Last week, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) unveiled its annual census revealing pupil numbers at the UK’s 1267 independent schools are at their highest level since records began in 1974.
At the same time, the Boarding Schools Association (BSA), was holding its annual conference and coincidentally, I was listening to Eton Head Tony Little’s speech looking at the advantages of boarding in the 21st Century.
Of the 517,113 pupils at independent schools in the UK, 70,642 – some 14% – are boarders. That is a huge number. Many people in this country – as borne out in some of the coverage we see of boarding schools – still have a stereotyped and archaic view of boarding schools.
Mr Little gave a passing nod to this stark impression of boarding schools in his speech and he was keen to point out that the shocking child abuse scandals of the past – some of which have only come to light in the last few years – happened in a very different era. The boarding environment in the 21st Century is heavily scrutinised – and rightly so – to protect children.
Instead of concentrating on the academic benefits of boarding schools, it was a delight to hear Mr Little talk about the massive benefits of boarding schools in helping to develop resilience and social skills.
As a Head, I don’t think enough is said about this, probably because there is so much concentration on exam grades. I believe the social benefits of boarding schools may often be overlooked.
Children gain an inestimable amount from being part of a supportive and nurturing boarding school community during their formative years, where they have the opportunity to learn how to develop relationships – not just with friends – but perhaps with other children with whom they would not naturally socialise.
It is so very important for children to learn how to interact with a variety of people – both children and adults – so that they start to understand human dynamics and how to handle different situations.
Being given this opportunity at a boarding school really helps to prepare them for later life and relationships – both personal and professional – in a way they would not be prepared in a different environment.
Moreover, at boarding school, children have the chance to explore changing relationships in a safe environment and this only serves to develop a crucial resilience of character, a resourcefulness and emotional intelligence which will stand them in greater stead as they grow up.
It was a pleasure to hear Mr Little stand up for our boarding schools and call for them to be applauded and recognised as the ‘national treasure’ they are. Hear hear.