Education Quandary: Is boarding barbaric?

'My daughters are both very big Harry Potter fans and after reading the books want to board at their new prep school next year. Even though he hated boarding, my husband thinks it could be a good thing, but I don't'
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Presumably, you have already discussed with your daughters the difference between fact and fiction, and the unlikelihood of their new school offering Quidditch lessons? Presumably, too, you have checked that your husband isn't harbouring some repressed Victorian notion that a dose of institutional misery is the best upbringing a child can have?

Having said that, prep-school parents suggest letting your girls settle into their new school, then taking stock. Boarding seems an alien thing when your children are at primary school, but prep schools are very different. Days are long, extra-curricular activities relentless, and relationships between staff and pupils are often shaped by living cheek by jowl. In this new life, your daughters may find that, come the end of a busy day, they have had enough; or their desire to throw themselves into night-and-day school might grow.

You, in turn, can take the measure of modern boarding. Today's school dormitories are riots of pop posters, fluffy slippers and colourful duvets, and it isn't hard to see the attraction of a term-long sleepover.

The best of boarding is the chance to be enriched by communal living; the worst is the hothouse cliquiness and bullying that can sometimes develop. You may decide that it is still not what you want for them, but at least you'll be able to argue from a position of knowledge.

A popular compromise is "occasional" boarding, where pupils stay for either a night or two a week, or less, depending on circumstances. Most schools now offer some version of this, and for working parents, or those who don't want to turn out to deliver a child to pre-breakfast swimming training, or collect one from a late-night drama rehearsal, it can be a godsend. Last year, a fifth of all boarders were "occasionals", and prep-school heads say that demand is high, even though boarding numbers in general are declining.

You don't mention money, but do bear in mind that should your daughters start boarding and find they like it, you will be looking at a six-figure sum to get each of them through to the age of 18. In the light of that, the cost of an occasional night at school can seem a snip.


I, too, was nervous about sending the last of my three daughters to boarding school. She was considerably younger than her sisters, who went to day school, but we felt that a bit of community life would do her enormous good. Eighteen months later, I know we made the right decision. Boarding school today is a totally different thing to what it was, particularly in the light of so much parental involvement and the ability with modern media to keep in touch the whole time.

In ancient India, there existed a system of "gurukuls", which were run by "gurus" (literally teachers). These were villages run by gurus for children from five to 18 years old. The guru was responsible not only for teaching but also inculcating spiritual values, developing latent skills, and preparing the child for life. During this period, parents were not allowed to meet the children. Today, this system has degenerated to a large extent – but, thank God for boarding schools!
Honorary Secretary of the India Millfield Association, Bombay, India

I agree that boarding is barbaric. I was sent away at eight and boarded until 17, when I went to university. I felt I missed out in a number of ways. Because I was boarding, I didn't make friends at home. Far from making me more mature and self-reliant, it did the reverse. There were all kinds of rules about when you could go out and with whom. I didn't meet the opposite sex, I didn't have the freedom to pursue my interests, to take decisions and be resourceful. It was no preparation for life.

Some schools have "tasters" where would-be boarders come in for a night and attend school for two days. Perhaps your girls would prefer to "taste" boarding first? As a "mobile matron" – I relieve for matrons who are ill – I have observed that boarding school is not for everyone. Don't be surprised if one of your daughters loves it and the other hates it!

Boarding is fun because you are with your friends and you do masses of things. We go on days out to fun places, and we have really good things to do in our free time. There is always somebody to talk to. Boarding is not BORING!
St Andrew's School, Eastbourne


I am a new teacher and I am sinking under everything I have to do. It's 10 times worse than I thought! I work at the evenings and weekends, and have no life. When I ask colleagues how they manage, they just laugh and say "welcome to teaching!", and I think some of them feel I'm making a fuss. I know that the Government is reviewing teachers' workload, but by the time anything is done it'll be too late for me. I can't go on like this. Is there anything I can do right now? Or have I got myselfinto the wrong job?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, 18 March, at 'The Independent', Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, by fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail, with details of your postal address