Boarding schools today offer so much more than teaching

To Board or not to Board? That is the question

May 4th 2016

At the age of two, the Queen's great granddaughter Mia Tindall has started a constitutional row - to go or not to go to boarding school. Mia's dad (and former day boy) Mike Tindall says he's "certainly not keen" of having her live away from home. However, going away to school is as royal as cucumber sandwiches as Mia's mum (and ex-boarder) Zara will agree. Princes William and Harry famously studied at Eton while Prince Charles was packed off to the north of Scotland to Gordonstoun, a school he referred to as "a prison sentence" and "Colditz in kilts".

But is boarding school really that bad? Yes, there will be homesickness, especially for younger children, but in today's world of email, Skype and social media, you can be in regular contact with family, wherever they are in the world. As many parents work full time, kids who do live at home probably spend more time in school clubs or with nannies and babysitters than their own flesh and blood. I know many parents - dads mainly - who see their children for just 10 minutes a day at breakfast.

Gone are the days of Victorian-style schooling with the distant masters, caning and fags. Nowadays, staff are on hand to involve themselves with the children's lives and offer comfort where necessary. As Jenny Dwyer, the head of Sherborne School for Girls says to new parents: "If an answer from a housemistress doesn't come immediately, it's because I don't want them always to be stuck behind their computers, but to be spending the time looking after your daughters."

Boarding school offers so much more than teaching. It has to entertain its charges evenings and weekends and does so with extra-curricular activities such as sport, music, drama and trips out. The schools are often set in grounds with fields and woods to explore. Many children find that once they've settled in, they're too busy to get homesick. Then of course, there are the lifelong friends you meet. Every night's a sleepover when you're rooming with your best mate.

My company tutors children from eight to 18 and as many are international students, they attend British boarding schools. They are well-rounded, confident individuals with an air of independence and a can-do attitude. They're comfortable socially and with new situations and when they do enter the job world, they've got an established network of contacts. Plus, when they see their family, it's real quality time: leisurely catch-up dinners and holidays rather than sitting slumped together on the sofa, staring at a screen. There are no arguments over homework or being late for class as all that is dealt with by the teachers.

Culturally, we would be in a poorer place if it weren't for boarding schools. They've been immortalised in books and films from Mallory Towers and Goodbye, Mr Chips to St Trinian's and Dead Poet's Society. I never boarded, but many friends did and they loved it. Mike, if you're reading this, I'm sure it's like Hogwarts and full of magic. Please don't rule it out.



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