What life in a boarding school is really like

PUBLISHED: 11:14 12 November 2014 | UPDATED: 14:35 25 March 2015

Sherborne Girls School - Neil Munns Photography

Sherborne Girls School - Neil Munns Photography

TERMS AND CONDITIONS/ Neil Munns Photography 2013 1. DEFINITIONS The Photographer's client is a direct client (i.e. with no agen

The arrival of the Harry Potter books over ten years ago piqued the public’s curiosity in boarding schools but does life compare with fiction? Deputy head of external relations at Sherborne Girls, Fiona Clapp, explains

Although many busy parents can see the attraction of a boarding education, it does present a dilemma for them. Parents of the 21st century earnestly want to do the right thing for their children and, more importantly, want to be part of their child’s education. A slightly more hands-off approach to schooling is a brave decision, especially with the eyes of the socially responsible middle-class world upon you. Weekly boarding seems to present an acceptable compromise, allowing time for both home and school. This certainly fulfils the needs of parents, but is it the best choice for the children themselves? Does it capture the true essence of a boarding experience?

There are, in fact, a relatively small number of truly full-boarding schools, offering comprehensive care and education throughout both the week and the weekend. The commitment to boarding means that these schools are busy and active on a seven day basis.

You are just as likely to find members of staff kayaking with students on a Sunday, as teaching them History on a Tuesday. Activities abound and education of the whole person is taken seriously, not just paid lip service.

The students spend all their time together, living and working, playing and resting. They learn the life skills which the classroom fails to capture and they create friendships which will stand the test of time. Most importantly they have fun in the company of both adults and their peers; spending less time in the digital world, and more being creative and competitive.

Does this mean that parents are not involved? Modern full-boarding schools understand the demands of careers, homes and children, and welcome parents as part of the community; supporting sports matches, attending concerts and visiting boarding houses.

The emphasis is on creating a happy and purposeful environment where neither the child nor the parents feel constrained.

Success is when a parent telephones and is told that their son or daughter’s weekend is so busy that they will only be able to meet their parents briefly for tea after the match on Saturday because they have to get ready for the evening social activity.

The delight and pride that your child is so happy and confident at school is only mildly tinged with the sense that they are growing up and are less reliant on parental support.

Does full-boarding have a down side? Inevitably there are children who find it easier to settle. Some will happily wave goodbye at the start of term but for others it will be a gradual process. Choosing a school which is a good fit is important. The biggest danger is to choose a full-boarding education at a school which concentrates on weekly boarding. There is nothing worse than being left behind in an empty school every weekend, while all your friends are away.

Questions to ask may include: How many full boarders are there? Does the School have lessons on a Saturday? What does the weekend programme feature and how many participate? It is important to visit and get a feel for how happy the students are.

The modern full-boarding school should be a place where children feel safe and secure. It should exude a warmth and sense of community, and while not replacing home, there should still be the feeling that this is a place where children can be themselves. Unlike day-school, full-boarding really has something for everyone, and should feel like a home from home, just as it did for our favourite wizard.


Founded in 1899, Sherborne Girls provides an outstanding education for 11 to 18 year olds, and is proud of its extra-curricular programme and exceptional pastoral care. Girls are admitted at 11+, 12+, 13+ and into the Sixth Form. There are 448 girls in 2014 (420 boarders and 28 day girls). In addition to A Levels the International Baccalaureate Diploma is also offered. A close relationship with Sherborne School allows co-ed opportunities including some joint lessons in the Sixth Form, music, drama, activities, clubs and societies and social occasions. Scholarships and bursaries are available. For more details call 01935 818245 or visit www.sherborne.com.


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