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When I tell people that I went to boarding school, a question I often get asked is would I do it again. I have spoken about my boarding school experience before on posts here and here. But for a while I have wanted to write a post aimed at both the parents of those who have or thinking about sending their child to boarding school. For those who may have just started boarding school I hope to make sense of those thoughts and feelings you may have about being away and hopefully make the most of this unique experience.

First of all the details!

School I went tooAckworth School

Years I boarded  2007-2009

Age I boarded 16-18

How do you know if you will enjoy boarding?

To be honest, you won’t know until you try it. If you enjoy socialising and being involved with activities then boarding will suit you well as you will always be busy. I can guarantee at first you will hate it, but that is all normal and it is just part of settling into a new school, new routine and making new friends.

I have just started boarding school and feel upset and homesick all the time, is this normal?

Yes it is. I remember my first day, just being in utter shock and being so upset. I tried to keep it in (being a 16 year old boarder, so a little older than most). You will likely feel like this for at least a month but get involved with as many after school activities as possible to keep your mind busy. I would not recommend seeing your parents for the first month. as it just makes those feelings worse.

What were the advantages you found of boarding?

I felt very prepared for living away at University, having being a boarder I was accustomed to not being around my parents. It was good to learn about different countries and cultures from the international borders. I enjoyed the different activities that were put on during the weekends such as movie nights and I tried some different activities I wouldn’t have tried otherwise such as being part of the debate club or European Cinema club.

I lived in Yorkshire for my sixth form experience and to experience a new county was really good. Yorkshire was very different to Lincolnshire where I grew up. I happened to study A Level Geography and we would have all of these field trips around Yorkshire which was good fun.

Every Sunday there was evening reading where a speaker would come in and talk about a topic. Some of the topics were dull but there were some really good speakers, I remember one Doctor who came in and spoke her time as a burns specialist in Australia. I was one of eight school officers and one of us would have to stand up and say a vote of thanks after this. I really felt the vote of thanks improved my public speaking skills.

Rebecca having fun in the boarders common room

What were the disadvantages of boarding?

I couldn’t have a part time job, which I felt held me back when applying for jobs after University. There are curfews as well which at 16 being accustomed to seeing my friends more or less anytime I wanted, I felt was a bit pathetic. I hated Saturdays as we had to do activities in the morning and then we were free to do whatever we wanted in the afternoon. We were not allowed off site after school on the evenings after tea and could only go to the Co-Op between 4-6, which again annoyed me being able to go out when I pleased. At my school Prep (homework) was between I think 6.45- 8pm Monday to Thursday which drove me insane. Sometimes I just wanted a break from homework and I feel the continuous revision just isn’t healthy.

When you are ill and boarding it is the worse, it is just not the same as at home where your mum can come and give you treats! Obviously I missed my family and I found myself drifting away from old friends as the internet wasn’t as good in 2007 so that made catching up that bit harder.

Poster saying farewell

Final thoughts

Would I board again? To be honest if I could go back and do it again, I would but I would have chosen different A-Levels as that certainly hampered by experience (another story). I am glad I boarded when I did at 16, I felt at 11 it was too young but the younger girls seemed to have so much fun and I think at times coped with boarding better than the older girls as friendships were not as deeply made. I did feel sorry for those younger international boarders who seemed to only see their parents at Christmas or the summer. I don’t know how a relationship can be continuously developed if you are not a constant presence and I do think you would miss out on all of the key moments.

Have any of you boarded? Would you consider boarding school?


Read part one here

After I got back after the summer school had changed. I had a year behind my belt and no longer felt intimidated by the whole experience. As I was in upper sixth we all got moved to The Annex which was separate to the main boarding house linked only by a connecting corridor. I had this lovely room which to this day I call the ‘alcove’ as my bed was literally in an alcove. I was made Head of Girls School House which really involved showing people around on Open Days, meetings once a week with the Head and the chance to sit facing the sixth formers at the annual sixth form assembly every Monday rather than sit with them. We also moved into a new study, this study was underneath the theatre and was much brighter than my last study and I also got to share with my two best mates.

Boarding School Experience BecBec
Running the annual cross country run,
one year I came in the top ten!
(Image Source: Authors Own)

There were new boarders to meet and new decisions to make as next year we were all off to university. At Upper Sixth A- levels started to get harder, I remember thinking at the beginning of lower sixth when I was studying the Great Gatsby in class that there was no way in hell I was going to go to university but in Upper Sixth I realised I wanted a degree. Back then in 2008 the recession was underway, with many people losing their jobs, I didn’t have many skills to enter the job market with, I felt it in a way, I had no choice but to go.

