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Headmaster’s Blog

COVID: The Growth in Flexi-Boarding to Meet Friendship and Social Needs

15 February 2021

Last summer we became aware that with potential second lockdowns, travel quarantines and an unpredictable situation with the pandemic, the numbers of overseas boarders joining the prep school would in all likelihood be reduced. With many attending school remotely or postponing joining until the situation changed, It looked like this would reduce the appetite for boarding amongst our day community. It actually had the opposite effect.

Within days of the start of term, there were large numbers of students from Year 5 upwards signing up for boarding weeks, where year group bubbles came into the boarding house and stayed for anything between a single night and a week. Instead of going home at 6pm with the rest of the school, the flexi-boarders were treated to a range of fun activities mixed with some valuable socialising in school. Over the preceding months, rules of six had contributed to limited social interaction with friends and the opportunity for more contact with a larger social bubble in school was very attractive. There were groups as large as 30 staying in the boarding house, giving some much needed company to the few overseas boarders who were still able to join this year.

With a second school closure, it is evident that the appetite for flexi boarding will be even greater when the school reopens. Whilst the OPS has maintained a very strong continuity of provision online, the lack of real social contact between friends has been very difficult for students. We anticipate a hunger for extended periods in school with the many opportunities that this will provide. The extra time in school will be given over to some additional academic catch-up, just as it will also provide a release from the many hours spent at home in the same house. Some of our older students long for time away from the family, finding some time and space to have slower and more meaningful conversations with friends. Boarding house life provides the chance to experience the joys of a sleepover, but with activities and challenges to make the experience as enjoyable as it can be. 

There is nothing new about the way boarding enriches the experience of children in school. One of the best things about boarding schools is the way they provide for every aspect of a child’s development, including social skills and building friendships. When they are well set up, boarding houses are places where children find ways to get along with everyone, giving them skills that stay with them for life. When pastoral care is strong, they are places of fun, excitement and humour. They add dimensions to school life that cannot be replicated at home, where only a few friends can stay and where parents have to juggle looking after them with their own work or other family commitments. In a school such as ours, where our grounds are vast and we have the facilities for swimming, sports and a range of recreational activities, boarding life provides freedom and joy. 

It goes without saying that we look forward to the return of our overseas boarders later this year. They provide additional cultural variety and enrichment. However, we know that the boarding house will accommodate boarders from all our year groups as more of our students experience the fun of living alongside their friends, if only for a few nights before returning home.