The changing face of boarding at St. Edmund’s
All children endure it, and mine are no exceptions. When you attend your father’s old school, it goes with the territory that you will be subjected to those “in my day…” rants that we parents so richly enjoy.
I make no apology: although I remember my St Edmund’s days in the 1960s as warm and kindly, we nevertheless marched in rigid formation into lunch; ate food which would have contravened the Geneva Convention; and looked forward with sleep-starved excitement to Saturdays, and the heady ecstasy of six – yes, six – bits of stodge.
Today, the boarding house will trigger an “In my day..” more readily than anywhere else in the school. Indeed, if by any chance you’re planning to set up a good country house hotel, start here. Your guests will appreciate it.
The days of the classic boarding prep school, where even children who lived at the end of the road would board, have all but gone. Tastes and demands have changed almost completely in the last generation. Cleverly, however, St Edmund’s has read the changes in the market, and adapted to them with real imagination.
Today’s boarding cohort comprises a nucleus of regular boarders whose parents want their children to experience a little independence. Their numbers are increased by the flexiboarders, who may stay an occasional night when their parents choose, or perhaps opt for a couple of regular mid-week nights. The emphasis is entirely on leaving parents and children free to choose. Two or three times a term, they are invaded by 60-70 children, for the now legendary themed evenings.
The Boarding Houseparents are Peter and Charmaine Messina, long-standing teachers at St. Edmund’s and parents themselves with children at the school.
Peter, who is also the Director of Sport, comments: "Everything we do is designed around making the children feel comfortable and secure. It’s not about imposing some new regime in their lives. They wear home clothes, and can bring in their own duvets, teddies and posters from home. We don’t even have any particular rules, beyond the usual school standards of being good considerate citizens."
Once prep is over, a convivial hum of Playstations, snooker and DVDs rises up in the boarders’ common room. The children unwind and relax as they would at home, with birthdays, pancake days, hallowe’en and all those other crucial days in the calendar suitably celebrated. On special evenings, there are chocolate fondues and trips out to the cinema or to Guildford. Just before bedtime, there’s milk or hot chocolate and biscuits, and a quiet time to read and wind down.
Charmaine Messina says: “The smaller children often choose a friend to come with them as they get their first taste of boarding. For some, this is their very first sleepover away from home. They share dorms with children of their own age.”
The Hogwarts factor
It was during the course of finding ways to make boarding different and fun that the school hit upon a hugely popular idea: themed boarding nights. Each follows a theme, and an inaugural Hogwarts night has been followed by Indiana Jones, The Great Escape, Girls’ Theatre Night and Dr. Who to name just a few. Such is their popularity that they are well oversubscribed (and, for Grayshott’s better take-aways, Christmas now comes but three times a year…).
Adam Walliker (the Headmaster) comments: “What’s intriguing is that boarding at St. Edmund’s, even on a routine midweek night, is used by parents as something of a treat for their children. For our pre-prep children, it has also become an exciting rite of passage that they too will be able to board in the senior school.”
It is a tribute to Peter and Charmaine , and the unwavering focus of Adam Walliker and his senior management team, that boarding thrives at St Ed’s. The school’s most recent inspection commented that “the quality of pastoral care is very high, and the boarders are particularly well cared for in a homely atmosphere.”
It is a sentiment echoed by one of the school’s regular boarding ‘customers’, Susanne Hales, who said: “My daughter has her overnight bag permanently packed in anticipation.”
It must be the midnight feasts.