Not whether to board but when…

Posted: 1st June 2022

Boarding in the 21st century is a very different experience to the infamous cold showers and early runs of yesteryear when boarding was an obligation for the huge number of Britons serving overseas. The focus these days is on outstanding pastoral provision, parent partnership and, perhaps most importantly, developing the independence of our young people not only to survive but to thrive as they enter the world on their own terms.

From serving as a resident house tutor in Surrey to running a boarding house of 96 boys in Kenya to serving as Principal at Monkton with seven boarding houses and a boarding team of over 30 staff, my wife and I have always loved being a part of the boarding heartbeat in a school. And it is a heartbeat – it is constant, life defining and responsive to what goes on around it. Boarding schools are not only about the boarding experience – they are about giving children the time and space to discover who they are.

The University of Buckingham already offers two year degree courses and has even mooted a one year course. Reflecting on this, I have asked myself whether I could have condensed the 6 hours of guided studies per week from my three year Durham degree into one year and the answer is unquestionably yes: from an academic point of view, I could have achieved my degree faster. But I would have missed out on all of the things I really learned at University – College Sport, running Durham Theatre and even just spending time with other students throwing around whether or not Tony Blair would be elected and if so what sort of PM he would make (I know – dates me, doesn;t it?)… These were formative experiences for me and shaped much of who I have become, how I learn and how I lead.

So getting into boarding isn’t about propping up a dying culture – as the media might have us believe – nor is it about entering some strange world where children live in towers and fight dragons. It is about creating a stronger world for tomrorow. Children who go to boarding school are co-parented by the House team as well as their parents – they have the individual care of their parents but also the expertise of people who have worked with hundreds of children. Children who go to boarding school develop independence – the ability to ensure they can get to the right place at the right time with the right kit. But above all, children who go to boarding school are given time – time with their friends to put the world to rights; time to be stretched and developed through countless societies, clubs and events; time to be themselves.

My boarding experience isn’t defined by the head of house who rescued our newborn from a snake under her cot by capturing it in a pillow case, nor is it explained by the countless evening events full of games, fun and laughter, nor is it exclusively the challenging chats with pupils who are finding their way in the world; it is all of those things and so much more. It is the privilege of spending time with young people and seeing them become confident, ambitious and independent adults who can write their own stories.

Stepping into boarding isn’t just a career choice (although it is an exciting one) and it isn’t always easy (although it can be incredibly fulfilling). It is a life choice that I would recommend to anyone who has a passion for helping children become the best that they can be; the only way to understand it is to dip your toe in the water – before you know it you may have dived right in.

Categories: Blog

Chair, Chris Wheeler (MTIOB)

Principal, Monkton Combe School
BA (Dunelm), PGCE, FRSA

Chris Wheeler joined Monkton as Principal in January 2016. He previously served as Principal and CEO at Hillcrest International Schools in Kenya, Headmaster at St Christopher’s, Hove, and has variously been Deputy Head, Housemaster (day and boarding) and Head of...

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