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Help with boarding schools - how do I choose?

(69 Posts)
PinkPaeonies Mon 29-May-17 09:36:28

Hello MN - longtime lurker here. But still clueless...

How would you choose a boarding school for a girl who is quite bright - but we don't actually know <how> bright as she is lazy and can be uncooperative at times because she is immature. She is extremely sociable but at the same time lacks self esteem. I want her to be happy but at the same time she needs to be stretched and encouraged. I don't want her slipping under the radar. She excels at music - am told she "should be top" in maths and English but doesn't try hard enough and consequently lags behind. So far I've looked at Sherborne Girls, Uppingham, Oundle, Bryanston and Rugby. But I have no idea how to gauge the right school for her.

Grateful for any advice.

Gruach Mon 29-May-17 09:50:07

When you say looked at - do you mean visited? Because that really is the only way to judge.

Obviously it depends how old your daughter is and how much time you have to plan, but, in my experience, the right school will feel welcoming from the moment you step through the door for the first time. And you and your daughter will feel confident about the entrance procedures and excited about the prospect of her joining the school.

I know that all sounds a bit airy-fairy. But the concrete stuff: facilities, exam success won't really help here. Do the staff look you in the eye and make your daughter feel at home? Do you feel they'll be energetic in simply looking after her day to day? Is the school and wider locality an environment that she'll be happy in for years to come?

You probably wanted league tables ... Sorry!grin

PinkPaeonies Mon 29-May-17 10:03:10

Thanks, Gruach - that is exactly the kind of advice I want. Actually I do not want league table advice at all lol!! I want to understand how to find out what a school is really^^ like - also if anyone has any experience of the schools on my list - would Oundle suit a less confident child, for example? Are there opportunities for everyone to join in with music? That kind of thing.

Gruach Mon 29-May-17 10:07:43

So ... Have you visited any of them?

Gruach Mon 29-May-17 10:10:06

Because, f'rinstance, what suits one less confident child might not suit another. It depends. <Helpful>

LIZS Mon 29-May-17 10:29:16

How old is dd and is she at a school which would advise you appropriately? Do you plan to move at 11 or 13? Coed or single sex?

Popskipiekin Mon 29-May-17 10:35:32

You absolutely need to visit. I can't advise at what age it would be appropriate to have her visit with you rather than choose for her, but surely even from age 11 she should have some say? (I only have v young children, don't know what MN consensus is on this). I went to boarding school for sixth form so went round looking age 15. My parents went with my choice. I had an instant feel about each school we visited (only 3). You need to speak to heads of department of subjects she likes, look at the spread of extra curricular activities and the facilities for these, speak to house master/mistresses, find out about discipline (my boarding school was very strict), weekend provision - does the school empty out as it has lots of weekly boarders? Or is it, as mine was, wrap around boarding so masses laid on at weekends.

PinkPaeonies Mon 29-May-17 10:39:42

I've only seen Sherborne. I get what you're saying and we do plan if course to visit the others. But I would like to canvas a broader opinion from other parents. So I guess I have phrased my post badly. I would really like to hear from people who have knowledge\experience of these schools or perhaps have a child with one or more similar traits to mine - and also I suppose for when I do go and visit, what questions should I be asking to really get me a true insight. When I have visited schools in the past, I have always left feeling that it was a good show (or not) but on reflection that I learned very little about what it would be like to be there. So I want to know other people's insights as well as how to develop my own. To be honest I am basically very fearful of making a mistake through poor judgement. I'm also not sure how much faith to put in dd's judgement - I don't mean that as a disservice to her, but as I have said, she is rather immature for her age and tends - in certain areas - to be too easily influenced by what others are doing. confusedconfused

GinGarden Mon 29-May-17 17:01:57

We looked at a number of schools but DS set his heart on Oundle which has been fabulous for a not so academic and lazy boy who is now working at max capacity and enjoying every opportunity that is thrown at him. The pastoral care has also been fantastic. I have pm'd you with more info.

Pradaqueen Mon 29-May-17 19:58:38

Have a look at Roedean. Not overly academic but improving. Excellent music department. Weekly boarding if you need that as an option. Fantastic facilities.

PotteringAlong Mon 29-May-17 20:01:03

It's definitely worth looking at Malvern st James as well.

BasilTheLion Mon 29-May-17 21:29:21

Has your school head given a recommendation?

PinkPaeonies Sun 04-Jun-17 09:17:01

Hi - sorry for the delayed response. Have been to see Roedean and loved it on a number of levels - however, neither Roedean nor Malvern St James would be suitable as we are only considering full boarding.

No specific guidance yet - only the suggestion that DD would be scholarship material (if she pulls her finger out).

