I think there is much truth in the claim that as a result of hosting the Olympics and Paralympics this year, the nation is thinking differently about what it means to aspire to excellence and the force for good that can arise from the coming together of a diversity of talents from around the world. Many of Britain’s Olympians were able to find the time for excellence because they were boarders. Not having to run for the bus in their teens may have given them the time to be good enough eventually to run – or row, or swim – for their country. This approach is encouraged and nurtured in our boarding schools which give our pupils the freedom to develop their own skills, while valuing those of others.
Our young people will begin their careers in a globalised world that has been reshaped by the internet. Their Britain of tomorrow will be heavily influenced by forces that lie far beyond our borders. Their generation will need leaders and influencers with multicultural and international skills to solve intractable problems that our generation has simply never faced. Boarding in the UK is regarded as the gold standard, which is probably why our schools have pupils from every corner of the world. Being part of a culturally diverse boarding community gives pupils the opportunity to develop open, altruistic minds. Through shared endeavors, boarders have a sense of belonging, and that they are part of a strong, united community. In this safe and non-judgmental environment, it is much easier to be yourself, overcoming stereotypical assumptions and cultural blindness.
Striving for excellence is very firmly back on the nation’s agenda, following the Olympics. With an education system that places far too much emphasis on testing, exams and exam results, boarding provides the perfect balance where pupils can maximise their time in pursuing their interests and talents without being singled out, or made to feel that being really good at something is somehow not acceptable.
Boarding is fundamentally about valuing individual differences and enabling everyone to contribute and maximize their potential. This is exactly what a boarding education gives young people through the many opportunities that are on offer to them beyond the classroom. There are many elements of boarding life that go towards uniting the community such as eating together, going on trips and celebrating special occasions.
Even the smallest elements of boarding life can make a big impact on the pupils in terms of new experiences and how they learn to adapt. For example, pupils from less safe parts of the world truly enjoy the simple freedom of being able to walk to the local shops. Whether from the UK or overseas, boarders learn to take a greater level of responsibility for themselves and, in addition to the support that parents and House Staff give them, they learn a great deal from each other.
Diversity in education not only exposes young people to different cultures, it also gives them the opportunity to observe different learning styles. Whilst students from overseas come to the UK with the aim of improving their English, it is also incumbent on the English speaking students to be aware of the way in which they speak so that everyone is included in the conversation. Living with others also means developing sensitivity to the non-verbal ways of communicating and cultivating an understanding of the way in which others think and study. This plays a significant part in opening young minds to new ideas.
The rich and fulfilling lives that our boarders experience equips them with the necessary tools to develop a mind-set where they become critically conscious, with the ability to act locally as well as think globally.