If the government wants vulnerable children to be placed in boarding schools, what pastoral training will be given to bring standards up to those expected in residential care homes?
Children are sent to boarding school for various reasons. Some people in favour of available state boarding say that children need stability while their Forces and Diplomatic Service parents have to travel. For others, problems within the family may make it a necessary option, but for most children it is a matter of parental choice.
Parents are encouraged to place their children in state boarding schools because it is a cheaper option than private boarding. But at what cost?
It is parents who make this choice, but it is the children who have to live away from home. However children might assess their experience of school, crucially, each one has to make changes to adapt to institutional living.
And boarding schools are institutions. Sometimes hundreds of children live together and are looked after in places that do not resemble their homes. Children leave behind those they love and have been attached to all their lives: their homes; bedrooms; friends; pets and all that is familiar.
Most children suffer from homesickness before they “settle in”. What happens is that children very quickly learn to protect themselves. To comply, many stop showing their sadness and loss behind a protective shell; they no longer cry and may not ever talk to anyone about their feelings.
Having spoken to parents who have children in state boarding schools, the most mentioned issue is poor pastoral care. In two cases the school was unhelpful and the children were moved to other schools.
This brings up many questions. With these schools being partially state funded who are they answerable to? The parents or the “state”? Who is responsible for the appointing and training of the boarding care staff?
There has been much discussion recently about expanding state boarding schools to support the needs of vulnerable children. A pathfinder document from the Department for Education states: “Most parents want their child to be supported in their local communities and local day schools . . . Although it will not be the right option for every child, boarding schools can be one of the ways used to meet the needs of young people in difficult situations to prevent family breakdown or a formal move into the care system.”
All staff must be fully aware of the issues specific to boarding
But if the government is to encourage vulnerable children to be placed in boarding schools, what training are they going to provide to bring the standards of pastoral care up to those expected in residential care homes? The reality seems that if the state is encouraging vulnerable children to be placed in boarding schools, it also needs to ensure the staff are fully aware of the issues specific to boarding. This includes a real understanding of the processes and trauma that can be involved.
At present some state boarding schools use some unqualified staff to help with the care of children. What are the provisions for pastoral care training on boarding issues for all staff and, more importantly, Ofsted inspectors responsible for this aspect of care?
When a vulnerable child has the double turbulence of moving out of their family into boarding school, what special provisions are the schools making for their care?
There have been concerns about looked–after children during the holidays. One state boarding school moves all those left behind for the holidays into one of the boarding houses. Their whole life is spent in the boarding school. Should the state be encouraging this? For children never to experience a home life?
State boarding children have the same issues of being away from home that all boarding children encounter. If the government is supporting and encouraging these schools, it is imperative that staff training and understanding is focused on the boarding issues that affect all the children in their care.
Margaret Laughton is a campaigner for Boarding Concern