What does the future of boarding look like

Martin Warren, Assistant - Head Boarding , explains his perspective on the future of boarding. Martin discusses how new innovations are informed by Gordonstoun's founding principles to shape a vision for boarding in the future.

Having both grown up in boarding schools and now worked in them for nearly twenty years, I find it fascinating to consider how much boarding has evolved over that time, especially here at Gordonstoun. When I applied to work here in a pastoral position just before the Covid pandemic, I thought I knew a good deal about what boarding meant here, mostly gleaned from former students and staff I had met over the years. While much of what they passed on rang true (especially around the positive relationships with staff and their love for the buildings), it was not until I had really begun to immerse myself as a member of staff in this boarding community that I really understood what all the fuss was about.

Much of what marks our boarding provision out comes from the history, architecture, features and layout of each of our boarding houses. No two are the same, meaning that students and staff feel a unique connection to their surroundings as much as each other. This is enhanced by recent refurbishment, ensuring that the houses retain all of their historical features while also providing a homely, warm environment to live and work in. Students have had a significant input into the new décor, furnishing and even proposed renovations, always with an eye on the future.

While the physical features of a boarding house are, of course, very important, without trust and strong relationships between staff and students, one can never fully exploit the opportunities of the boarding experience. Recent evolutions in staffing have seen us move from a ‘9-5’ matron system to a shared role where houses have a dedicated matron in from 7am-6.30pm, meaning that those close contact times when students benefit the most from support, are prioritised. The role of Matron at Gordonstoun is so much more than just the ‘house manager’. From first line medical and wellbeing support, through managing the building and liaising with our dedicated Domestic Team, to overseeing travel and visa needs of our students - it is as rewarding as it is demanding. Most important, though, is the connection that our students feel to their Matron which, in turn, provides the greatest value.

The role of our Houseparents and Assistant Houseparents (all resident) continues to evolve and remains one of the best jobs in education. It is a role requiring a hugely varied skill set, from educator, through counsellor, careers advisor, confidante, mentor, occasional disciplinarian, while retaining a sense of perspective and wisdom that ensures our students always feel valued and a key part of their communities.

This summary might suggest that we are satisfied with our provision, but little could be further from the truth. From the moment we were judged “Sector Leading'' at our last inspection, we immediately began to plan the next phase of our development. As a key part of our school development plan, our houseparents are all constructing detailed long term development plans, considering carefully what the needs of our students will be as the world evolves around them. These plans focus on facilities enhancement, staff training and development, student initiatives, how contact time and duties support students, service and leadership and so much more. They also reflect the conversations and consultations with student bodies, ensuring that all voices within our community contribute to decisions about our future.

As well as the aforementioned initiatives, we are also developing our use of data from across students’ school life to enhance our support of them. Training our staff to use data proactively helps us to create effective, positive intervention strategies, while also equipping our students with the techniques they will need to make the very most of all the opportunities they will be presented with once they leave Gordonstoun. These strategies are drawn from across our curriculum, and all are designed to achieve a positive outcome and improvement in achievement.

We want to stretch and challenge all those in our community, and the boarding houses are at the centre of that. Part of that challenge is putting our students outside their comfort zone and helping them to embrace routines, habits and activities that we know have positive benefits. While this is clearly helping their futures, it also has links firmly in Kurt Hahn’s founding principles here at Gordonstoun. Hahn understood the importance of exercise for positive emotional health, and we continue to offer a broad range of challenging activities, as well as (voluntary) early morning runs on a Wednesday! Cold showers are not a requirement, but we know how much some of our students enjoy open water swimming and the benefits of cold water therapy. In this way, then, the future of boarding at Gordonstoun remains true to our founding values, while looking to equip our students for the society of the future.

Curious about boarding at Gordonstoun? To find out more about our vibrant community and the uniquely broad range of opportunities available to our boarders, join us for a Virtual Taste of Gordonstoun Webinar.