Debunking the myths of state boarding

Such provision can change lives but it is often misunderstood. A teacher sets the record straight
24th April 2015, 1:00am
Steven Gardner


Debunking the myths of state boarding

Lots of people don't realise that state boarding schools exist. Indeed, many local residents aren't aware that the Harefield Academy, where I work, has provision for boarders. Among those who do know, a number were opposed to the introduction of this provision, making the assumption that the school would become a home for "naughty children". How wrong they were. I'm happy to say that Lord Adonis House, our boarding house, is now at the heart of the community and is widely admired.

The battle for respect for state boarding is hard-fought. Like our independent colleagues, we combat myths and stereotypes about the work we do every day. And as a state-funded boarding school, we arguably have even more misconceptions to correct. It's time to set the record straight by addressing three key myths.

1 It's not a home for `naughty children'

I was a "naughty child" in my school years and I have yet to meet a young person without some potential for troublesome behaviour. Some are naughtier than others, of course, and some are more privileged than others. Some, unfortunately, are heart-wrenchingly underprivileged and come from the most challenging of backgrounds.

We need to get away from this notion that a child is "naughty" and instead address the reasons behind certain behaviours. Where a student lacks stability, structure, security and, above all, opportunities, state boarding is a fantastic option. We are not a home for naughty children but a place that gives students the opportunity to survive, achieve and aspire.

2 It's not a drain on taxpayers' money

I am dismayed when I hear people talking about the "drain on government funds" from state boarding provision. Do the maths. Explore how much it costs to fund foster care, for example, then compare this with the cost of state boarding. What's more, consider the lives that have been transformed by both state and independent boarding - look at what these people are giving back to the community.

Last year, my boarders achieved far greater GCSE and post-16 results than the day students - no doubt a familiar trend across the country. This year, students have offers from top universities including University College London and King's College London. One girl is about to become the first person in her family to achieve a GCSE (she is on track to get great results in all eight). She now aspires to make something of herself. She will achieve that, and her success will be largely down to the support and safety that boarding has provided for her. (She, too, is capable of being naughty, by the way.)

3 It does make a difference to learning

Does boarding impact on teaching in the classroom? Certainly. At the Harefield Academy we have seen the positive results of boarding for students. Why? Because we strive to be the best "parents" we can be. Let's face it, there are some parents who refuse to take any responsibility for their children's education. How many times do we hear "Well, that's the school's fault" or "That's your problem, not mine"?

The term "holistic" is used an awful lot in the education sector, and with good reason. As boarding practitioners, we have a strong belief in educating the whole person; it's not just about academic results. If my child is not completing their homework, I want to know about it. If they are cheeky in class, I want to know about it. If they are struggling with a particular subject, I want to know about it. Not just for my own awareness but so that I can help to find a solution and put support in place. Unfortunately, not every parent does this.

We strive to parent our boarders as if they were our own children. With these parameters and objectives in place, my boarders know that they have support and that we have very high expectations of them. Boarders' contribution to the Harefield Academy is strong. They are a minority of students, but through nurturing and encouragement they develop into cultured, creative and aspirational members of the school community.

State and independent boarding has a great future, and both sectors are dispelling the myths that lead to bad press. Modern-day boarding is fantastic for students - it offers them incredible access to tools that can help to shape their futures. I certainly want my two children to be given such opportunities.

Steven Gardner is director of boarding at Lord Adonis House at the Harefield Academy. He will be speaking at the Conference on Boarding at Bedales School on 20 May. For more details, see bit.lyBedalesBoardingConference

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