Pupil's Success Story
Going to Boarding School on a Scholarship and Bursary at the Age of Thirteen
“My parents could not afford independent education so I remember traipsing round all the state school open days. My county has one of the least funded areas in the UK for education so state education is limited in my area. My parents and I finally thought we had found a nice, small friendly state school with a good reputation. Then we discovered that only 1% of GCSE grades were an A grade. This for my parents was the turning point. We decided to pursue scholarships at independent schools. After the local independent schools could not offer me the bursary I required, we saw no option but to approach boarding schools further away. I was really fortunate to be awarded a scholarship and bursary to attend a school a few hours from home. I was a little bit nervous because I had never really done any boarding before. I had no idea what to expect, plus most pupils came from local feeder schools so they all knew each other when they started.
Summer term before the September start
The housemaster arranged for a few of the new boys to come to a barbecue to meet each other before the summer holidays. It was a nice friendly atmosphere and I met some of my future peers. I remember we played a bit of football in the house garden too. It was great opportunity to get a feel for what the boarding house was like and what to expect in September.
The school provided us with a packing list and fortunately my parents helped me, ensuring I had ticked everything off the list. It was either a 7 hour return journey or sending a parcel if I forgot anything! I made a visit to the school shop and was kitted out with lots of school uniform. It was quite expensive but my mum made sure I bought everything several sizes too big! Safe to say I would not need to buy other sports top my whole 5 years here. It was annoying that some of the sports gear went out of date quite quickly because they change the design every few years. However, this was not too much of problem because my school had a good value second hand shop. I can imagine name taping is quite an issue but my mum took that burden. NB name taping in a boarding school environment is ESSENTIAL!
First day Arrival
We, as the new boys, arrived a day earlier than the rest of the school so it was relatively quiet. This gave me time to meet everyone properly including the housemaster. It made it all seem less overwhelming.
When all the bigger boys arrived, it was a bit daunting especially as they were all familiar with everything and you don’t really know where anything is or what the routine is.
That first weekend, we did some bonding activities such as a day out at a zoo. This also kept us busy so that we did not get homesick or anxious.
It took a while to find out where things were but everyone was happy to help. Also, we tended to cluster in groups so I was not really ever on my own.
Weekends are generally a little bit quieter. At my school, those who lived nearer tended to head back home. I was living over 3 hours away so this was not an option for me. However, I was pleased that weekends were not as high octane as the weekdays. It was important for me to have some relaxation periods and time to myself. That said, there were always commitments and activities to do: Church on Sunday and other sports matches on Saturday, socials, Sunday trips etc.
I personally found I wasn’t too bothered by homesickness. The school routine keeps you busy. We had extracurricular activities most evenings and sports matches every weekend. The housemaster takes your phone at night which was a good thing because there were many people who would stay up texting or gaming all night! We often tried to hand in decoy phones, but this old trick rarely worked. We all saw the boarding as being like a sleepover so overall it was fantastic fun.
When boarding with maybe 5 or 6 people in a dorm, you all become close friends quickly. It’s also easy to make friends with your peers because you see each other every day in close proximity. I liked the fact that you might have chemistry and hockey and RS with the same person so that you can view that person in many different contexts. I guess it made me appreciate that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In my experience, there will always be some like minded person you can get on with.
Not everyone settles into boarding immediately. It’s a huge change in routine, lifestyle and environment. However, if someone doesn’t settle into boarding initially, they will in time because boarding school helps you to grow in maturity. There will be times when you are annoyed or upset about something however all the house staff check in every night with each pupil. The pastoral support was strong at my school, if I was struggling with anything, they were happy to help.
Going to an all-boys boarding school, I expected some bullying. When I first arrived, there was a little bit of the older boys picking on younger boys however during my time there the new housemaster changed all that and it had disappeared by the time I left.
An exeat is a weekend when the whole school closes and all pupils go home. My school had an exeat once every three weeks or so. On exeats I took the train home and I didn’t need much luggage as it was only for the weekend. At the end of term my parents would drive down and collect me in the car because I would often have a huge amount of luggage. One aspect that was challenging was that many of my friends lived far away from my home which meant that in the holidays I would have to take long train journeys to see school friends or wait until I saw them back at school. It meant that I made sure I kept in touch with local friends. It is very strange adjusting to boarding life after being used to living at home but after a term or two it feels natural.
What to take to boarding school?
Tuck! A bit of chocolate or sweets to share around is always a good icebreaker. Everyone had a phone, quite a few people had laptops, although there were computers in house that we could use.
My top tips for starting boarding school:
Have fun and enjoy yourself. Despite essays and homework and rules, you get to see your friends everyday and live with them.
Make the most of all the fantastic opportunities. There are so many extracurricular activities available at boarding school which day schools simply don’t have the time or funds to supply. So try going to kayaking club or the astronomy society, or the tackling the Duke of Edinburgh Award!
Sport is very important to me. My boarding school offered a wealth of sporting activities with different sports available in different terms e.g. in the summer we could choose from tennis, athletics, swimming, water polo, cricket and social sport. Some of my favourite activities were the inter-house competitions which created a healthy rivalry between houses and strengthened the bond between all the year groups in my house.
I think choosing a boarding house is so important and I would have had a different experience had I been in a different house. I would definitely take the opportunity to book a tour and have a look around before you make a decision. Also, chat to some pupils and see what their opinion is on each boarding house to gain some inside knowledge. I only had limited choice because I applied late but luckily I found a house which had a large garden where we would play football. The building itself was nicely decorated, the rooms were spacious and there was a games room with a pool table, so overall it was a sound choice.
Leaving your family
If you go to a boarding school and you are not boarding, you would miss out on much of what is going on. So in my school the few days boys there were often changed to board for this reason. At a boarding school there may be people you don’t get on with but by the last few years you will all be friends once everyone has grown to understand one another and matured a bit.”