At the end of the school day, when most pupils head home, the boarder’s fun begins. Jamie and Chloe Nish, as Hatherop Castle School’s new boarding parents, have made it their mission to ensure that boarding is at the absolute heart of the school. They embody the fun and family feel ethos that they promote on a daily basis.
Boarding at Hatherop has increased greatly over the past few years and much has been done to the boarding house to make it feel even more homely and comfortable for the children. The boarding house has transformed, with a newly refurbished common room, kitchen and dining area in addition to an extended games room. This has created a more communal atmosphere for all the girls and boys and allowed them more space to relax and unwind after a long day at school. Yoto players have also been introduced which have been hugely popular amongst our boarding families, with the ability to record stories read by the parents for their children to listen to each evening, which eases any feelings of home sickness.
‘We want everyone to be jealous of the fun that boarders have,’ says Jamie. ‘We want the day children to know they are missing out – that boarders have more fun!’
As they set out their vision for boarding, they somehow strike the right balance between authority and informality, between homework done and an unscheduled game of 40/40 in around the Castle grounds. There is a reassuring confidence that comes from experience and a strong belief in the benefits of boarding. ‘We have seen the benefits that boarding gives to a child,’ explains Chloe, ‘Many of the skills that the boarders learn prepare our students, not only for their next schools, but also life,’ she adds.
For anyone unsure of what being a boarding parent entails, it shares a great deal with being a regular parent. They are there to protect and nurture, to set clear boundaries – the first rule is ‘Treat everyone with respect.’ They make sure that the day starts with beds being made, teeth being brushed and that everyone is well prepared to handle whatever the day will throw at them. They are responsible for each and every boarder’s physical, personal and social well-being. Chloe says that ‘Each child deserves our time and it is our job to give it to them,’ this way the couple are able to understand how each child ticks. ‘Every boarder is important to us, so we ensure that we listen each one,’ Jamie adds.
‘It’s all about the child,’ says Chloe simply. ‘We’ll be the ones giving them a high five when they score their first goal in hockey, helping teach them how to ride a bike and catching up with them at the end of the day. We’ll be there to nag them when they need to straighten their tie or help them with their presentation for the next day. We will celebrate each success, because if it matters to the child, it matters to us! And when things don’t go to plan, we’ll be the first to sit with them and put an arm round them to help pick them back up.’
Living on site brings academic advantages too. Homework is carefully managed, and it’s a great deal easier to grab a teacher to get help on a tricky maths problem. Chloe and Jamie’s close relationship with the teaching staff also makes quick intervention easy if a child is struggling in a particular subject. It also means that the boarders can utilise the school facilities after hours to help with those extra-curricular activities such as some additional hockey or piano practice.
Anyone who has had to step in as peacekeeper between warring siblings will appreciate the skill required to create social cohesion in such a varied and disparate group. Jamie and Chloe are well practised in building a strong community of friends and boarding siblings. It involves easing social interaction, facilitating friendships, and stepping in when things get a bit too rowdy. They will step in when there is a chance of any child being left out or if they are needed to lend a sympathetic ear if anyone is worried or upset, and giving an extra dose of encouragement when necessary. There are formal structures in place designed to support the children, but it is equally important to provide a time and space where children can approach their house parents informally too.
The children, however, are only one half of the equation. Chloe and Jamie understand that their responsibilities extend to parents too. Families choose boarding for a range of reasons. They may be dipping a toe ahead of senior boarding; they may be moving around within the armed forces, and want to give their children a permanent base; they may want to help their children develop independence; or they may simply be taking advantage of the flexible boarding options. Whatever the reason, they need to feel utterly confident their children are in good hands.
‘For lots of parents, this is their first experience of boarding too,’ says Jamie, ‘and they are bound to have questions and concerns. They are putting us in charge of the most precious thing in the whole world to them, and we’re really conscious that they have placed all their trust in us. So, even if it is something small, if it is important to them, then it is important to us.’ Key to the relationship with parents is an open and honest approach and clear lines of communication. If you haven’t heard from Chloe and Jamie, then you can be confident that you don’t need to worry.
With a strong focus and lots of enthusiasm, the new boarding parents are rolling up their sleeves and cracking on with the job in hand. Doubtless, they will be delighted to share their enthusiasm for their work with you, mapping out what they believe boarding should be.
Find out more about boarding at Hatherop Castle School.