'Boarding school can be tough'

 

Although the Church of Ireland ethos is central to King’s Hospital, not all of its students are members of that church – and the co-education factor is the key attraction for some of its students, writes ROSITA BOLAND

HEADMASTER Michael Hall is halfway through his second year in the job at The King’s Hospital in Dublin. “The Irish Protestant boarder doesn’t have a choice,” he says. “If you want the choice of being educated in the Protestant ethos, there are very few Protestant secondary schools, depending on where you live.”

Hall believes that a boarding-school education offers students the opportunity to become independent. “In many ways, we provide a family away from home,” he says. “Boarding school is an additional support to family life; it doesn’t detract from family life. At reunions, past pupils say that they made friends here that they’ve kept for life.

“Some people think that if a child boards, it breaks family bonds. That’s not so. When the child does go home, there’s quality time with the family.”

From this September, King’s will offer an option of five- and seven-day boarding. Until now, boarding has been seven-day only. The King’s school schedule is currently six-day. Wednesday is a half-day. The half-day will continue from September, with earlier class times and a shorter lunchbreak making up the extra time. Sport of some kind is mandatory from the end of each school day, at 3.35pm, going through to 5.30pm. The new Saturday morning “programme” from September will focus on music, drama, art, sport and other activities still being discussed.

Hall acknowledges that boarding school is not for everyone. “For each individual child, life is different and to get inside that head and ask if boarding school is right for them is very difficult to do. I would say it’s not right for every child.”

He stresses that the Church of Ireland ethos is central to the school, but not all students are Church of Ireland members. The intake is almost 50-50 between boarders and day pupils. There are fewer than 10 additional students whom Hall describes as “day boarders”, who stay through the school day until late evening. “Once they come into the school, they’re all pupils of the school and there is no difference between them,” Hall insists.

King’s is a sprawling campus of mainly modern buildings and extensive playing fields. Like most boarding schools, students share dorms in their early years. By sixth year, they share with one other, with each having a separate study area, and their room has an en-suite bathroom.

The dorms and rooms are pleasant but entirely functional. The cavernous refectory has walls crowded with boards of names of past-pupils who have won awards and, due to its size and the numbers it caters for each day, a distinctive, institutional atmosphere.

THE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE

Why boarding?

“I thought it’d be fun, sharing dorms and doing sports together,” says Laura Bennett.

“There are schools around where I live, but I really didn’t want to go to any of them,” Sophie Moore says.

“I had a choice between here and Clongowes, and I chose here, because it’s co-ed,” Edward McKeon Silke states.

“My dad came here, and so did my brothers. It was planned from when I was born,” says William Potterton.*

King’s has traditionally taken a number of overseas students. The families of Finbar Murphy and Hannah Goodwin currently live in Zambia and Moscow respectively, and each family made the joint decision that their secondary-school education would take place in Ireland.

Advantages of boarding

“The best thing about being a boarder is that you’re cooler,” declares Sally Farrell. Than whom? “The days,” she explains. “And when you go on to college, you’re almost going to have a guaranteed friendship with the people you boarded with. The thing about boarding school is that it makes you a lot more tolerant of other people.”

Friendship and close bonds between classmates is mentioned over and over, as is the fact the boarding experience contributes towards a sense of independence.

“The dorm is the best part of boarding-school life,” says Laura Bennett. Hannah Goodwin remarks: “It’s the friends you make. You get to know people inside out. You’re all in the same boat here. You get to know the girls in your house really well. Twenty years from now, we’ll always have this boarding-school experience to talk about.”

“You get to mix with other years better, because we’re all boarding,” says Matthew Doyle. “I have no siblings, so basically my classmates are my family,” adds Stephanie Quaid.

“Boarding makes you tolerant of other people. It’s made me so much more independent,” says William Potterton. “Living on campus is almost like a microcosm of life,” says Neil Boles.

King’s intake includes exchange students, and students from countries outside Ireland, some but not all with Irish family ties. “It’s great to have the opportunity to live with people from other nationalities,” Georgina Gilsenan says.

“It helps you grow up,” says Fergus Ogden.

Things the boarders would change

“Saturday school. It means you don’t really have a proper weekend,” laments Sally Farrell. “I would like more freedom. It’s very regimented. The whole day is set out. Sometimes, I just want the freedom to lie on my bed for a rest.”

Farrell is not the only student who’d like to see the end of Saturday-morning classes. The free Wednesday afternoon that balances it out appears to be unpopular. Many students would prefer a five-day school week. Part of the preference is due to the fact that it would make for a longer time at home on weekends that students travel home.

“I think you do grow apart from your friends at home,” says Stephanie Quaid. “And for some students, there is a lot of travelling. You end up having very little time at home, because you can’t leave until after Saturday school. You’re just home, and then you have to start thinking about coming back again.”

“There is a very limited amount of time at home, so you have to cram a lot in. It can be very rushed,” says Edward McKeon Silke.

Food is also something many people have an opinion on; arguably few other topics are so open to exaggeration with a teenage cohort. “There’s not enough food,” announces Finnian Shilling, to general agreement. “They have to cook for so many people, so it’s not too bad considering,” Laura Bennett says.

“There are not many food choices,” Farrell says. “And you don’t have availability to food all the time.” “Some days you’d be starving,” exclaims William Potterton.

Everyone reports that from time to time, they struggle with getting on with people to whom they live in such close proximity.

“Boarding school can be tough if you’re not getting on with everyone,” says Hannah Goodwin. “But you just have to live with it.”

Boarding as a privilege

The students have varying views on a boarding-school education as a privilege. “My friends don’t see it as a privilege. You’re seen as kind of crazy because you live in a school,” Matthew Doyle says. “When people hear you’re at boarding school, I think they automatically think you’ve been sent because you’ve been a bold pupil,” is how Sally Farrell sees it. “Yeah, like they think you’re being sent to prison,” says Fergus Ogden.

Others acknowledge they have been teased by their peers about the school they attend. “I think you just have to get used to the comments you get, because it was your choice to go to boarding school,” says Stephanie Quaid.

“You try and divert the topic in conversations,” admits William Potterton.

Some have more robust opinions on the question of privilege. “If we didn’t come here, the State schools would be flooded,” is the view of Robert Shaw.

“Boarding school is not really elitist. Our parents worked very hard to get the money to send us here,” says Catherine Jennings. “During the boom, a lot of people made a lot of money. I’d say a lot of them are now investing in education. Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m guessing.” *

One student declares, “I live in quite a country area . . . I didn’t want to go to school there. Not many people from there go to private school. I know they think I’m elitist, but I don’t care – I know I’m getting a better education than they are.”

King's Hospital In numbers

The King’s Hospital is a Church of Ireland co-educational day and boarding school, in Palmerstown, Dublin 20. The school took its first boarders in 1669, the year it was founded. It started out in Queen Street in Dublin, then moved to Blackhall Place in 1783. By the early 1970s, it had incorporated both Morgan’s and Mercer’s schools. King’s Hospital moved again to a purpose-built school on its present 80-acre site close to where the M50 West Link Bridge is now located.

Total number of pupils:687

Number of boarders:279, of whom 136 are female and 143 male.

Seven-day boarders’ fees: €4,545 per term. Five-day boarders’ fees starting in September are to be confirmed

Day pupils: €1,910 per term. Pupils from non-EU countries with families non-resident in Ireland pay an additional 25 per cent in fees

* This article was amended on 11/04/12 to correct a factual error