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View from the Top: Tom Bunbury on why boarding schools have more relevance today than ever before

By Tom Bunbury, head of Papplewick School
15 February 2023

Our latest head to get on his soapbox is Tom Bunbury from brilliantly fun all-boys Berkshire prep Papplewick School. Here, it's all about the boarding, with everyone joining in from the summer term of Year 6 – and many younger pupils opting to stay over too. Below, Mr Bunbury explains why 'modern', family-friendly boarding is so appealing to so many families today....

Modern family life is not for the faint-hearted. Two parent working families rush to get children off to school in the morning, yet within hours, a busy day of work is cut short by morphing into an unpaid taxi driver to cart children off to clubs, risk confrontation over homework or screen-time, before finally reaching the end of the day exhausted and gasping for that guilty glass of wine.

What though do children want? More than anything else, I believe they crave freedom. Freedom to be with their friends, freedom to have some control over their spare time, freedom to take risks, and freedom to explore the world safely. Yet modern life denies them many of those freedoms and ironically, while protecting them from physical harm in our risk-averse culture (whose children roam free anymore?), the reality of twenty-first century life is that it plunges children into an online world that is full of potential threats, and a world that most parents are hopelessly ill-equipped to help them to navigate through.

Modern boarding gives children their freedom back. Indeed, I believe it can actually give them their childhood back. With friends on tap, safe and invariably beautiful grounds to roam around or make dens in, the sporting facilities of a country club to enjoy, unparalleled opportunities on the extra-curricular front all under one roof, and all in a culture where computer games simply don’t exist and, crucially, are not missed by children due to all the competing ‘traditional childhood’ distractions on offer to them.

And what of parents? My experience is actually that modern boarding leaves parents happier than ever in their parenting. Principally, they are happy because their children are happy. Parents know their children are getting a real childhood (old-fashioned if you like) in a safe and protected environment, with the freedom that children crave yet in a wonderfully screen-free world, with time to develop passions and interests that short school days do not allow, all of which ends up prolonging childhood for as long as is humanly possible. In 2023, modern boarding truly does have more relevance than ever before…and it’s fun!