that you could stay in school accomodation outside designated days. For one thing lots of schools let out their buildings to other institutions during holidays. (Think of it more like house-sitting - they don't want any awkwardness if you turn out not to be quite right....)

How many schools have you looked at?

(And you would get many more knowledgeable replies in Education...)

AdventuresNew Tue 02-Sep-14 15:32:33

Sorry, good point about Education, I missed that before, I will ask MNHQ.

Thank you.

teacher54321 Tue 02-Sep-14 15:38:39

You can do whatever you like with your own house, ime people either rent theirs out or buy somewhere to retire to that they visit at holiday times. You do have to be wary about pricing yourselves out of the housing market if you do live on site.

It is unlikely that you'd be in a boarding house as a regular teacher, but depends on the set up of the school and what housing is available.

There are huge pros and cons to living on site. I enjoyed many aspects, particularly the food (at our school if you were hungry and on duty you could go and get meals-the breakfasts were amazing!) and the convenience and the environment itself-the grounds were absolutely gorgeous and as members of staff we could use any and all of the facilities whenever we wanted.

What does your DH do? My dh found it a bit overwhelming and was glad to move back off site to live in a normal house again. It's very intense and all anyone ever talks about is work. It is also very easy to never stop working, as your office/classroom is only ever about 150 yards away!

teacher54321 Tue 02-Sep-14 15:42:01

Also I've never heard of members of staff having to move out in the holidays. Your house on site is your home, even though the school buildings are often rented out in the holidays the houses are separate.

teacher54321 Tue 02-Sep-14 15:42:03

Also I've never heard of members of staff having to move out in the holidays. Your house on site is your home, even though the school buildings are often rented out in the holidays the houses are separate.

ZeroSomeGameThingy Tue 02-Sep-14 15:51:04

Ah, teacher I was thinking more of a flat within a boarding house - and I know HPs and junior house staff who are definitely not expected to be there over holidays.

AdventuresNew Tue 02-Sep-14 16:24:12

DH is currently hoping to retrain... to teach!

teacher54321 Tue 02-Sep-14 17:28:56

The perfect package then! It definitely depends on your personality as to whether living on site is right for you. Some schools have school properties in nearby towns which IMO would be the perfect solution-cheaper living costs but a bit more independence. Boarding schools are funny places-I had colleagues who wouldn't leave the site between exeats. They'd get shopping delivered and socialise exclusively on site at weekends and in the evenings. Funnily enough the kids didn't send me crackers, it was the other teachers!
I really really miss the bond I had with the kids and the messing about and general silliness. However since having ds I've made the conscious decision to avoid working in boarding schools until he's quite a bit bigger. The emotional energy that's required is quite overwhelming at times and I already teach a subject with massive extra curricular commitments (music)

Also to bear in mind your teaching will only take up a tiny fraction of your working week and it sometimes feels like it gets neglected in the melee of other activities. The kids are around between 7am and 9pm every day and need supervising/entertaining out with actual teaching hours of 9-3!

happygardening Tue 02-Sep-14 21:22:17

Having been a parent in a boarding prep and now a senior boarding school accommodation especially family sized accommodation is definitely not a given in a boarding prep. Many boarding preps are struggling financially and have been forced to flog their assets. At my DS's well known prep accommodation was obviously provided to the head master and his family but any other accommodation was shared single accommodation.
Parents are more vocal and demanding, boarding prep fees are significant nowadays and most parents have high expectations of their DC's and what their future school will be and expect the school to deliver the necessary results. The relationship between staff and parents is significantly more informal, parents are generally in first name terms with all staff, and will even socialise with them. Classes are obviously significantly smaller and a friend said behaviour completely different, bad behaviour would be uncommon, staff are definitely expected to take on roles that they may not feel they're very good at, plays concerts etc, and in my experience standards and expectations are significantly higher than would be in the state sector. From talking to friends who work in boarding preps it can be a bit claustrophobic, certainly at the schools we know a core group of teachers have been there since the walls were built and were set in their ways and then young teachers come and go as part of their careers.
If I was looking to move to the independent boarding sector I think I would look at senior schools instead, more staff, usually bigger campus less claustrophobic.
Good luck.

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