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To board or not at 13

(41 Posts)
ChazsBrilliantAttitude Fri 03-Jun-11 11:39:50

DS1 is coming to the end of yr3 in a day prep in London. The prep has a good record of getting boys into London day schools and well known boarding schools.

We need to start the process of registering for senior schools over the next year or so (e.g. St Pauls has to be during yr4).

I wanted some views from people who have decided for or against boarding on what factors they took into account and at what age were you fairly certain that boarding would or wouldn't be the right option for your child.

I appreciate some people have strong views on the concept of boarding school and I am happy to accept that some people will object in principle to boarding but that is not really the advice I am looking for [hopeful emoticon].

I would consider registering DS1 for boarding schools at 9-10 and risk losing the registration fee if it is not the right thing for him by the age 12.

<<dons hard hat just in case>>

Colleger Fri 03-Jun-11 13:29:00

I think you need to register at two different boarding schools - an academic and less selective - and London day schools of your choice.

For years and years I was convinced DS only had the personality to go to Winchester and when he got into Eton I was still very unsure. The tests happen so early that a child at 10/11 is very different at 13. Now I can see that he will definitely suit Eton as he has developed a backbone, a gob wink and is less of an oddball geek. I say all this because your child will be very different at 13.

Another factor to consider, is do you really want DC's in London schools for their entire childhood? I certainly wouldn't if I had options! (dons hard hat too)

If it is a boys school that you are after then I would register for Radley asap as it is first come first served and then have an academic option as a back up - Eton, Winchester etc. If it's co-ed then Marlborough is becoming very competitive Sevenoaks is also very academic.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Fri 03-Jun-11 14:40:34

Thanks - why did you think boarding was right for your DS. I know some people whose kids have chosen boarding for themselves and another who had a child who really benefited from being occupied every waking minute.

franticantic Fri 03-Jun-11 15:06:52

Our child boarded at 11.

Reasons for choosing boarding included (though were not limited to):
Stability for him so he wouldn't have to move schools before 6th form (a probability if he had gone to a day school);
Lack of any realistic day school option in our particular area / circs;
The fact that he wanted to go.

Things we took into account included:
His personality; we wouldn't have sent him if we thought he wouldn't be suited;
The effect that his "leaving home" might have upon him, his siblings and us (what would we talk about in his absence? Would we worry too much?);
Should it be weekly boarding or full (we went for weekly - definitely the right choice for us)
Money (of course)
The inspection reports - not just academic but importantly, the pastoral care available.

The first term is really, really hard. Your child has to get used to a new school which will be bigger, noisier and scarier than the one they were at before, and get used to much stricter rules and ways of working, and get used to having to make a whole new set of friends and on top of that have to deal with homesickness, lack of privacy and a sense of bewilderment about where they are and what they are doing without being able to get immediate reassurance from their parents. In my case having been as satisfied as I could be beforehand that he would be fine, I spent at least that first term pretty convinced that we had done the wrong thing.

By the end of the first year however, although there were still occasional bouts of homesickness, his view was that boarding was the best thing about the school!

The right choice for him and us then; but every child, every family and every school is different as of course you know. As to the right time, be guided by him and by your own instinct.
Good luck!

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Fri 03-Jun-11 15:17:51

Thanks - franticantic

I hadn't really thought about the impact on the wider family dynamic. DS1 has a younger brother so we would have to think through how he would feel as well: would he miss his brother too much or would he like having Mum and Dad to himself.

If we are going down the boarding route my instinctive preference would be for weekly boarding but I know this limits our choice of schools.

Colleger Fri 03-Jun-11 20:54:41

At 13, most kids are a pain in the neck and boarding school is wonderful for making them grateful that they have parents and parents grateful that they have kids! grin

We chose the school and it just happened to be a boarding school. At Y4 we wanted our sons to have freedom, playing in the woods, homework at school and a blissful childhood and we felt this could not happen in a London day school. The other benefits came afterwards but it does affect family dynamics. Younger DC's got individual attention and when eldest came home the sibling relationship was far more amicable. If anything I would opt to board at prep than senior school if we could only choose one.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Fri 03-Jun-11 21:30:05

Colleger thanks again. One of my male colleagues who boarded takes the view that boarding was an entirely reasonable way of his parents dealing with a smelly teenager (his words not mine). grin

I will stop and think what I want out of a school other than academics (very easy to get on that treadmill if you are looking at the London day schools) as the there is a reasonable choice of schools which are academically "good or very good" so the deciding factor should be the other stuff.

