Beyond Hogwarts: the real-life benefits of boarding

Extended family … Cranbrook School offers boarders excellent pastoral care in a supportive environment.

If you didn’t attend a boarding school yourself, your impressions of residential schools have probably been formed, at least in part, by Hollywood.

It seems that every decade produces an era-defining tale set in a boarding school. From the 60s counter-culture touchstone, If, to Australia’s own haunting 70s classic, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Dead Poets Society in the 80s, and, of course, the Harry Potter blockbusters of recent times, there is no shortage of movies that centre on the intrigue and exhilaration of adolescent communal living.

Reality is usually a little more mundane than the big screen version but that hasn’t slowed the resurgence of Australia’s boarding schools.

Boarding is well and truly back in vogue with more than 25,000 students nation-wide choosing to live at their school — an increase of 25 per cent over the last decade.

Many of these students come from rural and regional areas where boarding is often a necessity but changing family dynamics are seeing more city-based and international students opting to board.

In families where both parents work full-time, the close supervision and access to extracurricular activities that boarding provides makes it an attractive option. In the senior years, students are increasingly choosing to board so they can concentrate on their studies free of the distractions of home and the time-drain of commuting.

Living at school offers students many unique advantages including:

Academic support and extra tuition
When you live at school a teacher is never very far away to lend a hand with a sticky problem or read through a draft essay. Allocated study periods ensure that students have adequate time in their days to get through their homework and no excuses for not doing it.

A structured environment
Boarding is characterised by routine and stability. Students learn good habits early on and for busy parents working long hours, the inbuilt structure of boarding environments is a boon. At schools such as The King’s School in Parramatta, fully a quarter of boarders are Sydney-based; boarding not out of need but because their parents want them to benefit from the “boarding experience”, the school says.

Extracurricular opportunities
Living at school means never missing footy practice again. Even better, it allows students to participate in everything on offer and try new sports and activities. Most boarding schools emphasise physical activity to help promote resilience and teamwork and keep their students fit and healthy, but creative and intellectual opportunities abound. Meanwhile, regular excursions, entertainment and social events keep students busy and engaged with life outside of school. Boarding is rarely boring.

By its nature, boarding promotes independence and self-management; skills that prove useful throughout a lifetime.

“Boarders develop resilience and independence at an earlier age,” says Wenona principal, Dr Briony Scott. “It’s not that they grow up quicker but they definitely do become more independent.

“Boarders learn to look after themselves really well. They learn to look after their things and take responsibility for their time.”

Kate Obermayer, a Cochlear executive and former Wenona boarder agrees, telling the Weekly Times: “Boarding gave me an inner dependence on myself, which continues to help me on a daily basis in my role — no one is cracking the whip except me.

“I have to be proactive. I have to think about all angles. I have to be organised. I learnt all of that at boarding school.”

Lifelong friendships
Close-quarters living promotes tight bonds between students that often carry through their whole lives. Schools with a significant international boarding cohort like Cranbrook in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs offer students the opportunity to make “friends from all corners of the globe”, the school says.

This view is supported by research conducted by the University of Adelaide. A 2004 survey of boarding school students revealed that the overwhelming majority of respondents had formed “intense, enduring” friendships at boarding school with fellow students from around the world. The report author concluded that for these students boarding “was a significant factor in fostering independence and embracing cultural diversity”, which helped to “prepare them for life in an increasingly global world”.

Overall, the respondents viewed boarding with fondness and appreciation. As one survey respondent wrote: “For all Grammar’s faults, I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything in the world!”

Hogwarts may be a fantasy but it seems that, for many students, boarding does, in fact, add a touch of magic to school life.


Boarding schools appealing to the city as much as the country — Emily Parkinson, Australian Financial Review, May 6, 2016

Wenona alumnae explain how boarding at the North Sydney school has shaped their lives — Weekly Times, November 1, 2016

An Australian co-educational boarding school as a crucible for life: a humanistic sociological study of students’ attitudes from their own memoirs — Matthew A White, PhD Thesis, School of Education, University of Adelaide, 2004

Innovating for a brighter future: Independent schools use design thinking to realise students’ highest potential

A new pilot program developed by the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) in conjunction with UK-based consultancy Innovation Unit is utilising “design thinking” to actively cultivate the leaders of tomorrow.

Recognising the needs of an evolving workplace and job market, the AISNSW seeks to develop “new approaches to learning that identify and realise the highest potential in all students”.

Launched in March of this year, the ELEVATE project aligns schools with industry to equip students with the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st Century.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is an enthusiastic supporter of the project saying: “The skills we need cannot be developed in isolation by schools. Effective partnerships between schools, business and government must be formed to identify and produce our future visionary and strategic leaders and industry innovators who will ensure Australia’s economic prosperity.”

Design thinking stresses collaboration and testing of prototype solutions prior to implementation.

In practice, this means that “ELEVATE will assist our leading educators, drawing on the best examples from around the world, to collaborate and design classroom learning approaches that respond and adapt to the needs of students, that challenge and engage them, so they can make the most of the opportunities that will come their way in the future,” explains AISNSW executive director Geoff Newcombe.

At Knox Grammar boys’ school on Sydney’s upper North Shore, ELEVATE is an essential part of its Quality Teaching platform providing “evidence, ideas and resources for our teachers to further improve their ability to extend and support all of our students.”

Meanwhile, at North Sydney girls school Wenona, design thinking is incorporated into the curriculum as part of the school’s Science, Technology, Maths and Engineering (STEM) learning program.

Wenona conducts Design Thinking days during which students solve technical problems using a five-step method of Empathise (develop a deep understanding of the challenge); Define (clearly articulate the problem you want to solve); Ideate (brainstorm potential solutions then select and develop a solution); Prototype (design a prototype to test your solution); and Test (engage in a continuous short-cycle innovation process to continually improve your design).

“Design Thinking projects allow engineering to be applied to real-world situations in a variety of curricular areas,” says Wenona’s head of STEM Studies Andy Draper.

“Many jobs of the future are expected to be in STEM fields,” Mr Draper says. “A familiarity and active involvement with STEM, developed by a range of interesting and exciting enrichment and extension activities, is helping to make a difference in students’ sense of involvement and their success in these areas.”

Wenona principal Dr Briony Scott concurs, “Wenona is breaking new ground in this area and we’re excited by the direction this is setting for our school.”

To learn more about these and other leading-edge initiatives being undertaken by independent schools, visit the North Shore Schools Expo. Staff and students from the state’s top schools will be available to answer your questions and provide detailed information about their establishments. This is an excellent opportunity to find the right school to maximise your child’s potential.

North Shore Schools Expo
When: Saturday, August 6 and Sunday, August 7
Time: 10 am to 4 pm, both days
Where: The Concourse Chatswood, 409 Victoria Avenue, Chatswood
Admission: Free

Read more:

Design thinking: new way to spark potential – Tim Dodd, Australian Financial Review, April 4, 2016

ELEVATE media release – AISNSW and the ACCI, March 23, 2016

Quality Teaching – Knox Grammar School website

Putting the E in STEM – Powerpoint presentation by Andy Draper, Head of STEM Studies, Wenona School

STEM learning – Wenona School website