AMONG the youngsters up and down the country returning to the classroom for another year of learning are a significant number of boarders from Armed Forces families. We chatted with Felix Rusby, a pupil at Downside School, and Knighton House School headmistress Sarah Wicks to find out more about the educational experience for children from a Service background…
Army&You: What are the main challenges of being a Service child in education?
Felix Rusby: A lack of continuity during school years can provide an obstacle to development, both in academic improvement but also in friendships and social progression.
The periods where a parent is not present can also be challenging; being separated for an extensive period is difficult, particularly for me, who found both my parents to be important influences on my life.
What schools can do to assist?
By being at Downside, at a boarding school, I have received support and friendship, which has been constant throughout my school career, allowing me to develop in a stable environment, unaffected by the turbulent nature of an army family.
Through Downside, the school teaches the fundamental values that are essential to a developing child and I in particular am grateful for the fatherly presence that many of the monks and teachers provided to help reduce the effects of often being separated from my parents.
Army&You: What do you have to bear in mind when dealing with pupils from the Service community?
Sarah Wicks (pictured left): As a school that continues to welcome boarders from the Armed Forces we are aware of the often unique position the parents and pupils face. Frequent moves around the country, and world, mean that by the age of eight children have already attended three or more schools.
Knighton House provides a real home-from-home for all boarders. As a small all girls boarding prep-school of 80 pupils there is a real family feel. It is key for us to make the adjustment to boarding for all of our pupils as smooth as possible and to ensure that pupils don’t feel isolated if their family is posted overseas or on active service.
How do achieve that?
We provide excellent pastoral care, pupils are encouraged to bring in their pets to board with them (from guinea pigs, rabbits to ponies) and dormitories are very cosy with family pictures adorning walls and bedside tables.
Evenings and weekends are busy with a variety of themes and activities as well as helping with the other school pets: alpacas, ponies, pygmy goats and chickens. Letter writing, calls and Skyping at weekends allows the girls to keep in close contact with home.
As a school with a long connection to all of the Armed Forces, we place high value on military service and recognise significant events, for example our annual Remembrance service.
How do you maintain the link between the school and parents?
We recognise that it is crucial to ensure that parents, no matter where in the word, feel part of their daughter’s school life. Of course the staff, both teaching and pastoral, are on email to answer immediately any questions or concern.
Consistent close contact with parents ensures we are up to date with information which is shared with key staff and monitored. The boarders’ blog shows parents what fun the girls get up to at weekends and parents are sent photos of their children at the end of each weekend.
Read more about education for those in the military in the back-to-school special in autumn’s issue of Army&You.