Prep School Boarding in the modern world

Prep Boarding

Prep Housemaster, Mr Simon Porter, considers the benefits of boarding in prep school: 

To many people, the idea of sending your child off to a boarding school at a young age is seen as old fashioned and often refuted to be a privilege for only those in the upper classes. Isn’t it the first step in education for lawyers and politicians? Some ask. The real answers here are far from the above and whilst it is not for all, at Clayesmore Prep, we believe that we provide a bespoke, highly beneficial and, most importantly, an enjoyable alternative to a traditional day education.

It is true that many boarders are not here by choice; whether it is due to locations, the situation of their parents, such as overseas travels or postings, or simply at times it is because their parents believe that this is the best form of education for their child. Therefore, it is up to us to re-create the best of their home life as well as allowing them to thrive in an environment that they soon love to be part of. 

When we first walked through the doors of Clayesmore Prep just over a year ago, we were filled with excitement. This was purely down to what we saw from the children, who were the real heartbeat of the school. Not only were they happy to be here, but they really embraced life as a boarder and, as I will hopefully outline below, were clearly benefitting from their life in the boarding house. The sense of family that exists here is so key to achieving the best for every child.

It is fair to say that the life of a boarder in a prep school has evolved greatly from even their parents’ generation. One area that remains the same is that most of the boarders do still miss their families, who wouldn’t miss their mother and father at that age? Aiming to replicate these principles are the founding pillars on how we run the boarding house, so that the children feel safe, secure and able to trust others, being able to co-existing with people, whoever they are, gaining the solid foundations with which to achieve their best now and in their future careers.

Education is evolving into two clear parallels now, with some schools being purely driven by results, where children often have their abilities labelled by the age of 11 and constantly have to fight to change that. Other more pupil-centred educational establishments have the aim of getting the best out of each pupil in a holistic manner, achieving their best, whatever that is. In this vein, everyone is treated as an individual, not a set of attainment grades or figures. Clayesmore School as a whole embraces that philosophy and this runs deep into the heart of what we try to achieve in the prep school boarding house.

We aim to replicate the best of home life, through comfort, care and fun. Our house team is always perceptive to the individual needs of the boarders. For example, it is wonderful to hear Mr Yarwood, one of our house tutors, reading bedtime stories to the younger pupils, in a wonderful manner that only his theatrical expertise could portray. My wife Jess, a brilliant and innovative English teacher, loves to talk with the boarders about the latest literary fashions, often providing that extra love and support a mother gives to children, which in turn they thrive on. Our resident teaching assistants provide that loving attention that every child needs, whether it be plaiting hair, helping with prep or being that shoulder to cry on if they are having a bad day.

Like a home, clear boundaries are very important for children to thrive and to develop the life and people skills they need to successfully work with others. It is true that we have to deal with the odd disagreements, but with a clear framework of not just stopping but understanding the effects of your behaviour, these are kept to a minimum. The boundaries also allow the children to enjoy that sense of independence that older prep school pupils yearn for, for example allowing them to make their own decisions on what to do each evening. Our top notch team of sisters and matrons are so in tune to a child’s needs, from the emotional traumas a senior girl might face to the little things such as congratulating boys and girls on scoring their first goal in hockey or football. The reality is we aim to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of each child’s needs.

That understanding of each child being an individual and their own person, lends to having a great variety of evening and activities on offer. This ranges from lots of different sports, football, swimming even climbing to more relaxing activities, such as reading club or watching documentaries in one of the comfortable common rooms. Again, to mirror home life, weekends are a fun and enriching experience where children can be children, with TV programmes being enjoyed and lots of free time available. The children at Clayesmore always wait with feverish anticipation as to what the special supper will be on a Saturday night, or which of their friends will they be going on the exciting weekend trip with.

It is not just the children who need to be able to adapt and change. Whilst we think about ourselves often as young at heart, it is important to listen to the voices of the actual boarders for ways to improve their time here. We have an active boarders’ council, who regularly canvas opinions and ideas and then hassle us to carry these out as soon as possible! Clearly, the boarders are the lifeblood, and so, that feeling of being respected and that their opinions are valued is most important. With the advent of more increasingly accessible technology, home is now only a click of a button away and we encourage our boarders to maintain a strong link with their parents, with most SKYPE calling at least every weekend.

With a lot of children now having tablets and mobile phones, that level of support to help educate what is right and wrong is taken seriously. We firmly believe that a child will react better now and in later life if they receive an education that allows them to make their own educated decisions, compared to just following what they have been told to do, without a reason. In the same respect, if the education we provide is of the top quality, the children always know they can, and do, come to us if they need help.

We are proud of what we have achieved in the year since we first walked through the door, but for us that is not enough to be good and for the children to have a positive time whilst being a boarder. Their experience should be a rich and fulling experience, full of variety, challenge and happiness. We want every child to feel loved and most importantly to leave the house, ready to move onto the rigours of senior school life, having already started to develop the skills and traits that will serve them throughout their adult life. Indeed, that is what our view of a prep school education is in general, the boarding life should just enhance the journey further.