How to get the most out of boarding school

Mrs Genevieve Ford, Boarding Deputy

2 May 2019

If you are planning to send your daughter to boarding school, one of the first questions you should be asking before you start your school search is whether boarding itself is the best choice. I joined Downe House in 2004, first as a Housemistress, and then as Head of Upper School, before taking on the role of Boarding Deputy Head in which I am responsible for the residential welfare of the girls in our care.

Benefits of full boarding

Life in a full boarding school is always busy and every day is different.  The pressure on girls in today’s world is considerable and it can be a tricky time emotionally.  I believe that girls are in need of strong leadership, high expectations and consistency. Each individual girl should have the opportunity to realise her potential. I’m convinced that boarding offers girls the opportunity to gain much more from their education. Many schools now offer flexi-boarding – this can mean that the pupils only live on site during the working week, or that they sleep in school only on the occasional night. While this can be convenient for some parents, at Downe House our girls are ‘full boarders’ and we believe that we have a distinct advantage when it comes to ensuring that our girls receive a broad and valuable educational experience.

The gift of time

One of the greatest benefits of full boarding is the gift of time. The extended day allows longer for learning, enrichment, fun and friendship. Downe House girls like to get involved in lots of different activities and living at the school means that it is easier for them to make time to do more. They can fit in extra tennis lessons, rehearsals, dance classes and still have time to socialise with their friends.

A holistic approach

The Housestaff and teachers also have the opportunity to get to know each individual girl extremely well. The staff at Downe House understand that the girls in our care have been entrusted to us by their parents, who hope and expect that we will nurture every aspect of their daughters’ development while they are at school. We feel very privileged in our roles and work closely with parents and the girls to ensure that there is strong communication and mutual trust. The girls have the benefit of a strong network of staff and peers to help them to navigate those complicated and challenging teenage years.

We take a holistic approach to pastoral care to take account of each girl’s wellbeing, placing emphasis on healthy, balanced minds and bodies. Our wellbeing programme gives the girls the tools for life to care for themselves as well as each other and includes regular yoga sessions, sound therapy through gong baths, mindfulness coaching and regular lectures on managing stress, healthy eating, financial skills, internet safety to name but a few.

The boarding environment is designed to nurture friendships and this is cemented by the term that all of our Year Eight girls spend in the beautiful Périgord Noir in France, at our smaller “farmhouse” school in the rural commune of Veyrines-de-Domme.

A ‘Ten Year Vision’

While the emphasis is very much on relationships and the cornerstone of Downe House is its community, we do provide wonderful facilities, including an indoor swimming pool, a specialist performing arts centre and our ‘Ten Year Vision’ development plan is in place to ensure that we remain at the forefront of boarding education. Strategic projects have already been completed such as the building of the new Lower School boarding houses to develop our already excellent home-away-from-home boarding provision, providing spacious bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens and common rooms for all girls in their first two years.

Innovative development

In November 2018, we opened the fabulous new Murray Centre, a state-of-the-art centre for learning providing the girls with a contemporary library and a vibrant digital learning centre, a 250-seat auditorium as well as collaborative learning areas and a coffee shop. Right from the start, girls and staff embraced the new space with excitement and enthusiasm whether working in the Library, attending a lecture, sharing a piece of cake with hot chocolate or playing chess in the social spaces. It is important that learning is not limited to the classroom and with this new facility the girls will enjoy a taste of university life as well as a gaining a brand new place to spend time together.

A global outlook

A school’s culture holds a huge influence over what a child believes they can achieve. In a girls’ boarding school, the pupils benefit from a culture that encourages them to stretch themselves, that tells them it is important for their fulfilment that they give back to society and that supports them in their ambitions. Having a global outlook is vital and we are also very fortunate to have partnered with 15 like-minded schools around the world, which gives our girls the wonderful opportunity of school exchanges, where they can learn and make friends in a completely different setting. The concept of service and helping others is also hugely important to us and each of our boarding houses supports local charities as well as causes further afield in places such as Malawi, Myanmar and India, giving our girls opportunities to gain an understanding of different cultures.

A worldwide community

Once a Downe House girl, always a Downe House girl! Our alumnae stay connected with us and current girls benefit greatly from an established and extensive worldwide community of alumnae who have gone out into the world and have much advice to offer. Our DH LINKS alumnae and parent network provides invaluable careers-based knowledge, guidance and practical support to give girls a headstart and a guiding hand on their journey beyond Downe House.

Downe House girls learn compassion, resilience, communication, collaboration and creativity. They are outward-looking and they are aspirational. Every girl is encouraged to discover her strengths and to reach her full potential.

Tours & Open Mornings

The best way to find out more about Downe House is to experience it for yourself. Book a personal tour or join us at one of our Open Mornings, available throughout the year.

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