Thanks for the PM, Gin - have replied. Xx

happygardening Sun 04-Jun-17 16:13:20

If you want proper full boarding (are you outside of the UK?) then youre reducing the number of schools you need to consider. I know three families who in the last three years pulled their DC's from Bryanston at the end of yr 11 because it wasn't full boarding. Other schools to consider which definitely are full boarding or the majority full board are Kings Canterbury, DS2's prep sent lots there, clever, really musical, talented artists, county sportsman, quiet, eccentric, bloody odd, quite bright all bar 1 loved it. Canterbury is a nice safe city as well with the added bonus of being close to the sea. St Edwards in Oxford itself so could be a good place for teenagers, 80% full boarders, happy, liberal and friendly with excellent pastoral care but also pushy ambitious head so your DD will be unlikely to be allowed to hide under the radar. Marlborough smart, big nearly all full boarders, not liberal, academically very solid, loads of extra curricular stuff so something for everyone.
You can read websites prospectuses all day you need to decide what sort of ethos would suit you and your DD and try and find something tat as near as possible ticks your must have boxes. The only way you'll know is to actually visit them preferably more than once and not on an open day. Watch the staff with the pupils, ask loads of questions I always say if it matters to you ask never assume it will be there or you or your DS can do it. Meet an HM or two, watch the kids when they're going about their normal lives they should look relaxed (your in their home), talk to some ask them what they like and don't my like about the school, they should be honest and no where is perfect. Can you see your DD there fitting in? Does the schools ethos suit you as a parent? Do you want to be involved or hands off? Do you want lots of social functions meeting other parents etc and be encouraged to watch matches or do you hate all that stuff? Find out what the schools general ethos is on this. This takes time, and you need to observe as much as you need to talk.
Being "scholarship material" is never straightforward a scholarship into Eton is a completely different ball game to one into St Ejsewhere. Over the years Ive know really strong candiadates not get one and a few weaker children win top ones. Your DD willhave to work extra hard and not all children want too and ultimately now that there is little financial reward, they are mainly a prestige things and then really only at the really top academic schools, then what's the point unless your hoping for a bursary? If your DD is a reluctant scholar why put her through it?

PinkPaeonies Sun 04-Jun-17 23:08:42

Dear Happy - thank you for your post. It really does give me a lot of perspective. We do not live abroad. We live in London. I just feel that if DD is to board then the weekends are all important to get the most out of the experience. I had not considered St Edwards before - I will take a look. Kings is v appealing but may be difficult geographically from where we are.

Re scholarship. In no way would I push her to do something she was clearly not interested in. This is relatively recent news that has come from school. I feel we have some time yet. And as I say she is immature so hopefully over the next year or so that may change. When she does the rounds of the schools in due course this may also affect her motivation levels one way or another. To be honest a bursary is on the agenda. But I don't understand the process. I have always had the impression that we would be disadvantaged in applying for one.

I would like her boarding school to offer her a home from home feeling rather than an institutionalised experience. So houses (and masters/mistresses )and pastoral care are important - in house dining rather than canteen - that sort of thing.

I think I'll just have to be patient, sit tight over the next year or so, do my research, visit as much as possible and see how she develops. And try not to worry about it all!!

happygardening Mon 05-Jun-17 01:58:52

Few offer in house dinning it's too expensive and difficult logistically. Uppingham does, a couple of houses at Marlborough do but they might be boys houses as does Rugby. I personally like it DS2's school did in house dinning but I don't think I'd necessarily make it one of my absolute must haves if there were lots of other things I really liked.
I've been round lots of boarding schools and worked in some as well the days of Jane Eyre type boarding schools are long gone. Nearly all know that parents and children want and expect a home from home feeling, and a good standard of pastoral care is a given now a days.
If you want a substantial bursary i.e. more than 25% I think you would be very wise to speak to the bursar of the schools you're considering well in advance of any application and sound them out. A few schools do offer substantial stand alone bursaries but in reality not many, most want your DC to win a scholarship which will often have little or no financial reward attached to it and then they top it up with a means tested bursary. Perhaps you should add Christs Hospital to your list. It does offer generous stand alone bursaries but it's not everyone's cup of tea, IMO lots of meaningless ritual and a ridiculous uniform but it is very well regarded there's a couple of mums on here who talk highly of it and it's full boarding.

PinkPaeonies Mon 05-Jun-17 08:31:07

Thanks, Happy. I wouldn't rule out a school based on in house dining - I just like the idea of it A lot!!

I'm not sure if either DD or myself could cope with the uniform at Christ's Hospital 😬. There's something else that puts me off too although I can't quite put my finger on it.