Thanks to you both it is helping me a lot to clarify the issues I should be thinking about other than the academic side.

carltonscroop Sun 05-Jun-11 21:40:29

I've been reading this with interest as I'm in something of the same situation.

DS, if asked, would say he doesn't want to board - but he's still some way from being 13 and I don't want to close off any options.

OP: you've still got plenty of thinking/visiting time. Very few schools now manage their lists by early registration. Even with schools that pre-test in yr6 you can still join the list in yr5.

itsatiggerday Sun 05-Jun-11 21:51:04

My sibling and I both boarded from 13, a couple of years apart. I hated being on my own at home for those years before I started at the school, hated family events where I got trailed along without a companion to play with and resented that in the holidays, I still had to do all the chores as "she's only just home and needs time to chill after a busy term". I'm sure it wasn't as one sided as that but it felt like it. So I chose to go to the same school and was exceedingly homesick for most of the first year and every term start after that but I'd still say it was the best thing I did school wise. Our relationship got better and better through having more in common and I stuck with it since it had been my choice to go in the first place which I think taught me some necessary lessons in independence and self confidence which would have been much more painfully learnt later in life.

Not sure how much that helps, but I guess I would say it's crucial that he's involved in the decision and you need to consider the longer term. There was never a question it was the right thing for my sis and although my parents worried a bit about the impact on me at home alone, it was only a couple of years before I went too.

Bink Sun 05-Jun-11 22:04:45

I've come round to ds boarding (he's 12, year 7; Common Entrance next year) because he is fairly eccentric - main 'symptom' being an imaginary parallel universe where he spends all his idle hours - and a no-nonsense, friendly, immersive prep school has been really good for him, lots of straightforward ordinary-boy 'normalisation' in among the camaraderie, with minimal opportunities for going off-planet. Gradually, too, he's come to be able to switch off the parallel universe stuff when he's at school (which I think is great, because otherwise he's rather at the mercy of it).

We were weighing up London academic day schools against strongly-pastoral boarding schools, and the headmaster of his current prep was very honest about how ds might get lost (and withdraw, and regress) in the much tougher environments of London day schools. And given how good the immersiveness of prep school has been for him, we think it's probably even better if he lives it too. He's never going to lose the quirks, but the more practice he gets at being part of a community the better. (Home is fairly quirky - a bit Bronteish. Not wholly ordinary & certainly not normalising.)

That's a very specific set of circumstances though.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Sun 05-Jun-11 22:05:07

carlton I am thinking along those lines. I'll see how DS1 feels a bit closer to the time. His school will be preparing him for the yr6 pre-tests / interviews at the day schools anyway so adding an extra school or two into the mix even as late as yr5 wouldn't be an issue.

itsatiggerday that's very helpful. I'm beginning to understand that I have to look at it from both my son's Pov but also on a wider family basis. I'm glad it worked out well in the end for you and your sister in the long run.

Bink Sun 05-Jun-11 22:06:14

I forgot the MOST important point - ds himself wants to board!

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Sun 05-Jun-11 22:10:53

Bink I have some sympathy with where you are coming from as until very recently DS1 shared his room and his head with 7 imaginary friends. I do worry a bit about the possible "sink or swim" culture that may exist in some of the London day schools. I suspect we will be making our final decision on the right school quite late on once we see how DS1's personality develops.

manicinsomniac Sun 05-Jun-11 22:25:12

colleger - Radley as a NON academic option?!? Are you sure? I thought Radley was very academic. The scholarship papers are certainly among the hardest out there.

I don't think I could choose boarding even if I could afford it but I do think that is a parent issue not a child's. The boarders where I work absolutely adore it.

JenniferClarissa Sun 05-Jun-11 23:46:21

<dons hard hat>

I have two boarders, one junior, one senior. It has worked well for both, but, as I've said before in other identities, it totally depends on the child.

I agree with frantic, one of the things we failed to do was to predict the impact on DC1 leaving home on DC2. DC2 really missed DC1, and additional parental attention did not make up for that grin.

