Interview with Box Hill School’s Head of Boarding John Attewell.
What is the day-to-day life of a boarder like?
Although it is reasonably structured, we regard the boarding experience as ‘home from home’ and therefore try to mirror, as far as possible the post school experience of our day students. For example, they are allowed to change out of their uniforms at 4.30pm (the end of the school day). After some free down time there is a period for homework and activities and this is followed by supper at 7.30pm. The remainder of the evening is generally free but with a number of activities available if they wish. These include sports activities, dance or just a visit to our very own café for a hot chocolate and waffle.
How do you shape the character of your pupils?
We do not tend to shape characters; we guide and allow the pupils in our care to shape their own characters. I like to think we have a measured approach to this guidance, which mixes celebration of achievement with wisdom received through the inevitable mistakes made. This approach requires an equal measure of understanding and tolerance, both in plentiful supply at Box Hill School.
How do you support boarders moving on to higher education?
Preparation for life beyond Box Hill School is clearly a priority and there are a number of measures we have in place to help in this aim. As with many schools, we have a very committed Careers Advisor, who spends a considerable amount of time with the students offering practical help and advice in the numerous options open to our students. In addition, we have a mixed senior boarding house, where sleeping accommodation is very separate, but allows them the opportunity to live in university style accommodation with the facilities to prepare their own meals and do their own washing (although unsurprisingly very few take up this option!!). The senior school students do have plenty of free time, designed as a means of helping them manage this time effectively, something I firmly believe allows for independence and is an essential skill for university life. It would be wrong however, to conclude that it is only when the student is in the ‘twilight’ of their time with us that we seek to prepare them for what lies beyond. The reality is that, with the holistic approach to education we adopt, the school seeks to prepare them for the next stage of their life at all times, whether that is in higher education, the work place or the increasingly popular ‘gap year’.
What pastoral support is offered to the boarders?
High quality pastoral care is at the heart of everything we do at Box Hill School. We have a team of highly experienced and accessible house staff who work tirelessly to ensure that our students are able to thrive in such a culturally diverse community. Having relatively small houses (average size is between 20-30 students), allows our staff to tailor advice based on an understanding and familiarity of each student’s individual needs. We conduct an annual questionnaire amongst our students as a means of receiving some ‘consumer feedback’ and a purposefully vague question to conclude is “What do you like most about boarding?” and invariably the responses surround the shared experiences. I have often heard in many professional circles that boarding leads to a greater level of independence. To a degree I accept this, although not necessarily in the practical sense. After all having all of your meals cooked for you, having your room cleaned and your clothes washed hardly reflects an independent lifestyle. In other areas however, the boarding lifestyle does allow the development of other characteristics and life skills, leadership, teamwork, cultural understanding and tolerance.
What are the things you place the most focus on in terms of the experience of a boarder?
There are many, but as with all boarding schools, we seek to provide safe surroundings where boarders can develop in an environment of internationalism and cultural awareness. Within this environment, we look to develop the necessary skills students need to progress whether that be for university or the world of work.
What areas do you pride yourselves in?
Whilst I feel we are very strong in a number of areas, our pastoral approach is one of our outstanding strengths. It is essential that, given the unique environment we find ourselves in, our students feel well supported in all that they do and have access to advice on some of those difficult life choices which need to be made. We have a team of highly experienced and accessible house staff who work tirelessly to ensure that our students are able to thrive in such a cultural diverse community. Having relatively small houses (average size is between 20-30 students), allows our staff to tailor advice based on an understanding and familiarity of the student’s individual needs.
What are weekends like for boarders?
We have at least one trip every weekend which the students can attend which vary from go-karting, to Harry Potter World, to the London Eye and the ever popular cinema trips. The Sports Centre is open to allow the students the opportunity to play badminton, table tennis, football or the use the multi gym for a work out. There are also a number of in house activities as well ranging from pizza parties to film nights, with the obligatory marshmallows and hot chocolate!!! We also believe it is important for the students to have some down time, so whilst we offer a whole range of activities, we also ensure the necessary balance.
How do you think boarding has changed over the years?
I think boarding has changed significantly in recent years in that it is no longer regarded as the ‘bolt on’ to the core objective of education but an end in itself. Clearly the school day seeks to develop understanding with the primary objective of good examination grades allowing access to the next educational stage. It is true, as with many schools we successfully cultivate all areas of the students, but boarding looks to cultivate other life skills in more depth which are essential if we are legitimately to claim we have a holistic approach to education, such as leadership, team work, cultural understanding, tolerance and independence.
visit: https://www.boxhillschool.com/ for more information.