Do you have any views or experience of Rugby? It appears to have a good set up but I am very put off by the town. It doesn't feel as "safe" as going into Marlborough or Oundle for instance. One MNer said that the pupils were ridiculed by local schoolchildren every time they went into town. But I've hear lots of positive comments about the academics and the pastoral care, particularly regarding girls - it seems a "happy" school?

I'll have a lot of visiting to do from next term methinks. I just hope I don't end up even more confused... confusedconfused

PinkPaeonies Mon 05-Jun-17 08:39:08

PS I'd like to revise my former description of DD to unmotivated rather than lazy. So I think that a school where there is a lot going on that will interest her and where the teaching is creative and engaging will really suit her and get her going.

The curriculum at Oundle appears to be quite stimulating. I like the sound of the "Trivium" - a program of non assessed intellectual inquiry across a wide range of topics - followed by all Y9s. I think she'd love that. Sounds great on paper but I'm not sure how successfully it translates into practice though. I don't know if any other schools offer something similar?

gillybeanz Mon 05-Jun-17 09:38:47

Hello, a bit different as my dd only wanted to attend a specific school and board.

For us as parents foremost it had to suit her and tbh you should see this at your first visit.
The children will be similar to your child and you'll see a remarkable sameness about all the children, it will be obvious.

Look how the children welcome others, if they are friendly and smiling, kids can't put this on, even if told to, if it isn't what they feel the front will soon drop.

Trial boarding is a must when you think you have found the right school.
Try to find other parents at the school who can tell you honestly how good communication between home and school is, this is very important. They may have a parents forum you can join.

Try to meet house parents and house assistants you can tell a lot about the school from their behaviour.
Are they relaxed with time to speak, or frantic and stressed. These are the people who will care for your child.

What's the food like and does the ethos/ environment suit your child both during school and after school.

Do they have her interests available outside school, good facilities for after school activities.

Just some ideas, I'll try to think of others.

happygardening Mon 05-Jun-17 09:54:41

Boarding schools cannot guarantee to turn the unmotivated or the lazy into the conscientious and hard working. It doesn't matter how much extra curricular stuff, inspirational teaching or non examined intellectually stimulating stuff they offer. Over the years I've seen quite a few who never pull their finger out and work despite everything the school and their parents do offer and try to do and change this. Some children are just inherently reluctant scholars.
Boarding schools (whatever their websites say) do not have a monopoly on teachers who are creative and engaging, they like day schools (in both sectors) will have teachers who are outstanding, good mediocre and poor. I also believe one mans inspiring creative good teacher may not be another ones.
Lots of boarding schools will offer a similiar programme like Trivium for yr 9. Basically they have to fill up the time, they've got your children 24/7 so there's bound to be more sport, extra curricular stuff, etc. Most schools don't want their pupils especially younger ones flopping around doing nothing. This is when they get home sick or get up to things they shouldn't.
Remember most boarding schools including nearly all you mention on here (bar 1 I suspect) are struggling to fill their vacancies, there is little appetite amongst U.K. parents for full boarding, very few have £37K+ (not including extras) that they can cheerfully stump up for the next five years, their websites are going to tell you how amazing their teachers are, many will have videos of earnest heads saying their school is totally unique, polished happy children also telling you that there school is totally unique, with vastly superior facilities to anywhere else, amazing teachers etc, all will tell you that their approache means that no child is left behind, that they will be reach their potential both in and out of the classroom etc etc. I actually think there's little to choose between most boarding schools, all you mention will have great facilities, good or excellent solid results reflecting the academic level of their intake, lots to extra curricular stuff, they'll also all have pupils who look you in the eye (there will be the odd one who doesn't but this is more likely to a about the child personality than the school) and I'd be surprised if all were not very welcoming (you're a walking £50 note).
It's the little things that will make it work for you and different from the next boarding school or your list. I personally think the HM is key, but you may have little say in who your HM is or you might spend hours deliberating over which one you like and she might leave during your DD's time there and be replaced by one you don't like. The children in your DD's house/Year are also important, but this is an uncontrollable factor. Try and find out how liberal or not they are (ideally they should be as liberal or not as you). How many rules there are in place or not that might irritate you and your DC. For example I know at least one of the schools mentioned insists it's pupils wear their uniform when they go to the local high street, (why?) that you have to go in pairs at least, I personally think this is totally unnecessary for 13+ others may definitely support this especially the idea of always being with other and in fact be uncomfortable if they weren't. DS's school did not allow children out at the weekend for special family events or let them finish term a day early for a flight home didn't bother me but I guess it could bother some. DS2's school was hands off parenting, suits me but not all, some would say communication with parents wasn't great, I work on the basis no news is good news, others want constant grade cards and updates a friend used to get "grade cards" every three weeks again totally unnecessary IMO. If you DD has a particular interest do check they offer it. I remember listening to a new parent at a school telling me their DS was an very enthusiastic basketball player, I pointed out the school don't offer basketball she looked very surprised and disappointed. Another friend sent her not very academic but talented golf mad DS to a well known school and then moaned that he could play golf as they didn't have a golf course! Even more bizarrely I've heard parents at DS2's school moan that their DS's can't be be day boys or flexi board, it's clearly stated on their website that it's a full boarding school you go through a complicated admissions process at every stage it's pretty bloody obvious it's a full boarding school. A parent once moaned on here that at DS2's school no softer options were offered in the 6th form, this is a school that's its well know that it's raison d'être is academia. Other parents moan about compulsory sport three times a week (not at DS2's school I hasten to add), this is standard stuff if your DD doesn't like standing on the hockey pitch literally come hell high water or freezing wind don't send them to a boarding school. You're stumping up a lot of money I'm stunned that people don't find this stuff out before they sign on the dotted line. It something matters to you ask. If you get this stuff right then hopefully your DD and you will be happy and thus become motivated in their studies. Don't go visiting schools and be blinded by Olympic sized swimming pools, rowing lakes or en suit bathrooms these are great but totally meaningless unless your DD is a obsessive swimming/rowing nut with serious personal hygiene problems.
As one parent once loudly and memorably said on a tour of a famous school "for £32k a year of course they're going to have manicured lawns, swimming pools and medieval books in their library what I want to know is what is the ethos underpinning this place?" Indeed.

