TREND: Flexi Boarding
With homework support and activities galore - boarding is a brilliant option for busy parents. Find out how this very British tradition has evolved...
Far from being an out-dated institution boarding at prep schools in many cases is still going strong, but has had to evolve quite a lot in recent years.
Gavin Franklin (pictured below), headmaster of Wellesley House – a family orientated, day and boarding prep in the Kent coastal town of Broadstairs – explains the benefits of boarding and the new trends he’s seen at his school…
Q: Times have changed – being sent off with a full trunk and a stiff upper lip is no longer so commonplace. So is boarding still relevant?
A: With options of Full Boarding, Weekly Boarding, Flexi Boarding, Occasional Boarding or even a combination of these – it remains a popular choice for many.
The best boarding schools today are designed to take into account our busy lifestyles and are all about offering parents choices.
Boarding is not just for international pupils. It can provide an excellent alternative to long, exhausting commutes during the week and evenings can be spent playing with friends, rather than on screens.
Q: What kinds of boarding is on offer these days?
A: There’s Full-boarding, Weekly, Flexi and Occasional (this is for one night a week but on a regular basis.) It doesn’t have to mean long stretches away from home – children can to do one, two or three nights a week. This way you can live within 40 mins of the school and comfortably cope with the school run.
Q: What kind of boarding is the most popular at your school?
A: Full-time boarding for younger children is on the decline and Weekly, Flexi or Occasional boarding is on the rise.
When it comes to Weekly or Full Boarding the majority tend to be in the older year groups. Some are international pupils and some are getting used to the lifestyle before going onto Boarding Schools for Secondary.
At Wellesley our numbers are roughly split one third Weekly or Full Boarders, one third enjoy some form of Flexi Boarding and one third Day. So more than half the school is involved with the boarding side in some capacity.
Q: What does this mean for Wellesley House Day pupils?
A: Our Day pupil numbers are growing too. The Boarding element of our school really enhances the offering for Day pupils. Everyone – Day or Boarder – stays after school to do prep and supper is open to everyone, if they so wish.
Q: What are the benefits for parents?
These days, more than ever, parents and schools form a genuine team around children’s development. We understand the demands placed on parents in this busy world and aim to be as flexible as possible.
If a child would like to pop out for an ice cream with their parents on a Wednesday afternoon after Games then we’re totally open to that. It’s about co-operation and mutual goals.
Q: And pupils?
A: At Wellesley House the boys and girls love boarding. We have regular theme nights – like Hot Chocolate Nights every Wednesday or Pizza Nights on a Saturday for example.
Throughout the year there’s other popular events like Christmas Feast Night – which everyone is welcome to join, providing we have the space!
Q: What does the location of Wellesley offer for boarders?
A: In Kent we’re so lucky geographically. We have the countryside and the seaside and yet we’re still near enough to London. And our school in particular offers this incredible mix. Our location is one of the elements that makes our school so special. We’re half a mile from the east Kent coast, making us a naturally outdoorsy school.
Wellesley is an accredited Beach School and the coastline features in everything we do – from our geography lessons to our PE – as well as plenty of fun to be had rock-pooling or toasting marshmallows on campfires.
The school sits on 15 acres of grounds on a prime site in Broadstairs. Sport in general is popular at Wellesley and it wouldn’t be unusual to find a cricket match taking place on a warm summer’s evening. (Headmaster Gavin Franklin is a former professional cricketer).
Golf is another favourite, with coaches from the neighbouring Royal St George’s Golf Club helping pupils to perfect their swing.
Q: How do you make your boarders feel at home?
A: In my previous role I was Housemaster at Wellington College, Berkshire, one of the country’s leading independent co-ed senior schools so I have experience of the particular qualities required to make boarding life a happy one.
At Wellesley, as well as being Headmaster, I do one boarding duty night per week in the boys’ house. I also have two children of my own at the school – we are all one big family here.
We’ve made the rooms much more like a Boarding House than just dormitories upstairs. We watch movies or Live Sport and there’s a kitchenette too (the Head of Boarding is an accomplished baker).
Q: What do boarders say they love most about the experience?
A: For Wellesley pupils, boarding in some capacity is very appealing. You’re providing a raft of experiences and building their confidence. It’s a brilliant way to learn the subtleties of nurturing relationships, tolerence, understanding and, of course, independence.
We’re lucky, because of our smaller school size, children can push themselves by boarding and still feel very nurtured and secure – everyone mixes and blends here.
Q: What does an evening at Wellesley House look like?
A: Prep takes place after school for everyone – Day or Boarder. This finishes at 5.15pm and then those Day pupils that want to go home do so, knowing they don’t have to get their books out again when they get there.
For everyone else there’s Supper at 5.20pm – plenty of day pupils stay for this too. This is over by 6pm and then they have the rest of the evening to relax. And then in the morning, every day, a Full Cooked Breakfast is on offer. Not a bad life!
Q: What trends to you predict for the future of boarding?
A: We are noticing a steady stream of families moving out of London and wanting to make sure their children have a rounded education, with lots of outdoor fun, without spending hours in the car or on the bus every day.
Having been a full boarding school back in the 70s and 80s, it’s essential Wellesley House adapts and looks forward. Even as our Day pupil numbers increase boarding is always at the heart of Wellesley and this will continue because it benefits all pupils.
All our pupils can enjoy the rich after school life at Wellesley. At the end of the day it’s all about choices.