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  Year 9 Parent (i)

When the opportunity first arose for my son to attend boarding school, I was ecstatic at the prospect of him being able to have this life changing opportunity. It was also something that he had always wanted to do having read many books which included such storylines.  Even though I was happy, no, overjoyed, that he was achieving this and recognised that this would open up many doors to him, I had concerns about how he would fit into this elitist institution and if he would be alright in this new environment and if he would be happy.

My experience as a parent was that the admission process was well planned and organised. The parents interested in their children being considered for boarding school were invited to information seminars. These seminars included speakers from the partner which had put my son forward, Springboard, current boarding school students previously put forward by the partner and parents whose children were at boarding school.  These sessions provided insight into what boarding school had to offer my son and what he would bring to boarding school life. After the decision that Luke wanted to go to boarding school had been made, the next step was matching him to an appropriate school.

There were originally two schools identified that would be ideal for my son. Each school had individual aspects that would help him achieve his absolute best, but in the end a choice was made based on not only the school’s exceptionally good references, but also because of the outstanding facilities and its speciality in the sciences and design and technology which my son was  especially interested in.

During the initial admission process, my son had to attend compulsory master classes to bring him up to the level needed for those schools. These classes not only gave him academic help through vigorous testing, but they built him up as a character and provided him with the confidence he needed to survive and surpass others in his new home. He learnt how to conduct himself when having an interview, what to say, what to do and so on. During the process he had to take tests at the partner’s premises and have a couple of interviews so that he could build the confidence and skill to pass in a real interview. He passed these mock interviews with flying colours and was well on his way to being a boarder. The tests at the partner were only mild stepping stones, as he had to have an interview with the headmaster and the two admission staff. After all of this hard work, he still had to take school tests to secure himself a place.  It was an anxious time for both of us, for as we both began to learn more about boarding school life, the more we both wanted it to become a reality.

I was anxious as my son was attending somewhere new:  it wasn't uncommon for me to feel a bit worried. Thanks to the information from other parents whose children had gone to boarding school and the pupils themselves, my worries were allayed, as many of them were settled.

The first few weeks of my son living away from home I felt lost. I was so used to having him around all the time and doing things for him.  The house felt unusually quiet.  He was also my last child and I experienced the "empty nest syndrome" that many parents speak about when children leave home. You could not help but feel slightly anxious even though you were pretty certain all was well. It didn't help that I wasn't being called constantly by him, as I thought he might be a bit homesick but he seemed to click straight into place. The only thing that calmed my nerves was the odd text message at half nine saying: " love you " or " see you soon ".

When my son came home after the first few weeks, I was happy to see him to say the least. He was very tired from the rigorous regime that his school went through day after day. However he was reluctant to talk about his life at his new school the first few days back when I bombarded him with questions, as he was shattered. You will notice that the first few times they come back they will be tired as its unlikely they would previously have been used to studying as hard as they have. I did eventually manage to pry some information about his school, but it wasn't until day four that I really found out anything. That's one thing you have to remember it’s to be patient with them as they won't be at their best for a few days.

When I first went to this school, it was grand to say the least. The school was spread across most of the town, taking up a large amount of it. The pupils and the town were as one and lived in harmony. You may think that there would be complaints from the residents, but it seems both have respect for each other. Some of the buildings the school used were around 10 years old, others 200, but the thing that impressed me most were the state of the art facilities which were on a par with some of the most prestigious universities.

I was met by two academic admission staff who took us to lunch; they gave us in depth information about the school and were very helpful answering any question my son and I had. My impression of the school and community being elitist were diminished, from the outset everyone was welcoming and there were many friendly staff. The pupils, parents and I are good friends as everyone wants the best for their child.

My advice to new parents going through the same experience is that it may initially all seem quite daunting, but in the end everything comes together. The best thing about my child attending boarding school is seeing how he has grown and developed into an independent, confident, intelligent and a well-rounded young man in such a short period of time.  He is thriving academically and socially and is thoroughly enjoying this life changing experience.

  Year 9 Parent (ii)

My son was offered what I now consider to be a wonderful opportunity of attending boarding school.

