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Contribution of Boarding to Development of Character

It was with real interest that I followed Nicky Morgan’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference this week. I must be honest, my attention was piqued, in part, by the involvement of Lawrence Dallaglio, that nemesis of Irish rugby! His Foundation, established in 2009, seeks to nurture and develop the essential skills of disadvantaged young people, by increasing their sense of worth, self-confidence and self-esteem. It was in this capacity that he was invited to appear on the Conference stage before the Education Secretary. He had much to contribute to one of the major themes of Mrs Morgan’s speech: that of “character;” what it is and how it can be developed in young people.

This is an area where I believe independent schools, and particularly boarding schools, excel. We prize character above almost all else as, alongside academic qualifications, it is often the key to a happy and successful future. Indeed, the opportunity to develop independence and self-reliance is cited as one of the top ten reasons to board by Boarding School Review. Meanwhile, Ray McGovern, a former Chair of the Boarding Schools Association, has said that universities and employers “increasingly look for more than top academic grades. They look for social skills and confidence, independence and resilience, character and perseverance. They look for true grit …. In a boarding school we have the time and the expertise and the interest to encourage every child to develop and grow, to find themselves, to dare to try new experiences.”

I agree with McGovern that an obvious, major advantage is the extra time we have with our students. We genuinely educate the whole person and have so many more opportunities to provide the sorts of broader-curricular pursuits which develop vital skills like teamwork and resilience. In a typical week, Bloxham students will complete a rigorous academic timetable and any supporting prep, yet still have the opportunity to represent the school in a competitive sports fixture, enjoy an artistic pursuit and learn a new hobby or skill. What is more, they will have done all this whilst living in a supportive and nurturing boarding community, meaning that alongside their academic and broader development, they are acquiring social and emotional intelligence too. Our students are constantly interacting with one another, learning to communicate and negotiate, understanding tolerance and the importance of appreciating another’s point of view. All of this helps to prepare them for a successful future.

At Bloxham, we’ve always said we’re in the business of preparing people for the business of life. I was struck by how true this really is while I chatted to a variety of Old Bloxhamists at the Annual London Dinner last month. The event was full of Old Bloxhamists who had gone on to lead successful and fulfilling lives as economists, successful businessmen and lawyers. It was heartening to see that from the OB who left in 1953 to the one who only left last year, all had that same easy confidence we associate with Bloxham.

In her speech to Conference Mrs Morgan said: “For too long there has been a false choice between academic standards and activities that build character and resilience. But the two should go hand in hand.” I couldn’t agree more and at Bloxham we strive to achieve that balance every day.