Although boarding schools tend to offer a rigorous and comprehensive education, the benefits of sending your child to one of these schools are not always outweighed by the disadvantages. Not every student is equipped – mentally and/or emotionally – to deal with the unique stresses of a residential learning environment, and for some, living away from home can be a miserable experience.
Choosing the boarding school option can also be an expensive mistake for parents if the potential academic and social rewards don’t eventuate. Before making such an important decision, it’s a good idea for parents to take the following issues into account.
Your child will be living away from home for several weeks at a time. Is this necessarily going to be the best thing for him or her? Some families are close-knit units who draw strength and comfort from one another, and breaking up this unit may not always be the right thing to do. If the child has siblings, separation may be traumatic for both. Similarly, if the family has recently undergone stressful times, such as illness or bereavement, sending a child to boarding school can lead to feelings of rejection and homesickness.
Families also have their own moral and social code which may not be reinforced or supported by the school. Parents will need to ensure that the new school has rules and philosophies which do not conflict with what the child has been taught at home.
There will be wonderful opportunities to try new things at boarding school, but there will also be regulations which restrict freedoms. The student may not have the same access to the Internet or external activities that he or she once had, and this may be frustrating. It is likely that punishments – including the risk of expulsion – will be more severe, as the boarding school has a duty of care which can’t afford the same leniency as that offered by many parents.
It is also important to recognise that there will be academic expectations at the new school. Is the child capable of meeting the workload, and are academic pursuits really what they have in mind? There may be additional pressures on the unfortunate student if they are simply not capable of completing work to a high enough standard.
Parents will also need to ask themselves, “What’s wrong with my child’s current school?” In some cases, a new school will be necessary, but does it have to be so far away? If a nearby relocation is possible, your child may be able to maintain present friendships and hobbies, with the additional comfort of knowing that there’s always a home to run to if things become difficult. Although teaching staff at boarding schools are supportive and caring, they can’t match the levels of compassion offered by mom or dad.
Not everyone is suited to the crowded environment of a boarding school. Some kids – especially those who are only children – may find that having a handful of new brothers or sisters can be overwhelming. Some young people just need space, and that may not be possible at the new school.
Additionally, if the student is not particularly outgoing, or is different in some way, there is the possibility that they will be the target of bullying. Boarding schools do work hard to stamp this out, but the demands of self-reliance can sometimes lead to increased weakness, rather than greater strength. If the child does become a target, they are a long way from home and asking teachers for help may not always have a positive outcome.
Finally, what is the child leaving behind? If there are special friends or neighbourhood opportunities, or if there is a beneficial programme being offered by the local school, a boarding school may not be the best option. Many children move towns or schools in the course of their education, but a stay at boarding school means establishing a whole new life, with a different peer group, new demands, and new rules. Parents need to be clear that this is what their child wants and needs, otherwise there may be difficulties further down the track. Boarding schools can make or break a student, and every parent should be aware of which camp their child may fall into.