It’s Open Day season – and boarding schools across the country are setting out their stalls.
For families choosing a boarding school, visiting an Open Day is one of the most useful things you can do – but it can also be one of the most confusing and intimidating, especially for those thinking about boarding for the first time.
With glossy adverts in every newspaper and magazine, and a seemingly endless number of schools to choose from, the first steps can be overwhelming. Plan well in advance – shortlist schools depending on what’s important to you, and do some research before deciding which to visit in person. Do you want a school that’s close to home, or are the exam results or co-curricular opportunities more important? If you want single-sex boarding, or have specific sporting requirements, be prepared to look further afield.
Decide how many schools you want to visit in person – Open Days can be long and tiring, and there are only so many Saturdays in a year! Check the dates for each school well in advance, so that you can arrange alternatives if two schools are opening on the same day.
A good school should provide plenty of information about how the open morning will work. Some have a set start time, while others operate a “drop in” system. If you’re pushed for time, check in advance that you will be able to see the school properly – it may be better to come along for an individual tour on a day when you have more time.
During your visit
During your tour, ask the pupil showing you round as many questions as possible about the things that matter to you. Be suspicious if your guide seems to be parroting learned lines – this should be your opportunity to get an honest opinion about the school!
Think carefully about what you want to see – if your son or daughter has particular interests, take the time to talk to staff in those subjects. Are they passionate and enthusiastic? Do they engage with your child? Teachers need to inspire as well as teach.
Home from home
Boarding houses vary enormously – even within a school, the range of accommodation can be staggering. Don’t get hung up on ensuite bathrooms, shiny computer suites or individual bedrooms – the boarding house will be your child’s home, and it’s important that a school offers a place where they will feel comfortable and relaxed, where you like and feel you can trust the house parents, and where your child will fit in with the pupil community. Clear structures and an emphasis on happiness, tolerance and respect are the keys to a great boarding experience.
After the event
It’s impossible to remember everything you want to ask during an open morning, so don’t be afraid to contact the school to check anything you’ve forgotten. The school’s reaction to this phonecall can also be helpful – you need to know they have the right attitude all year round, and not just on Open Day! Don’t be afraid to follow up with an extra visit – if the open morning is an all-singing, all-dancing affair, you should make a return visit in any case, to get a feel for the atmosphere on a normal day.
A boarding school can be an overwhelmingly positive experience in a child’s life. Boarding teaches tolerance, resilience and respect for others in a way that it can be difficult to replicate at home, as well as offering greater opportunities to try new activities and experiences. Boarding can be life-changing – but it is vital to do your homework and find the right match for your child.
The best schools will help you make the right decision – don’t view open morning as a hard-sell, but as a chance to get to know us, and a chance to make the best possible choice for your child.