A new, flexible style of boarding school is gaining popularity – where students can live on site for shorter periods.
It used to be that boarding schools were for out-of-towners, required to spend whole terms away from home and family in order to pursue a quality education.
Modern boarding looks quite different to the traditional model. Today's boarders might live in just during the school week, heading home on Friday nights for the weekend with family, board for shorter periods of up to a few weeks at a time, or choose to live on site for longer periods in their senior years.
One school with a long tradition of boarding which is embracing a more modern style is King's College, where around 40 per cent of the school's roll of about 1000 live on site in boarding houses. The school has three boarding houses for boys in years 9-13 and one for girls, able to attend the school from year 11.
Headmaster Simon Lamb knows first-hand about boarding life and the changes which have occurred, having experienced it himself as a student at St Bede's College in Christchurch.
"When I was a boarder, for us it was full-time boarding for 10-15 weeks at a time, with no evacuation to home," he says. Today, boarding is much more flexible to meet the demands and requirements of families and students for whom term-long 'immersions' in school life might not be suitable or convenient.
Lamb says the King's College boarding tradition, which started when the school moved to its Middlemore site from its original location in Remuera in 1922, remains alive and well although it is now drawing on a different demographic. Of the current cohort of around 400 boarding pupils, three-quarters are from within the wider Auckland region.
"King's has long been recognised as a regional boarding community but it is increasingly an urban college. We now find our regional boarders coming from the greater regions of Auckland rather than further afield like Northland, the Bay of Plenty or Waikato – although those traditional regions outside Auckland are still important to the college," Lamb says.
"We have parents in Auckland sending their students to King's for a full boarding option, living on site. That means they are available for sports or other activities mornings and afternoons as well as the academic opportunities that boarding offers, with compulsory study time for two hours each evening."
While some students are full-time boarders, taking advantage of school facilities and activities over the weekends, others head home on weekend leave.
"A significant change for King's has been our response to this demand to introduce flexible boarding," Lamb says. "This might mean boarding Monday to Friday or some students stay on for Saturday sports, then go home. We're open to all these options and to respond to the diverse requirements for the boarding environment."
Students are also able to board short-term for three- or four-week periods, such as during build-ups to sporting competitions or when their parents are away. Lamb says many boarders begin as day pupils then apply for boarding in senior years to maximise opportunities and pursue their interests through the school.
"From personal experience, it's really good to be able to live and breathe the place. It becomes home in many ways — students you live with become like your family; you get to know your classmates and peers very well. There is a real sense of camaraderie and being part of the fibre of the place and the students appreciate that," Lamb says.
"Fundamentally, teenagers like structure and to know where the boundaries are. They feel comfortable living in a tightly structured environment and develop individually by living within that structure."
Boarding pupils also have access to facilities at the college, including the pool, weights gym, computer labs and music performance rooms.
While the levels of academic success between boarders and day pupils "varies between individuals", Lamb says, "we have boarders who are very successful academically, who say that structure and the support mechanism of boarding has supported that.
"We do know many boarders achieve highly academically, partly because of the dedicated study time they have."
The school's house system, which vertically integrates pupils and generates a sense of loyalty and pride in inter-house competitions, is another important aspect of the boarding experience. Students identify not only with the school but with their particular house, Lamb says.
"That's something the students take with them — not just what school they went to but what house they were in. Their house was always the 'best' house," he says. "We see that especially when our year 13 students are leaving, which is always very highly emotionally charged.
"When they depart, they feel that sense of belonging and being part of King's really clearly."