The academic work definitely got harder. I loved the English Lit A-Level but I found Geography relatively easy. I decided to apply to study Geography at university. My school took university very seriously, it was extremely rare to not go to university straight after unless it was a gap year. We wrote our forms, had a staff member go over our personal statements rewrote the statements again and sent the forms off before Christmas. Those that were applying for Oxbridge had an interview with the Deputy Head. It was very hands on, compared to my sister who went to college a few years later and was essentially left to do the whole UCAS application herself.

Boarding School Experience BecBec
Larking around on a day out in town
(Image Source: Authors Own)

As I was turning 18 I wanted to go out. I got invited to a few parties but didn’t attend most of them as I had to get permission to stay over night from both my parents and the parents of the friends house where I was staying, it was just too much hassle. I got sick of being penned in at the weekends, I remember one time asking to go up to the newsagents up the street at half six in the evening when it was still light and I got told no as it was too late, I was 17 years old!

Good things I remember was the annual sixth form dance. It’s not a normal disco. Once a week for about eight weeks all the sixth formers had to have ballroom dancing lessons which were given by the deputy. It was embarrassing at the time, but a lovely memory to look back on. I also joined this group called PeaceJam, it’s an international organisation led by Nobel Peace Prize winners with the aim of promoting peace amongst young people. As part of this, our group travelled to Bradford University and met Shirin Ebadi. At lunch, Shirin Ebadi was invited to eat with the students and she happened to sit right opposite me, I couldn’t believe it!

Shirin Ebadi- Boarding School Experience- BecBec
Shirin Ebadi at PeaceJam
(Image Source: Authors Own)

There were more boarding school parties, looking back at the photos the teachers did make a real effort to make our final year special. There was a meal at a restaurant called Tampopo in Leeds and a party in the boarding house where the housemistress gave us all some jewellery she had made herself. I still think I have the earrings somewhere. I remember my friend smashing a light because she was threw an orange at it and then told the deputy head it had fallen down. The same friend also broke into the school swimming pool using a debit card and went for a swim in the middle of the night. She then took one of those hot plates that is powered using tea lights ( I have no idea why the boarding house had one of those!) and made a meal afterwards!

My Boarding School Experience BecBec
Young me at Tampopo
(Image Source: Authors Own)

I remember in Biology dissecting a rat. The rat stank of preserving fluid and I have no idea why we did it other than for the ‘experience’ which looking back is completely unnecessarily. This one guy took the intestines of the rat and swung it around his head lasso style. I was nearly peeing myself with laughter. I also remember going to the pub when we all hit 18 every Friday, considering I couldn’t go to the newsagents on my own. I loved the privilege and felt more of a normal 18-year-old. I remember a group of us had gone to the local town for an afternoon in the pub and when we got back the teacher on duty was checking that we hadn’t been drinking. The teacher asked me where I had been and I said Tesco’s!

Boarding Experience Part Two BecBec
Banner that was made for the Upper Sixth girls on the 
last week.
(Image Source: Authors Own)

Upper Sixth did end on a high for me as I only took two ‘proper’ A-levels and General Studies I was looking forward to joining my university course not being the odd one out. The positives I took from my experience was being with like minded people. My friends and fellow students loved their hobbies and wanted to succeed, you really felt that anything was possible. The students were polite in lessons and if I had gone to boarding school in my GCSE years I would have got better results just because the teachers would be able to teach in lessons and not have to sort out the badly behaved all the time. I enjoyed hobbies I never have tried otherwise such as PeaceJam, European Cinema Club and Archery. The negatives I found was I hadn’t worked at all- I couldn’t, I didn’t know it at the time, but that didn’t serve me well when I was job hunting after school as I didn’t have any skills such as cash handling or customer service. I couldn’t drive either.

Would I do boarding school again? Assessing everything I probably wouldn’t have gone again. I think in sixth form if you are really really smart, I mean got all A’s at GCSE smart, then it really is for you. I would have gone to the local sixth form I think and learnt to drive and definitely get a part time job. However, it has given me a unique experience, a good dinner table topic and a go to interesting fact about me!  

For my sixth form years, I had the very rare opportunity to complete these away at boarding school. I decided to go to boarding school for a number of reasons. This included literally being presented the once in a lifetime opportunity (I could only go once), I wasn’t keen on the local sixth forms (I had to leave my secondary school as it only went up to year 11) and it was the chance to meet new people. It wasn’t plain sailing for those two years and there were plenty of highs and lows. Therefore, today’s post will focus on my first impressions, what the school looked like and my daily school routine. The second post will focus on fun things I remember and upper sixth!

