Reaping the rewards of Boys Boarding at Westonbirt School
As Westonbirt School officially launches Boys Boarding from September, Deputy Head, Simon Balderson, discusses why and how boys benefit from boarding.
“Umm, sorry sir, we were just messing about in the corridor and then I fell through the wall…” Having spent a number of years as the housemaster of a boys’ boarding house, this is just one memory of many, illustrating the hilarity and challenge of looking after a community of boys, all under one roof. It is a particularly exciting time, as we are introducing boys boarding to Westonbirt; a natural progression, having become co-educational in September 2019, and one which I am particularly looking forward to.
Our sports pitches, classrooms and outdoor areas have all been adapted to our new mixed environment with great success and boarding provision is the final piece of the jigsaw as we complete the transformation from single-sex to co-ed and continue to grow in numbers.
Being a Houseparent is, I believe, the most rewarding and challenging job in teaching and it has been lovely to be reminded of the unique atmosphere boys’ boarding brings, after stepping back in to that role briefly, as part of our taster boarding sessions for boys.
The ability to influence the lives of the pupils in one’s house so directly is an immense privilege and the sense of pride in seeing them leave at the end of their school careers as well-rounded young men and women is hard to beat.
Many of the benefits of boarding are not unique to boys, of course – the sense of community, immersion in school life and building lifelong friendships are common to all boarding environments, but there are some particular features of boys boarding which we look forward to adding to our mix in September.
The sense of competitive “house spirit” seems to be an especially important feature for boys (although I defy anyone to find teams more competitive than our girls’ Lacrosse and Cricket 1st teams!).
Playing for the School is a huge honour, but playing for the House takes on a particular significance which cannot be overestimated. A victory over a local rival pales into insignificance, compared to beating your classmates from a different house!
The need to adapt, to support your housemates in the variety of house competitions which occur during the year, whether they are your specialism or not, is a wonderful life lesson. To be playing in a house hockey match one week, followed by learning the words for the house singing competition the next, not because you necessarily choose to, but because your house needs you to, is immensely valuable.
Pitching in, helping your friends, being a team player – a boarding environment is particularly good at developing these character traits. I would also anticipate that the consumption of toast, a commodity of huge importance in a boys’ house, will skyrocket!
Westonbirt has always prided itself on its sense of community and the provision of a nurturing environment for all pupils. The boarding ethos helps enormously here, for day pupils as well as boarders. The school day is deliberately long, allowing us to mix in a huge variety of clubs, societies and activities in amongst the academic programme.
It allows us to focus on character, ethos and values – a significant advantage of any boarding environment. It is entirely possible to play in the Rugby 1st XV and perform in the drama production, or a music ensemble, whilst still finding time to excel academically. An all-round, holistic education, developing character as well as academic potential, is at the heart of our culture at Westonbirt and boarding is the ideal environment for such an approach.
The bonds of friendship formed in the boarding house are especially long-lasting and significant, between the pupils, but also with the school, as a result of those shared experiences which only come through boarding. The staff are not simply there to educate children, but create a family environment, nurturing and caring for each child in a way which is impossible to replicate in a day-only school.
We are immensely excited about introducing boys boarding. There may be the odd extra broken window from a stray cricket ball and we may need to invest in some heavy-duty toasters, but the prospect of enhancing our boarding community in the same way we have already augmented our day pupil mix, with the addition of boys, is an inspiring one!