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 Liz Redmond, Junior Boarding House Parent at Andover’s Farleigh School…
How many Service children do you have at your school?
We have 71 Service children at Farleigh, of which 42 are boarders.
What are the main concerns you find that Service pupils have when they arrive?
The main concern for both parents and pupils is communication – how do they keep in contact with each other? This is particularly important for children whose parents are on deployment and may be living in a different time zone. Children have access to Skype, FaceTime and personal mobile phones (for overseas boarders), which they can use at specific times. They also have school email accounts which can be used in the evenings and at break times during the school day. If there is a time difference, then we ensure that we arrange for parents and children to talk during the school day.
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?
Where possible, we organise for our forces children to show new parents and boarders around the school and we will put service parents in touch with our established forces families. In September, we are hosting a drinks party for parents serving in the Armed Forces, giving them the opportunity to meet others in a similar situation, to meet members of staff and ask questions.
All our new boarders receive a welcome booklet, which gives them all the information they will need about boarding at Farleigh, and they will also have their own “shepherd” – an older child who will look after them during their first few weeks at school. When a new child joins the Junior Boarding House the House Parent will speak to the parent every day to let them know how their son or daughter is settling in. We make a special effort to photograph boarders at school events, and if they achieve awards or success in any activity.
Do you have any strategies in place to provide assistance when a child’s soldier parent deploys?
The House Parent may set up a wall chart so the child can cross off the number of days until their parent returns or we may fill a sweet jar containing sweets equal to the amount of days that the deployment lasts. The child is allowed to eat one sweet a day so as the number of sweets goes down, the sooner the parent will return.
What can Army families do to prepare their children for starting a new school? Equally, what can the children themselves do?
The best preparation is for children to come to a taster day and spend one or two nights at the school to get a feel of what it is like to be a boarder. It also enables them to meet their new friends. Children can prepare their own scrap book of family photos and parents can add in special letters for them to read.
What challenges are faced by boarders and how do you help the pupils to overcome them?
One of the obvious challenges is homesickness. At Farleigh we have a very high ratio of children to boarding staff which means that strong bonds are formed quickly between the staff and the children. The Boarding House programme, which includes prep, reading, spellings, music and the night time routine are all undertaken by resident staff; and the children are kept busy with after school activities, weekend trips and events, so they don’t have time to get homesick!
Why should military parents pick your school for their child?
Farleigh has a very strong pastoral system which ensures all families are supported by the school community. Staff are flexible, so when parents return on R & R they are more than happy to organise for parents to come and see their children, and to take them home if possible. The high staff to child ratio means that the children not only form close bonds with the house parents and assistants, but we can also cater for individual needs. Whilst children are encouraged to be independent, it is important that they feel that Farleigh is their home and receive the care and attention that all young children need.