“Is a 7 year old ready to leave home?” A strange question to ask, and if you are a parent I imagine your immediate thought was probably “no!”
Boarding school – a privileged education?
I believe its time to challenge the idea that spending two thirds of the year at a boarding school from the age of 7, or maybe 11 or 13 is a privileged education. Having been to boarding school myself I speak from personal experience.
I am curious about how within our culture it is so acceptable, even aspirational, for children to leave the comfort and safety of living at home with their parents to instead spend so much of their childhood being educated in an institution away from home. Perhaps it’s because historically in the UK we have had boarding schools for so many decades? Or because traditionally they have been attended by the leaders and upper echelons of society? Or maybe because the likes of Enid Blyton and JK Rowling have made it seem such a ‘wonderful British childhood adventure’? Whatever the reason, it seems time for a reality check and for questions to be asked about the impact on children of boarding and leaving home early.
What is going away to boarding school really like?
There have been a number of TV documentaries following children at boarding school and these give a real insight into the child’s experience of going away to school and leaving home. I trust that with three new documentaries on TV alone this year that new questions are being asked. Only the other week A Very English Education revisited men who were filmed as boys at boarding school back in the 1970s. If you are interested in further documentaries, you can find these on You Tube: ‘The Making of Them’ (1994), Britain’s Youngest Boarders (2010), Leaving Home at 8 (2013), Harrow: A Very British School (2013).
What is the potential impact of boarding?
I helped facilitate a workshop for partners of ex-boarders last Saturday and it reminded me, in particular, just how hard relationships are for ex-boarders, and in turn their loved ones. Boarders develop a range of strategies to survive away from their parents and home, and adapt to boarding school life. As showing how you feel whilst living amongst your peers 24 by 7 has its risks, boarders learn to hide their emotions and often keep themselves busy so as not to feel the emotions that are there. In adult life, ex-boarders can struggle to be present emotionally with loved ones and feel a sense of isolation and detachment, making relationships and parenting particularly hard. The busy-ness that protected them at school can continue as workaholism and an inability to relax.
Boarding School Survivor Support offers support
If you are curious about the impact of boarding or want some support having boarded yourself, or because you are in a relationship with someone who boarded, have family members who boarded or are boarding, or are considering boarding your own children, then get in touch with Boarding School Survivor Support. It is a not for profit organisation that does a great job supporting ex-boarders who are struggling in their lives and relationships in part as a result of how they survived at boarding school. They also support and advise parents on boarding issues and have given information around pastoral care to help boarding schools themselves.