Ben Fogle: Boarding school changed my life. It made me the person I am. Without boarding school I’d be nobody
In a recent article in The Telegraph Ben Fogle talks eloquently about how going away to boarding school made him the person he is today. He also recalls how he spent the best part of the first year desperately unhappy and begging his parents to take him away. However, they refused and he is now extremely grateful.
Ben Fogle was unusual in taking such a long time to adapt to his new school, but he is certainly far from unusual in his positive feelings towards his boarding school days. Modern boarding can have a profoundly positive effect on young people.
Young people living in a community develop a range of skills that are often more difficult to acquire at home. For example, boarders learn to socialise with an assortment of people from different cultures. The ability to connect effortlessly with others is highly desirable and comes from having developed empathy, emotional intelligence and the ability to compromise.
Living at school allows young people to make the most of every day, cutting out commuting time to create precious extra minutes to reflect, relax or focus on a particular activity or homework. Boarders typically throw themselves into the life of the school and are usually to be found at the heart of everything that is going on, often organising events which inspire and motivate other pupils such as rock concerts, open-mic sessions and fundraising activities. They are free to be enthusiastic about what is on offer and to move seamlessly through each part of the day at the pace it demands.
And for families in which both parents work boarding enables each adult’s and young person’s day to run smoothly, free from tricky logistics and compromised work commitments. Our weekly boarding option enables quality family time to take priority at the weekends. During the week girls have been able to pursue their own interests and participate in the many activities on offer, as well as to do most of their homework at school, leaving the weekend free for the family.
In a boarding house you learn to understand personal space, to manage friendships whether or not they are going well, to value and to support others, to negotiate, to take criticism and to manage your own emotions. Parents by definition offer unconditional love, but the same won’t be true of the other boarders: whereas a parent might give a weary shrug when his/her offspring throws a tantrum fellow boarders will react very differently with the result that everyone has to learn to behave considerately.
And of course not only are boarders living with an assortment of fellow boarders, but also with a variety of adults. They have contact with their housemistress/master and assistant house staff and with other members of staff who do evening duties in the boarding house. This gives ample opportunity for support, advice, hearing different adult perspectives on life, exploring issues that seem too difficult or too trivial to talk to parents about and for getting a bit of extra help with homework.
Both boarders and their parents speak persuasively of how they enjoy a better relationship because the vast majority of the nagging so necessary in bringing up children can take place in school. House and teaching staff are the ones who check that homework is done, that uniform is worn correctly and that boarders leave for school on time. Parents can enjoy more relaxed weekends and holidays with their children.
Although we would not claim that boarders are naturally any more organised than their non-boarding peers, they have to develop organisational skills more quickly. They need to sort out their own washing, packing and unpacking, permission for going out, their money and homework, music practice, clubs and activities to name but a few things. Planning and punctuality, managing deadlines and using their initiative become established attributes for boarders and these valuable core skills ease their transfer into higher education and the world of employment.
Above all, boarding is rewarding and fun. Boarding friends create a strong support network at school which typically remains in place, even after boarders have gone their separate ways, to provide sustaining lifelong friendships.