happygardening Mon 05-Jun-17 09:59:14

Not all in fact most boarding schools will let you have a 'trial" at boarding, many just don't have the time space or want the disruption it causes. gillybeans (waves) DD is at a specialist school that happens to be boarding many going I suspect aren't familiar with boarding. Most children attending standard boarding school will have choosen then because their boarding schools and have bought into the idea.

cathyandclare Mon 05-Jun-17 10:08:06

DD2 is at Rugby for sixth form and is incredibly happy there. The pastoral care seems good, they have in-house dining and we have been very impressed with the arts, music etc.

The town isn't as pretty as Oundle/Uppingham and the like and is pretty down at heel- BUT it is so close and DD feels totally safe there. We've heard no reports of problems (she's 18 so can go to a pub on a Saturday night too, so is more likely to have had issues. ) Unlike the more 'smart' market towns there's a New Look/ Topshop/ Superdrug so they can pick up bits and have a wander.

We'd recommend it for sure, we particularly like the fixed exeat weekends, it really helps with planning and we know the school will empty then.

hickorydickorynurseryrhyme Mon 05-Jun-17 10:14:24

Why boarding school? She could excel perfectly well at a state school. How old is she?

bojorojo Mon 05-Jun-17 10:25:04

May I suggest you move away from the big name schools and look at smaller ones where your DD will get opportunities in whatever she wants to do. I have found confidence comes when you get opportunities and are not always in the third division!

There are very wide opportunities for girls at Queenswood near Potters Bar in Hertfordshire. It is a relatively small school but is very good for music - and brilliant for drama. It can nurture individual girls and promotes close bonding in the boarding houses. It is largely weekly boarding but there are activity weekends and the committed girl can get a lot out of these. Many London parents like this arrangement because it maintains links with home and a wide friendship group. There are sports matches on Saturdays if you are in the teams.

I think full boarding can be isolating for you as a parent. At Queenswood, parents can be involved if they wish to be and are invited to lots of events in the houses, competitions, drama, dance, sport, etc. I prefer this to just collecting at exeats and holidays. It is a stronger community and you can get involved with the ethos of the school. Take a look.

happygardening Mon 05-Jun-17 10:26:27

I wouldn't be overly bothered about rumours about about the town/city the schools is situated in. Its inevitable that there's gong to be some hostility to children at these schools, as there is on here. Many are very opposed to independent education, and see boarding schools in particular the big names seeing it as one of the last bastions of privilege that can be bought. its inevitable that boarding is associated with money and this doesn't always bring out peoples most desirable characteristics basically many are jealous.
Winchester is an exceedingly affluent city, The boys didn't wear uniform in fact I my experience usually looked like typical scruffy teenagers, but obviously easily identifiable as they could go into town at say 2 pm on a weekday when others of their ages would be school. most at his schools are rather self effecting and reserved not brash or loud but still he sensed a certain hostility from shop owners etc. He ignored it. You can have trouble in the nicest of towns/villages or cities, for years we lived in the most deprived borough in London with one of the highest crime rates in Europe and never had a days trouble we moved to the country and were burgled within three months. Thats just life.

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