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Modern Face of Boarding

19.11.23

L-J Andrew breaks down the stereotypes of school boarding and takes a peek inside Fettes College’s grand gates to reveal what the modern boarding experience is really like

There’s a long-standing Hollywood image of the archetypal boarding school; a vine-covered stately manor backlit by a lightening flash, a housemistress with floor-length Victorian attire with her hair in a tight bun and a car’s rear lights fading into the night, down a long gravel driveway. This image is bolstered by scenes such as that of a young Prince Charles, shivering next to a broken window in ‘The Crown’ and dark loft rooms in Tim Burton’s ‘Wednesday’. But, spoiler alert, nothing could be further from the true experience of modern-day boarding.

There’s been a notable focus on pastoral care across every aspect of education and boarding opportunities are no exception. Boarding schools are now much more like one big, happy family, giving students the opportunity to take on leadership roles, try new things, live with their best friends and find out what they’re passionate about.

A recent study conducted by The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS) found that 78% of boarders are motivated by their peers compared to 49% of public school students. The TABS study also found that 78% of boarding school graduates felt well prepared for the non-academic aspects of college life, such as living independently, social life and time management, compared to 36% of private day and 23% of public school students. Overall, boarding school students say that their school provides opportunities for leadership and friendship.

Founded in 1870, Fettes College in Edinburgh is a leading independent school that prides itself on its strong pastoral care and academic excellence, preparing students for a thriving life after school. True to its vision statement ‘A place to live. A place to learn. A place to grow’, the cosy, welcoming facilities turn the outdated perception of British boarding schools on its head.

Over 70% of Fettes College students are boarders; the senior school has nine boarding houses - four boys’ houses, four girls’ houses, and one co-educational house for the Upper Sixth.

Boarding schools help students develop important life skills in a supportive and nurturing environment where they learn to be responsible, independent and have a good work ethic, whilst also engaging in an exciting schedule of extra-curricular activities. Boarders develop strong friendships with their peers many of whom become lifelong friends.

Boarding student Clemmie B, who is in Sixth Form, says: “Living with my friends and tutors really helps me revise for my exams. We’ve even hosted our own quizzes in preparation. Learning this way is really beneficial and much more enjoyable than studying alone in silence.”

Boarding student Jayden A says: “My parents live near Fettes, but I chose to board because it allows me to experience the Fettes life in full, meaning that I don’t miss out on the vast number of activities on offer. What’s more, boarding gives me the opportunity to make friends with a variety of students from intriguing backgrounds and embrace the diversity of being in a boarding house.”

Students immersed in life at school have access to support around the clock, including emotional as well as academic support. Houseparents’ pets often add to the homely and caring atmosphere.

Sue Bruce, Houseparent in College West says: “A boarding-house is like a family, a close-knit group of staff and students looking after each other; helping, encouraging and simply being there when needed. I find it rewarding to see our students’ self-confidence and sense of responsibility grow over the years.”

The Fettes College boarding houses are busy places. You won’t find Fettes’ students aimlessly scrolling on their mobile phones or glued to a game console. Instead, they’ll be playing pool, on a drum kit or chatting around the kitchen table.

The school has an impressive range of amenities including a 25-metre swimming pool, cricket ground and Olympic standard water-based hockey astro pitch. A fantastic Low Ropes course provides a unique challenge in developing leadership skills.

Weekends at Fettes offer students time to unwind with weekly planned trips including mountain biking and kayaking, providing a healthy balance between work and play. Then, of course, there are the ceilidhs, discos, pizza nights and other social events including a recent “awesome” night in which third-form (13-year-old) boys built a cardboard city to then destroy it, Godzilla style.

Sam Shelley, Houseparent in Carrington added: “Fettes is so unique. Students have access to a wide range of facilities which allow them to nurture their individual talents and interests from the classroom, to music, drama and sport, even robotics, all set in the stunning 100-acre grounds in the heart of UNESCO World Heritage site of Edinburgh, a culturally rich city with so much to offer. Our students are so lucky.”

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