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Debate: Boarding school

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Is boarding school beneficial to children?

Background and context

With the popularity of Harry Potter novels the number of children applying to boarding schools has risen, many of them hoping to find their own version of Hogwarts. However others have interpreted this trend as a reaction to longer working hours and the break up of more marriages. The boarding schools of fiction are presented as one long midnight feast with pillow fights forging firm friendships. However their opponents claim the reality is extended homesickness and a lack of individual attention. Modern boarding schools have done much to shed the image of the mass dormitories with 40 or more beds in one room, some going as far as providing en-suite bathrooms to private rooms. Similarly they make great claims for their academic merit, particularly in light of the increase of exams, coursework and university entrance requirements facing children wishing to succeed in the modern world. Alongside these more conventional schools, two types of boarding schools have also become more prevalent recently. Sports academies and stage schools seek to cater for children with particular interests and talents, while so-called ‘troubled-teens’ have been able to turn to a range of religious or wilderness schools to solve their problematic behaviour.

Contents

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Argument #1

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Yes

Boarding schools allow children a safe space in which to exert greater control and independence over their daily lives. Teachers and staff can supervise and support but they are unlikely to be over-protective. This can be a great preparation for university or work away from home in later life as it provides an intermediate step between childhood and full independence.

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No

Parents are a child’s most natural support and best role models to learn from. If they are separated from them for long periods of time this may damage their relationship and leave the child feeling anxious or alone. Schools are unlikely to be able to replicate the detailed knowledge of each individual child that a parent has and therefore cannot be as effective in supporting the child.

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Argument #2

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Yes

Being in school all the time allows children full access to its facilities. This is good for creating a learning environment as pupils can have access to libraries, computers and teachers while doing their homework. Similarly it is easier to take part in extra-curricular activities such as plays, sports matches and art if they do not have to arrange travel home late at night or after the school buses have left. Diversity of experience is not neglected as many schools run community volunteering schemes, and anyway students will spend substantial periods away from school in the holidays.

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No

Spending all your time in school restricts the circle of people you come into contact with. Extra-curricular activities organised by the school will largely be with peers rather than the whole range of the community as might be the case with local choirs, amateur dramatic groups, sports clubs, etc. This loss of diversity may also be seen as detrimental to a holistic conception of education (for example a library may provide books on wartime evacuation but might not be as good a resource as the pensioner down your street who was themselves evacuated).

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Argument #3

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Yes

Living with peers of their own age, round the clock, teaches children how to get along with each other and compromise. A variety of characters and interests must be accommodated, teaching children tolerance and compromise in a regulated environment. This can be especially helpful for working with university or company colleagues in the future. Furthermore, many boarding schools celebrate diversity as international students with different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds frequently make up a significant minority of the student body. A proportion of non-boarding day pupils, and boarding students whose fees are paid through bursaries (means-related grants), scholarships (academic grants), or by the state (e.g. children with parents on military or diplomatic service overseas) means that students are not all drawn from one class or income bracket.

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No

Friendships and relations between peers are governed by the rules of the school and therefore do not always reflect real life. Pupils at the school may be drawn from only one gender or religion, and will certainly be drawn only from the wealthier social classes because of the high fees charged by all boarding schools. Because the school controls a large portion of their pupils' lives they may never come into contact with individuals who think differently from them. Also, the very regulation of the pupils' lives can lead some to become institutionalised, i.e. unable to cope with life and relate to others outside the regulated framework of the school. It was traditional boarding schools which Evelyn Waugh had in mind when he wrote, "Anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison".

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Argument #4

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Yes

Many specialised interests, such as ballet, tennis or music require training from a young age. Boarding schools, including ballet schools, tennis academies and cathedral choir schools, allow children to pursue excellence with like-minded peers. This would be difficult to arrange on a local basis as specialist equipment and training is expensive and therefore concentrated in a few centres. Boarding schools minimise disruption to children’s academic work by reducing the need for extended travel/time off school to reach them.

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No

Specialist boarding schools can lead to an over concentration on one area or style of curriculum to the neglect of all others. It can also harm the breadth of opportunity available at a local level, compelling those interested in a particular discipline to become boarders when they would have preferred not to.

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Argument #5

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Yes

As well as allowing for flexibility in curriculum choice, boarding schools can also accommodate a variety of specific family or lifestyle considerations. Children with specific learning or emotional needs can also benefit from specialised help as noted above. Particularly important is the way a boarding school may provide relief for parents from the day to day strains of dealing with a child’s problems, making time spent together more pleasant. Sometimes time away from the home benefits the child whose problems may be caused or exacerbated by troubles at home, for example divorce, bereavement or illness of a parent. On a merely practical level, parents whose work requires them to travel extensively, live in remote areas or abroad may find boarding school a useful way to provide stability and continuity in their child’s education.

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No

While a boarding school may ameliorate some family problems it is unlikely to solve them. Confronting issues head on with help from local social services could allow families to stay together rather than risking the other problems listed above. It is not unreasonable to expect parents to consider the education of their children when selecting their careers and to do so in a way that would not force them to board. Most difficulties of working parents could be equally well addressed by after school clubs or better childcare provision.

See also

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