My initial thoughts about boarding schools were of an element of abandonment of my child, however, my son was very interested so I supported him in this journey, still with an element of reservation and apprehension.  My role initially was to collate information in order to make an informed choice.  The financial element (school fees) was not initially a consideration as I was extremely averse to boarding whilst struggling with ensuring that my son received the best education possible.  I attended all the induction sessions to hear from scholars, speakers and representatives from SpringBoard and the partner which put my son forward for the opportunity.  As time went by I began to give boarding serious consideration, especially when I learnt that my son would be able to come home for “exeats” periodically - a new word in my vocabulary!!

I was given a key piece of information which did not mean much at the time, but now I fully understand and it is that independent schools are not simply about the education, but is rather an all-round experience and we are now living the dream.

As a parent it is a requirement to embrace the process, as you have to be fully committed and research information as to the protocol of boarding schools which are a little different from day schools.  It is important to ensure that you note information being imparted, such as you will need to know what your obligations are, for instance insurances, payment of house funds, medical treatment (i.e. what happens if and when your child becomes ill and the fact that your child’s GP will now be different from yours), uniform required, etc. I was fortunate to have the support of the partner, but additionally another parent going through the same emotional and practical changes as myself and running things through with her.  It was also helpful for my son to know another scholar going to the same school and sharing the same experiences as him.  The Bursary Officer at the school is a good contact for matters to do with money.

When my son’s place in year 9 (Form 3 equivalent) at the school was confirmed, it was sheer relief and elation.  The first few weeks of boarding school were fine as this was a time of excitement for both of us; we had come to the end of a journey and were about to embark on a new beginning.  Reality now setting in, we realised that we were now recipients of a place at a boarding school, something I could only have dreamt about: this was a real opportunity!  My son had settled in extremely well and I felt comfortable within his House and the staff and the other boys welcomed him to the school.  Thankfully, he was used to doing prep at his former school, so there was not an issue with getting used to that part of the school system: one less “change” to get used to. It was as if that school was tailor-made for my son.  However, the October half term was quite difficult because as the “reality” set in and my son was at home for a couple of weeks, it was quite difficult for me to let him go again and I believe the same for him.  He became a little home sick but as it became a little difficult, it was time for him to come home again and we began to settle once again.  Thankfully, the exeats broke up the difficulties with initial homesickness and with access to technology, we were always just a text or phone call away from each other.

Another key factor is that when the children return from school they are physically tired and my son just really wants to rest as he is always doing something because their days are very busy and structured. The difficulty and balance is to ensure that the boarder is not treated significantly different to the other siblings at home.  The fact that everyone is doing prep at the same time and has activities each day creates such a good quality and level of work life balance and basically sets them up for future years.

I absolutely love my son’s school, at times I want to stay there myself!  He is at a home away from home, but receiving more opportunities than I could have ever have imagined or given to him.

The staff in my son’s House are fantastic and we operate the home school agreement wherein we liaise on all matters concerning my son, just as if he was in a day school.  The staff are used to the children being homesick and recognise the “signs” and deal with it sensitively; the pastoral care is excellent.  Each child has a Tutor in their House so each child is able to formulate a relationship and discuss any areas of concern they may have. The parent also has contact with this Tutor also.

I was initially overwhelmed by the vastness and opulence of the surroundings, especially as there were under 400 students in the school.  This meant that the class sizes were a third of what my son was used to, which in itself is only within a dream.  Obviously the smaller classes mean every child has the right amount of attention for their academic and pastoral care and believe me the results are clear to see.

My son is a child who wants to achieve and do his best so being around like minded pupils is a plus and only serves to ensure that my son achieves his potential. The academic levels are much higher than his old school and this drives the children to push themselves that much more.  My son is having such a good time at his school he has said that he really wishes that he had started in Form 1 (equivalent Year 7).

I too share my son’s view in that if I could have changed anything, it would have been to ensure that he starts in Form 1 and not Form 3.  Children are quite resilient and they catch up however, I believe there are areas and opportunities which would have been afforded to him had he started earlier, however, I am so grateful for this wonderful opportunity that we have been afforded.

I still do believe that I am in an elitist environment, but I try and simply embrace it and am extremely thankful.  My son is very athletic and he did extremely well in the last sports day and has now been earmarked for selection into an athletics club by the Director of Sports. Also, he participated in a Futsal competition and his team just missed out on representing the region in the national competitions.   Additionally, my son represented a team from Surrey, South Central District at the Gothia World Football Tournament in Sweden (a competition which hosts over 1,750 teams from around the world) and got to the quarter finals of his group.  These are a small example of opportunities which would not have been afforded to my son otherwise.