DC1 went up to (full boarding - no weekly option) senior school last year. Based on my observations, DCs who did not board as juniors found it harder to settle than those who had previously boarded. Time at a boarding prep is very well structured, but IME far less so at senior school (especially at weekends), so DCs and to get to grips with both being away for home for the first time and organising their time. We were lucky, in that DC1 is sporty, and has been in a team each term (not necessarily A or B, but nevertheless it gets them out of the house). One of DC’s friends enjoys drama and persuaded DC to sign up for a play, so again it gave DC something to do. So on that basis OP you might want to think about weekly boarding

DC1 has rarely felt homesick at either school (I like to think that says more about the school than about our parenting abilities and how much DC1 likes us smile). DC2 finds saying goodbye hard, but once at school is perfectly happy according to matrons, other parents, form tutor etc.

Someone will be along in a moment to tell me I’m wrong deluded.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Sun 05-Jun-11 23:56:22

JenniferClarissa thanks sounds like it is the right thing for your DC, out of interest why did you think boarding was right for your DC, what do you feel boarding offers? I am trying to weigh up all the other elements that I want out of a school other than the academic side.

JenniferClarissa Mon 06-Jun-11 01:16:54

For DC1 it was regular moves with DH's job, including the possibility of going overseas (which happened a couple of years after DC1 started). The location of our chosen school meant that occasional/weekly boarding was not an option, so it was all or nothing. In any case we knew that full boarding would need to happen sooner or later, and it meant that we were around to help with the settling in period. For DC2 it was because DC did not settle where we were living overseas and wanted to be like their sibling.

When making up our minds we agreed that the continuity of education, the friendships DC would make and the quality of the education outweighed our selfish wish to drag them with us everywhere we went. By education, I don't just mean the academic side of life, but the sport, drama and music all there on tap and encouraged. I can't imagine how you would fit all that in without living at school grin.

Because we were in the UK to start with, we were able to go to school events, support DC at matches, school plays, sports days etc and feel very much part of the school community.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Mon 06-Jun-11 09:57:10

JenniferClarissa thanks again. From what I have heard both on this thread and RL the DC do get a lot of choices of activities when the board and get encouraged to try new things.

happygardening Mon 06-Jun-11 12:16:20

Both my DS's have ful/weekly boarded since 7 yrs old. I think in general that there is no particular type of personality that it is more suited to as there are all types at their school. Although I suspect if you were very reclusive you would find it difficult. As with so many other things it rises and falls on its implementation. At senior schools the house master is the key person in this process and in many schools you can choose your house. Don't be influenced by others find one that you like. The other important factor in making boarding work is that you need your sons fellow boarders to be in the same situation as he is. So if you want full boarding look at schools that only do full boarding. Many claim too but I found that when asked "how many were actually in last weekend?" most schools are in reality only have a handful of full boarders in each house. Eton Winchester and Harrow are all full boarding schools.
One final comment boarding is not for parents who have to be in control all the time and when I tell other parents that my children have boarded from an early age that is the thing that ultimately puts many off even if they wont admit it!

meditrina Mon 06-Jun-11 12:21:50

A friend' s son started weekly boarding at 13 this year - not quite their plan but they hope to move house later this year. When they told him that the move was finally in the offing, his first comment was to ask if he could PLEASE stay boarding. I think a lot comes down to the temperament of the child and how well they fit the school.

JenniferClarissa Mon 06-Jun-11 12:40:28

good advice there from happygardening.

Colleger Mon 06-Jun-11 12:41:14

Other factors to consider is holidays. Some schools do not have Exeats and I would hate that but for an overseas parent this may be essential. I'm sure there are lots more but I know for a fact that Oundle and Dean Close Senior School have no Exeats.

An Exeat is a 3-4 day holiday between the start/end of term and half term so usually in week 2/3 and week 8/9 of term.

ChazsBrilliantAttitude Mon 06-Jun-11 12:49:29

Happygardening, meditrina & Colleger Thank you all for your comments. I am getting a much clear picture of the questions now. I didn't realise how important the houses and housemasters can be at some schools and that is a very good point about weekends etc. I would definitely want Exeats.

I am learning a lot.

goinggetstough Mon 06-Jun-11 17:21:23

On the subject of exeats do remember even with schools that say they don't have exeats( as in a 3 day weekend where the school closes) many do allow pupils to leave school after games on a Saturday afternoon and not return until Sunday evening for a certain number of weekends per term.
I agree with Happy Gardening about asking the full boarding question.. I would go one stage further and ask how many children were in last weekend in my child's year group. Some schools have a large sixth form with a high percentage of boarders and this can affect the average.

Colleger Mon 06-Jun-11 18:03:05

The more rural a school the less likely pupils will go home at the weekend.

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