Boarding and wellbeing

A unique form of support

An increasing number of international schools now offer boarding. Mark McVeigh suggests that when it comes to wellbeing, boarding communities can offer a unique form of support.

A wellbeing focus

It is widely recognised that the growing pressures on children in contemporary society can have a negative impact on their wellbeing. Schools quite rightly recognise their responsibility for equipping children with the tools to be healthy, happy and successful. And in a boarding community there are special opportunities to provide a really effective wellbeing ‘toolkit’ .

The vision thing

Wellbeing should be intrinsically aligned with the school’s vision and if there is a slight disconnect, heads and governors should not be afraid to close the gap. Boarding schools face special challenges when it comes to wellbeing, but they have very real opportunities as well. I have been involved in boarding for most of my professional life and I have found that an effective wellbeing culture is encouraged best when staff, students and parents understand how it reflects the school ethos and then work together to ensure it is implemented. When a boarding school gets its approach right, something special happens.

Wellbeing management and a culture of support

It goes without saying that an effective boarding community needs to have its care and wellbeing properly managed. I have found that appointing a Wellbeing Manager really pays dividends. The ideal person will have expertise in both healthcare management and the developing of student support systems. The ability to train teachers by sharing good practice and experience in setting up systems to communicate concerns all add to the ideal mix for developing effective programmes which can be implemented in individual boarding houses.

As a focus on wellbeing becomes part of the school’s culture it will influence a range of school actions designed to support young people, from writing the content of the curriculum and the subject matter of school assemblies to the establishment of a staff team with the remit to discuss concerns over individual students and designing programmes of personalised support. These things will be part of ‘the way we do things here’, 24/7.

Health matters

Of course, all appropriate measures to ensure the health of boarders will be part of an effective strategy: a well-resourced health centre with engaging and caring staff is ideal for providing a welcoming and effective hub.

In a boarding environment an enhanced health-education curriculum influenced by a clear school approach to meet the needs of the ‘whole child’ ensures that students not only acquire an understanding of the importance of, say, exercise and the ways in which they can develop their resilience, but will also support them consistently as these ideas are put into practice, promoting and encouraging such essentials as a healthy diet.

Friendship and community spirit

There can surely be no better way to develop meaningful and strong relationships, the bedrock of wellbeing support, than in a boarding environment. Living communally in boarding houses engenders a tremendous spirit and sense of friendship and provides enhanced opportunities for the very broadest range of inter-house competitions and activities whether for sport, public speaking, debating, general knowledge, tug-of-war, drama and singing. And then there is outdoor education.

Stakeholder partnerships and wellbeing values

Students are the most important stakeholders in the boarding community and the authentic expression of student voice will have a central place in a strong boarding culture. The development of empathetic leadership skills will also prepare students to understand how to promote the wellbeing of those they lead, highlighting the importance of respect, compassion, mindfulness and charity as well as expectation. It should also just be fun! Creative clebrations are a regular part of boarding life and let’s not forget how children love dressing up!

An effective partnership with parents is essential and  may ivolve, for example, the formation of a parental committee.  Listening to parental views can help shape a school’s approach to exercise, mindset, diet and sleep, which parents will also need to understand when their children are at home.

Staff wellbeing

Wellbeing in the boarding community should naturally extend to all staff – to houseparents, tutors, day staff and support staff alike – if the culture is to be truly authentic. Any time invested in staff wellbeing has a ripple effect throughout the school. It sounds obvious but is no less true for that: contented teachers, who believe in the school, will create a happy boarding environment and deliver the best education for the students. Workload should be appropriate, and positive commitment and excellent outcomes should be recognised.

Staff also need an effective voice as stakeholders in the boarding community while the induction of new teachers should reflect the school’s approach to its communal vision. An important aspect of this commitment is for senior managers to have an open door policy and ensure staff know they can talk to them about any concerns. Teacher activities can be promoted too to engender team spirit and a sense of belonging: sport, yoga, book club etc.

The happiness factor

As tutor, housemaster, senior leader and principal, I have been privileged to be able to benefit from the ethos of a boarding community. I remember with fondness many conversations with engaging, friendly and positive students whose generosity of spirit increased my own wellbeing. And that is the crux of it: happiness is infectious – all we have to do is to encourage it to flourish.


Mark McVeigh is an Education Consultant and a Foundation Trustee at a UK Multi-Academy Trust. He has been a boarding housemaster, senior leader and principal in premium British curriculum schools in the UK and SE Asia.

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FEATURE IMAGE:  by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Support Images:  by fauxels on Pexels, Vlad Vasnetsov on Pexels, Kevin Erdvig on Unsplash




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