Sherborne Prep is an independent co-educational day and boarding School for children aged 3 - 13 in Dorset

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Striving to make a difference

Our pupils, seizing the opportunity

Alastair Poulain, writes for Independent Schools Management Plus Magazine

Jun 16 2022

‘We are all different!’

So said Brian of Nazareth, as he tried in vain to disperse the crowd from his bedroom balcony, and indeed we all are. So are our children and so, therefore, should be the decision-making process for a child’s boarding school.

Long gone are the days of the same schools churning out the same characters to administer the colonies. And long gone are the days where parents had little to choose between them.

Now, schools trumpet their qualities from glossy videos, websites, and brochures, offering all things to all people. Some schools tend to take more military families than others, in the same way that some schools tend to take more rugby playing children or musicians.

“Do children of serving parents want or need the same things as each other?”

While the desire to play in a strong team with specific coaches or play in several orchestras in a school with a compelling reputation is understandable, the military logic is less obvious. Do children of a serving parent, or parents, want or need the same things as each other? More importantly, should these children be lumped into a cohort of other forces children, just by dint of their parent’s profession?

Meeting new people and adapting to them, listening to others’ ideas and valuing them, enjoying other people’s company and learning about them, trying new things, and enjoying them (or not), being aware of differing opinions and being challenged by them: they are all character facets and skills that employers yearn for yet diminish with each generation. Greater still, these traits will build the character of a child and create a platform for their fulfilment and success in later life. They will make them child happier.

Could it be possible that, rather than looking for the same school as all the other forces children, families could look for one that specifically isn’t the obvious? If so, what should they be looking for?

Well to answer that: I do not know, and nor should I.

“Top-quality pastoral care to all children, regardless of their family circumstances, elevates a school’s ability to nurture young people.”

Every family – forces or not – is different, with a different set of criteria for choosing a school for their child. But, if they feel at home, guided through any natural ups and downs, truly listened to and understood and are having fun, then achieving their full potential is going to feel natural and easy.

We know that for any child who boards with us, there are practical elements that aide positive wellbeing; a busy weekend programme will distract from any feelings of homesickness, homely spaces, cosy nooks, dedicated members of staff who clearly enjoy children’s company, as well as robust partnerships with the family and serving forces liaison officer.

It is top-quality pastoral care to all children, regardless of their family circumstances, that elevates a school’s ability to nurture young people, with confidence, and equip them with the life skills required for the world beyond.

Parents should be encouraged to look round a few schools and keep their eyes open. It can pay to be confident in a gut feeling and remember that for a child, variety could well be the spice of life.

Read the article on the School Management Plus website.

Alastair Poulain is a teacher of English and sport at Sherborne Prep School. In September, he will take on the role of Director of Adventure, Community and Leadership. He also has experience in the military and venture capital.

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