Boarding school: not for my child?

2011-02-02 00:00

THE movie of John van de Ruit's novels, Spud, has come and almost gone. The producers still have to face a rather silly court case but that's not all the film has left in its wake. The book was much better than the movie, which in its clearly successful attempt to get bums on seats, went way over the top and created a picture of boarding school life that may have been amusing but was not very realistic. That's what films do.

What it certainly has done is shine its money-spinning spotlight on boarding schools, of which there are many in the midlands. Are they really all like the one in Spud?

Firstly, let me say from years of experience, that no boarding school would have survived into the present if it failed to make huge improvements on the traditional kind of institution some of our grandparents and even parents experienced. The food has improved, the pupils are more comfortable, the level of pastoral care has advanced and bullying is no longer something to be ignored.

While some people regard sending their offspring away to board as the end of the world, there could actually be some advantages they have overlooked. Here are some of the more obvious ones.

• The umbilical cord to Mum and Dad will have to be severed. This is sad but inevitable and sadder still is the home-bound older adolescent who remains attached. The children usually get over this faster than the parents.

• Johnny will find himself having to cope in quite an organised environment and be responsible for his own belongings. In a very short space of time he will learn that he'd better leave his tackies where he can find them and that there is a locker or shelf where he has to leave his books.

• Mary will not have unlimited TV time as there will be set times for prep and she will have to participate in some or other school activity during the afternoons. The benefit is that her cellphone bill will probably come down.

• Boarders learn to stop complaining about food. While they might not always like the school food, they learn to eat what's put in front of them and that's usually more than adequate. That's more than can be said for some children who stay at home and moan about the cereal choice.

• Your sons and daughters will probably make very strong friendships at boarding school. These friendships may well go on into adult life and form the basis of contacts that could become very worthwhile socially or in business.

• Conversely, your child or children might have to put up with or be in contact with children they don't like or who are different from them. They can't walk away from them at 2.30 pm or pretend they don't exist. What a wonderful training for later life. Perhaps they will come to see some value in them.

• Finally, when Johnny and Mary come home for a weekend or for the holidays, can you imagine how pleased they will be to be there? The cereal will probably be fine and Dad's braai will be a real event. Home sweet home.

So, there are some very good arguments for sending children to boarding school. If your response is something like "over my dead body", it could be instructive to have a close look at your motives. Are you keeping your children at home for their sake or because you can't bear to part with them? With both parents working, as is common today, wouldn't a good boarding school provide a more structured environment than week-end parenting? Isn't how to cope with a bully one of the lessons you have to learn in life anyway? The kind of bullying you come across in later life is far more serious and far more difficult to deal with than anything dealt out at school nowadays.

Don't be too hasty to dismiss boarding school as a option. Take Spud: The Movie with a good pinch of salt and remember that parents do recover.

• Gordon Crossley is a writer and retired schoolmaster who lives in Hilton.

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