Parents of boarders 'accused of being cruel or uncaring'

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The Independent Online

Nearly nine out of ten parents whose children board at preparatory schools have felt obliged to defend themselves against accusations from other parents who see them as being cruel or uncaring, a survey published today suggests.

Nearly nine out of ten parents whose children board at preparatory schools have felt obliged to defend themselves against accusations from other parents who see them as being cruel or uncaring, a survey published today suggests.

One family in six says it is frequently criticised for educating children aged eight to thirteen at boarding school.

The Boarding Schools' Association, which ran the survey, said that although the public perception of prep school boarding still consisted of "strong negative feelings", the reality had changed. Its findings should "dispel any notion of unfeeling parents 'sending away' their children", the association said. Most parents of boarders believed they made the decision "to improve the quality of life for the child".

The survey was compiled after the Independent Schools Council 2002 census showed a 1.7 per cent rise in the number of children boarding at prep schools. Nearly half (48 per cent) of prep school boarders lived less than half an hour's drive from school and almost six out of ten parents of boarders saw their child every week, the survey of more than 600 parents found.

Rather than being reluctant to live at school, most junior boarders (58 per cent) had been behind the decision.

Parents' greatest misgiving concerned how much they were going to miss their children, with 36 per cent of families saying this had been their main worry. For most of those families (66 per cent) the reality of boarding proved as difficult as they had predicted; they found that they missed their child just as much as they had expected. The rest of those parents said they had not missed their child as much as they had feared.

One in five parents reported that the main concern had been that the child might be unhappy or homesick. But homesickness had been a problem for only 28 per cent of those children, the study found.

Almost half of all parents in the survey cited the provision of extra-curricular activities in their decision to let their child board. Almost as many said it would help the child to learn to live with others while 37 per cent believed the child would get a better education by being immersed in school life as a boarder.

More than three in four parents (77 per cent) were very satisfied at least with their children's prep school boarding experience, while 75 per cent said their sons and daughters were also happy.

More than 40 per cent of parents of prep school boarders said they did not see their child every week.

Almost 10 per cent of parents would go for longer than three weeks without seeing their child.

Nearly six out of ten (57 per cent) of parents of boarders said they saw their child every week. Many of those were likely to be the parents of weekly boarders but about 20 per cent are the parents of full boarders who visited the school every week.

Quentin Edwards, chairman of the association and headmaster of Bilton Grange prep school in Warwickshire, said: "As the survey shows, boarding has evolved to meet the needs of busy working families.

"There is now a whole range of options available to those who wish to maintain a close family relationship but seek an education beyond the traditional school day.

"In boarding schools, clubs and societies, sport, music and the arts are right on the doorstep, and so are friends."

Case study: The boy of nine who stays part time

'I like it because I see more of my friends'

Peter and Sally Mason are familiar with criticism of the way they chose to educate their four sons.

All four are boarders although Alexander, the youngest at nine, stays only two nights a week. Mr Mason, 49, a company director from Worcestershire, said: "I can understand that some people feel it is somewhat strange to have a child of a relatively young age living away from home. People have taken me to task about it at dinner parties. I think they imagine that we pack the children off and don't see or hear from them until the end of term. But it's not like that at all. This was very much the boys' decision."

The couple had never intended that their sons would board at school after Mr Mason's experience in the 1960s. But the boys asked to board after they realised that their classmates were enjoying extra-curricular activities that they, as day pupils, were missing.

Mrs Mason said: "I think a child thrives on having their parents coming to watch their sports matches, plays and concerts. Just because they're boarding doesn't mean we're not up at school all the time."

Alexander, who attends Abberley Hall prep school, said: "It's fun when I stay at school. We do lots of activities after school like indoor cricket. We do activities from 6.30pm until 7.30pm and then we go to bed. I like it because I get to see more of my friends."