The schools that can give our children the best starts

PUBLISHED: 06:40 14 June 2018

Wymondham College: are state boarding schools education's best-kept secret?

Wymondham College: are state boarding schools education's best-kept secret?


State boarding schools can give so many of our children a great start in life, says Rachel Moore.

A sweeping generalisation maybe, but a child in care, more often than not, is a child lost.

Ask the prison service.

‘Care’ is an emotive word, which increasingly turns out to mean the polar opposite. In this case, it’s about children being taken away from their families for their own safety and protection.

To quote the dictionary definition, care is “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something. It is protective custody or guardianship.”

The reality of what really happens has been exposed too often, and the statistics of the young homeless street sleepers, and police logs point to a broken inadequate under-funded system.

For a child to be taken into care and emerge, from children’s homes or foster families, as a balanced economically-viable young adult is little short of a miracle.

There’s a record number of looked-after children today with social services at “tipping point.”

It’s one of the saddest indictments of 2018 Britain, with poverty, poor housing and substance abuse at its root. Last year, there were 72,670 looked-after children, with 90 young people entering the care system each day, the sharpest rise ever seen.

It’s a crisis for young lives, often at a crucial crossroads where a wrong turn costs a future.

Many foster parents are extraordinary, selfless individuals who turn around young lives, providing boundaries, support, comfort and direction.

But too many children are failed, emerging from ‘the system’ damaged, failed and hopeless, their experience far from the safety net they should have been caught in.

A study of children in care in Norfolk has concluded that a boarding school education – state or independent – could provide the solution, hugely reducing the risk and increasing educational and social outcomes in a cost-effective way.

State boarding schools are education’s best-kept secret. The days of cold water, hard-faced matrons and stark dormitories of 30 are long gone. Now it’s all squashy sofas, game consoles, sport-til-they-drop, boarding house ‘families’ and hot chocolate and cookies before bed.

Modern boarding schools are all about independence and empowerment, encouraging young people to think and act for themselves and take responsibility.

They don’t clip wings but encourage them to spread, grow and flourish. It’s about doing things for themselves, not relying on others doing it for them.

If you don’t believe me, go along to any school open day.

State boarding schools offer a brilliant social mix and endless opportunities – looked-after children mix with the left-of-centre wealthy who can’t bring themselves to sign up to private education, to the children of armed forces personnel, to the teachers’ children. It’s a great leveller.

Until 10 years ago, all I knew about boarding schools was from Enid Blyton’s Naughtiest girl in the School and Mallory Towers.

When older son said he wanted to take a look at Wymondham College, a state boarding school near Norwich where, at 11, he believed he would be able to “play sport all the time’, my heart sank. We didn’t ‘do’ boarding. A state comp girl, it’s what other people did.

Now, a decade on and both sons have emerged with seven years’ boarding under their belts, the first about to graduate from university and the second just completing his first undergraduate year, they say they wouldn’t have had their school days any other way.

They developed an independence I could never have envisaged. They never asked me to sort out banking issues, make them a doctor’s appointment or called a shop to check if they had football boots. They’ve been expected to speak for themselves, and they do.

With friends all over the country, they were used to making their own train and bus travel arrangements and have done their own washing and ironing as matter of course since they were 14. Friends at day schools had no idea how to do any of the above because it had always been done for them.

School was being with their best friends all the time. Home in a Norfolk village was boring compared to life surrounded by mates with a sports hall, swimming pool and tennis courts on site and teachers on tap to ask about their homework.

To save vulnerable young people, boarding schools and their caring ethos that focuses on shaping young adults far more than exam league tables provides the structure, opportunities, support and aspiration to help them grow and achieve success.

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