Moving to a new school can be a daunting prospect for any child and especially so for those from military families. With the new academic year underway, we asked educational establishments for their advice on how teachers, parents and pupils can make the transition easy for everyone involved. Here we feature the answers from Jo Sagers (above, inset), Registrar of Wiltshire’s Dauntsey’s School…
How many Service children do you have at your school?
More than 10 per cent of our pupils are from Forces families, most of them boarding. We are based on a site of 145 acres on the edge of Salisbury Plain and a number of Forces families have connections in the area and often end up retiring here. We are a very “sibling-friendly” school – many pupils have a brother or sister at the school and enjoy plenty of contact with them, regardless of their year groups.
What are the main concerns you find that Service pupils have when they arrive?
We find Services children generally very adaptable, considerate and quick to fit in. They are brought up with a strong sense of community which is a very important aspect of life at Dauntsey’s.
Like all new joiners they want to settle in, find like-minded friends and make the most of the facilities and wide range of extra-curricular activities on offer.
Joining at 11 or 13, junior boarders are based in The Manor, a co-educational boarding house for Year 7, 8 and 9, set in 65 acres of grounds, a short walk from the main School. Deputy Housemistress Anne Sampson – an ex-Forces wife herself – said: “Boys and girls study, socialise and eat together at The Manor, forming friendships that often last a lifetime. Being away from the main School site, the children are less affected by peer pressure from older pupils, leaving them free to enjoy their childhood for that bit longer.”
What help does your school offer to new pupils from a military background? Do you have any strategies in place to provide assistance when a child’s soldier parent deploys?
Our house system is the cornerstone of our community, giving pupils a strong and secure sense of support and guidance on all aspects of life. Every pupil joins a boarding or day house and each boarding house is run by a resident housemaster or housemistress and a team of resident tutors who take a close and active interest in pupils’ academic and social development. House staff have their own accommodation within the boarding houses and live there with their own family, meaning that the boarding houses rapidly become home-from-home and provide a supportive family environment for pupils.
Seven staff live on-site at The Manor, supported by Gerry, the Housekeeper, and her team of friendly domestic staff who ensure the house logistics run smoothly. Older siblings are encouraged to visit and a rota of two Sixth Form boys and two Sixth Form girls spend a week living at The Manor acting as a big brother and sister, ensuring there are plenty of friendly faces for younger pupils during the day, when they are up at the main School.
Pastoral provision ensures that the Housemaster or Housemistress understands each boarder’s situation and Dauntsey’s own School counsellors regularly spend time at The Manor ensuring that boarders know them and feel able to call on them for support. One of the School nursing team runs a walk-in surgery each evening and morning and our superb medical centre provides 24-hour care, supplemented by regular doctor’s surgeries and a visiting physiotherapist.
What can Army families do to prepare their children for starting a new school? Equally, what can the children themselves do?
We would urge parents to encourage their children to take full advantage of all the activities, clubs and societies on offer – from street dance to debating, archery to Arabic, tennis to triathlon – there’s something for everyone and getting involved in these, as well as in house events, games and activities, helps to forge friendships and encourages a strong sense of community.
We encourage pupils – and their parents – to talk about anything that’s worrying them and this dialogue between School, pupils and parents helps enormously with initial settling in and, in the longer term, develops a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Apart from a child’s tutor and housemaster or housemistress, the School counsellors, nurses, teachers, the pupil run listening service, and the Sixth Form helpers at The Manor provide a wide range of people to which pupils can turn.
Finally, encourage organisation, look after belongings and sew name labels in your children’s socks!
What challenges are faced by boarders and how do you help the pupils to overcome them?
Boarding for the first time or moving from a prep school can be a nervous time – for parents as well as pupils! Our very high staff to pupil ratio at The Manor, our junior boarding house for years seven-to-nine, the superb pastoral care and the friendly environment at Dauntsey’s is very effective at helping pupils to settle quickly into school life.
The extensive range of activities and extra-curricular clubs helps pupils to keep busy but also, importantly, to make new friends across the School.
Why should military parents pick your school for their child?
Our values are very much in line with Forces families – have a go, push yourself out of your comfort zone and you will be surprised at what you can achieve. Make a contribution – we are a community that supports each other and getting involved will deliver huge benefits.
Academic excellence is at the heart of all that we do but we believe education is not all about grades on a piece of paper. We have an outstanding adventure education programme, led by our own Head of Adventure, Sam Moore. This programme progresses through each year group, encouraging pupils to push their boundaries, manage risk and learn about leadership and teamwork, skills that are highly prized by employers. From an adventure of a night hike or camp-out in The Manor woods, to sailing in the Solent on our own Tall Ship, Jolie Brise, or taking part in the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, to working with HIV positive children in Romania, to expeditions to Bhutan and Kilimanjaro, the opportunities and adventure programmes we offer are diverse and designed to enable each pupil to learn lessons outside the classroom that will equip them for life outside the School gates.
Forces children in particular embrace the Dauntsey’s “have a go” spirit that we believe encourages “confidence with no trace of arrogance” ethos. We are proud to top the “Magnificent Seven” league table of Officer Cadets joining Sandhurst from Independent Schools in the last three years.
Dauntsey’s is run as a full boarding school with academic lessons six days a week, competitive sports matches on a Saturday afternoon and day pupils as well as boarders are in School on Saturdays. A wide range of activities are run for boarders – and day pupils by invitation on Saturday evenings – from house parties, film nights and, on Sunday, The Manor offers a full programme of activities and trips to local attractions. Senior boarders take advantage of shopping trips and house and inter-house events as well as the full range of facilities on the School site.