First Impressions
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, I was petrified! I had been to the school a few times before on open evenings so knew the jist of it. Over the entire summer holiday before September I didn’t think I would get the GCSE’s to go so didn’t mentally prepare myself as fully as I should have done.  Actually unpacking was dreadful, I remember my room being so hot ( I think I arrived on one of the hottest days of the year)  and I felt dizzy which I had never experienced before. I shared a room, which I didn’t mind too much because I had to share a room with my sister at home. However I knew some students were not keen with this arrangement.

One of my many rooms I was in. Novelty bed covers were the norm
hence, my Groovy Chick bed cover XD

I  shared a study with another female called Cat and she was lovely and very arty. Cat also had a great singing voice and could play the guitar.  The whole wall of the study was covered in magazine covers! I remember watching Charlies Angels with Cat and another girl in the sixth form on the first evening which was fun and got me settled. 

I quickly realised as I settled into school life that academically I wasn’t strong at all. Literally everybody in my sixth form had a string of A*’s or A’s which was practically unheard of in my state school. These students were so smart GCSEs were a doddle to them.

In addition the standard was so much higher at private school. I had taken A Level English Literature and even though I got an A in the subject at GCSE I was so behind the others in terms of what they knew and their writing ability. Some students essays in the upper sixth were at the standard equivalent to their degree. To add to this, I stupidly decided to take A Level Biology and Chemistry because at GCSE I loved science however I just wasn’t at the level needed for A- Level. It was too big a step- up.  It was awful mix at a time where I was really missing being at home, being in a new place and with people so much smarter than me.

Daily Life

A typical day at boarding school consists of being woken up at half seven to get changed for breakfast at eight. Boys and girls ate their breakfast separately. Form time would be at quarter to nine/ nine o’clock. We then had ‘meeting’ which is essentially prayer and reflection for 15 minutes (the school was a religious school) and then we would start lessons. We would have break which I seem to remember being able to eat juice and biscuits. We would have another set of lessons until lunch.  A few more lessons in the afternoon and then free time until about 6pm when we would have tea and then we would have an hour and a half ‘prep’ which is essentially time to do your homework. After prep it was free time until we had to sign in (which was at different times for different years) the sign in times was generally half an hour before your bed time.

Me with some old friends playing 
with the outdoor chess set

I found prep quite hard to deal with. As I was essentially only studying for two A- Levels (three if you counted General Studies) therefore to study every single night for an hour and a half was too much. Sometimes all I wanted to do was to have a break and do nothing all night. You couldn’t get away with it as you had a teacher go around and check you were in your study. The internet was crap at my school therefore you could never stream anything. However it was fun as when I wasn’t studying to chat with my mates.

The Boarding Side
After the initial shock I really began to enjoy boarding. I found being around like minded people everyday and doing something different was good fun as I would have just watched TV at home. A typical room consisted of two beds, a sink, two desks, two sets of shelves and two wardrobes. The girls were separated from the boys and you could only access the boarding school by punching in a code in the door. The boarding house was run by a house mistress and a matron and in the week there was a team of around five staff members who were also teachers in the school taking it in turns to be on duty. The staff members did a lot for us. They put on parties for individual students birthdays, had film nights, had parties such as ‘Bring back the summer’, were there to listen to us whinging and really helped us all round. All of the girls were really nice and we all tend to stick together.

One of the many day trips away, this one was 
in the Peak District

I had two wardrobes in one of my rooms therefore
I used the spare one to keep all non-refrigerated ingredients
for a charity bake sale

Playing pool in the common room

On the Saturday mornings, we had a variety of choices on how to spend the day. Sixth former’s could either have prep (homework) in the studies or take part in a variety of activities. There tended to be lots of sports activities such as badminton and basketball and art activities. Again like the prep at night it was frustrating at times having to do something on a Saturday morning as sometimes all I wanted to do was sleep!

Signs for one of the boarding houses’ many parties

Great Gardens where I used to go for a walk 

The afternoons were ours however and I spent them either chilling at school, swimming in the schools pool (which really wasn’t glam as it sounds!) or shopping. Sometimes there were school trips, ones I remember going on were to the Trafford Centre in Manchester for some shopping and ice skating in Sheffield. On Sunday’s we would have to go to a church service in the morning and then the afternoon was free. The school community was really good. I didn’t find the sixth former’s to be cliquey and everyone was friendly.

That concludes my first post on boarding school life! Did you go to boarding school? If you didn’t would you have liked to go?

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