Tuesday 22 January 2019

How the decision to send a child to boarding school is not made lightly

John D Rafter, headmaster at The King's Hospital School, Dublin, says guilt about not being 'the perfect parent' is a common reason families choose boarding schools

The King’s Hospital rugby players face their supporters ahead of a Leinster Schools Senior Cup match at Donnybrook Stadium. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
The King’s Hospital rugby players face their supporters ahead of a Leinster Schools Senior Cup match at Donnybrook Stadium. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and RTE’s Kathryn Thomas are both past pupils of The King’s Hospital. Photo: Fergal Phillips

John D Rafter

Picture this - you get up at 6:00am, tip-toe around a silent, darkened house so as not to wake the other sleeping occupants. By the time you get into your car at 6:45am, traffic has already started to build, and you share an unspoken camaraderie with other commuters on the roads, sleepily drinking coffee from your travel mug.

By the time you get home many hours later, you're stressed, tired and hungry. You need to get dinner on the table for the children and muster energy from somewhere in order to take on your next role as taxi driver to music lessons, sports training, acting classes, or whatever additional extra-curricular activities you have encouraged your children to take on to ensure they have a well-rounded upbringing.

You're stressed. You go to bed feeling guilty about not being 'the perfect parent' during those precious few hours you get to spend with your family, only to do the same thing all over again for the rest of the week.

For many families around Ireland, this is the norm. In fact, when we meet parents at our open days, this is the most common issue that has prompted them to consider the option of boarding for their children.

They want a school to provide the best possible all-round education, in a safe, secure and enriching setting, so that the time they spend together is meaningful and as stress-free as possible. In fact, 70pc of our five-day boarding students are from counties adjacent to Dublin, such as Kildare, Meath, Wicklow and Laois. Many parents of teenagers recognise that time spent commuting can be spent more productively on study, sport, extra-curricular activities and socialising with peers.

Recently I spoke to one parent whose children attend our school on a five-day boarding basis, to find out why she chose the option of a boarding school for her children. She said that boarding suited the family's needs as they are self-employed and work long hours.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and RTE’s Kathryn Thomas are both past pupils of The King’s Hospital. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and RTE’s Kathryn Thomas are both past pupils of The King’s Hospital. Photo: Fergal Phillips

"Our children are well cared for in school from Sunday night to Friday, and we get to spend family time with them at weekends. The King's Hospital offers them a good education along with a range of after-school activities, and we find that they have become more independent as a result."

So why does boarding still have a negative perception attached to it? A sense that it's only for the wealthy, elite members of our society? Or, worse still, that it's for parents who don't want to spend time with their kids?

Spend a day at a boarding school and you would quickly see that nothing could be further from the truth. We pride ourselves in providing a 'home away from home' for our students, recognising the financial and personal sacrifices many parents make in order to give their child the best education possible.

But before you start to think that we focus only on academic excellence, our students are encouraged to develop skills in every aspect of life. We provide many opportunities for students to take up and enjoy sports, to socialise within the school, to take part in activities, tours and social projects.

Students value this greatly.

To be exposed to a variety of experiences and challenges and to be a well-rounded human being as well as a strong academic student is central to success in life after school. Many students find opportunities here that they could never have outside of this school. They form interest groups, societies and have the advantage of having access to all kinds of activities right on their doorstep. Activities that would otherwise be too far away, cost too much or simply not have the numbers to be viable in their local community.

Our students graduate as grounded young adults with strong values and service towards the community.

Our strong links with the community include a 50-year relationship with Stewarts Care, a voluntary organisation in Palmerstown that provides services to people with an intellectual disability. Service users are visited by our students and visit our school on a regular basis.

All of our transition year students fundraise on their annual Flag Day. Other charities supported by The King's Hospital through fundraising and volunteer work are The Hope Foundation, Heart Children Ireland and the Cherry Orchard social care teams.

Through the Faith Union, led by our chaplain, students are actively involved with the Tiglin outreach programme, a charity working with the homeless in the city centre. The students have an annual 'sleep out' coinciding with the Trinity Ball, to raise funds for their rehabilitation centre.

Whether the students are day or boarding pupils, they have the advantage of full time pastoral care, including tutor systems, a medical centre and career counselling department. Many of our staff live on campus with their families, which creates a lovely homely atmosphere. This allows a myriad of activities to take place before and after school, and has ensured the many trophies and prizes we have been awarded in debating, SciFest, BT Young Scientist, European Parliament Euroscola, and RIAM High Achiever awards, not to mention all the sporting accolades.

When writing this piece, I spoke to some of the students to find out what they like most about boarding school.

Tom Cole, head boy at our school, said he "couldn't imagine life without boarding school. Boarding really allows you to gain independence and develop your individuality and I find that the distance and time away from home makes the time spent with my family all the more special."

The choice to send your children to a private boarding school is not one that anyone takes lightly. It is not done purely for some kind of status statement.

It is a decision made by parents and students who know that this can enhance their lives and their opportunities. It is a decision made by carefully weighing up the costs and pressures on families to provide everything outside of school against having one complete solution that offers the student so much.

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