I am grateful for many things in life, one of them is that not many photographs exist of my teenage years. This week, however, I came across a picture taken the year after I left school. The photograph is of me with six of the young men I boarded at school with. I lived with some of these gentlemen from the age of 11 to 18 and they have had a lasting impact on how I see the world.
Encountering the old photograph reminded me of what a brilliant education a boarding environment can bring. From the outside, boarding can seem like a closed community that adheres to a bizarre set of outdated traditions. My own experience, as a pupil, tells me that nothing could be further from the truth. The young men that I lived with in School House are a truly eclectic bunch. A pastor of a church in Canada, a businessman in Kenya, an oil company executive based in Abu Dhabi, a stone mason from Somerset, a yoga instructor who lives and works in Byron Bay, Australia and a headmaster in Cheltenham. One of my friends is sadly no longer with us. This is not an inward looking bunch of people but is representative of the internationally minded, socially agile pupils that are educated in boarding schools.
It is fair to say that boarding provided a great number of laughs, some of which the school would have approved of and one or two they may not have done. There were also some tough times and the nature of boarding is that you need to try and work through these yourself. In the new digital world, parents are much more involved and closer to the whole experience, but there is still a greater need for independence.
In a recent piece of research, companies such as Shell, Nokia, Siemens and Accenture published a list of the top 10 employability skills they are looking for today. Communication and interpersonal skills, problem solving, self-motivation, working under pressure, organisational skills, team work, ability to learn and adapt, numeracy, valuing diversity and negotiation skills. With the possible exception of numeracy, every single one of these skills is a necessary feature of the boarding experience, it is learning without realising it. When you share a dorm with someone with very different values and ideas, you have to find a way to make it work.
In my role as Headmaster, I am determined to ensure that society continues to benefit from the skills and characteristics that a boarding education provides. A modern boarding environment does not remove children from families but works alongside busy working parents, with all the benefits that modern communication can provide, to ensure our pupils leave Dean Close with all the advantages that growing up in a strong, international and eclectic community can bring.