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What rigorous character education and outstanding pastoral care look like

UK boarding schools
Source: Gordonstoun School

Character education is particularly central to boarding schools, many of which were founded on classic tenets and a belief that the true pursuit of excellence requires a synthesis of strong intellect and purposeful personal growth. In addition to providing intellectual rigour and challenge, boarding schools provide a holistic education that balances academic achievement with the development of character, resilience and leadership.

A nurturing environment and spiritual encouragement underpin all of their endeavours and help shape the distinctive characteristics in students. The setting? A home away from home. It’s a place where their parents aren’t and where they spend a lot of their time developing into young adults. The best boarding schools invest in excellent pastoral care, going beyond just being nice to people. They put a child’s needs at the centre of a school’s operation.

Here are four boarding schools that strive towards these ideals best:

Gordonstoun School

For over 80 years, Gordonstoun has been preparing students for life. Here, they indulge their curiosity, collaborate and innovate, and develop intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually. The school’s location on the Moray Coast in the North of Scotland provides a peaceful and safe campus experience that allows them to do all the above and more.

UK boarding schools

As the only school in the UK to have its own Fire Engine, Gordonstoun students get to work with rescue service personnel on real emergencies too. Source: Gordonstoun School

At this school described as “Outstanding” and “Sector leading” by HM Inspectors in 2019, pupils — including three generations of the British royal family — follow the English GCSE and A Level curricula. They do so in small classes, with a student-to-teacher ratio of 7:1, allowing space and time for extended learning and in-depth exploration of subject matter.

Learning continues outside the classroom, through an extensive array of athletic, artistic, and extracurricular opportunities, which include distinctive offerings such as sailing, expedition and community service. Plus, as the only school in the UK to have its own Fire Engine, students get to work with rescue service personnel on real emergencies too.

Another key feature? It’s big on pastoral care. HM Inspectors judged it to be “a model of best practice” and “outstanding”. Activities like the School Pipe Band give older children an opportunity to guide and lead younger children and help them feel that they’re part of the GS family. After Gordonstoun, students move on to university — including Oxford, Cambridge, Central Saint Martins, MIT and the Northern School of Music   — and into the world with confidence. They are ready.

Kingswood School

Kingswood School is an independent, co-educational day and boarding school in the beautiful city of Bath, just 90 minutes by train from London. The school offers a balanced, multi-dimensional learning and living experience that prepares students (nine months to 18 years old) for the many vagaries of today’s world — and tomorrow’s.

UK boarding schools

Kingswood School’s challenging curriculum, small classes, expert teachers, and collaborative spirit help curiosity take root. Source: Kingswood School

Leading this mission at its magnificent 200-acre site in Lansdown are faculty members who play many roles as coaches, advisors, and mentors. In small, learning-friendly classrooms, they bring challenging curricula to life, cultivating curiosity and confidence. A clever use of technology lets pupils get the best of traditional and new tools that enable learning. The result? Regularly placing in the top 10 co-educational boarding and day schools in national rankings. All graduates progress to university — and highly-ranked ones at that. An average of more than 80% of all Kingswood students achieve the coveted A*-B grades required for entry into Russell Group universities.

Strong academics bring results at Kingswood School, but it is by no means its only strength.  In its latest Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) inspection, the school was rated as excellent in every category. Strong praise abound in pastoral care, extra-curricular provision, boarding and the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils as well.

For students, it’s the connection with staff that supports them across the full range of life at Kingwsood. Here, constructive, open and trusting relationships flourish between teachers and students. All staff provide daily pastoral support, which is overseen by the House Parents and the Assistant Head Pastoral, Mr. Jamie Matthews.

The classroom is just the beginning. Their connection continues into the extensive array of extracurricular activities, with a broad choice of art, music, drama and design and technology. Students who love sports can choose from gymnastics, dance, swimming, athletics, hockey, rugby, football, netball, cricket, tennis, to name a few.

To learn more about how its broad, holistic education produces astonishing successes, click here.

The Leys School

Established in 1875, The Leys School is the only co-educational boarding and day school in idyllic college town Cambridge. Set in the centre of a beautiful and stimulating city, the campus is home to a close-knit, engaged, and friendly community. This is a place of belonging where academic excellence, pastoral care and a “wider curriculum” (one of the main pillars of Leysian life) are of equal importance.

UK boarding schools

The Leys School provides a curriculum that fosters inquiry, discovery, innovation and collaboration. Source: The Leys School Facebook

A well-grounded education can take you anywhere and The Leys School defines excellence on its own terms. The school provides a curriculum that fosters inquiry, discovery, innovation and collaboration. Students are offered a wide array of stimulating and challenging programmes taught by passionate and dedicated faculty. Recruited for their outstanding academic achievements and their commitment to The Ley School’s core educational values, teachers are encouraged to select, expand on, modify, and even invent their curricula.

Both in and out of the classroom, The Ley School offers countless ways for students to learn. The Leysian experience shapes students in every possible way. While classroom learning is the core, it is just the beginning. Girls are not only thinkers and scholars but also artists, athletes, volunteers, club members, leaders, mentors and, importantly, classmates and friends. As students go beyond the classroom, engaging with their peers in clubs and community service, on teams, in the dorms, they learn to think like and be a citizen of the world.

Harrogate Ladies’ College

Founded in the 1890s by educational pioneers of UK independent schools, Harrogate Ladies’ College is forward thinking, progressive and modern. It is one of the UK’s top independent schools for girls aged 11 to 18 years old. Harrogate educates young women to continue to question, risk, and grow, prepared to challenge, shape, and change the world.

UK boarding schools

Harrogate educates young women to continue to question, risk, and grow. Source: Harrogate Ladies’ College Facebook

At HLC, academic programmes fuel authentic learning. The school’s Key Stage Three curriculum prepares students for the GCSEs and A Levels. Students learn through small classes, creative teaching, and an approach which emphasises the process of learning.

That’s not all. Here, learning happens in and out of the classroom. Students go on trips to museums and galleries, as well as connect with guest speakers and undertake interactive learning experiences.

Nurturing happy, healthy, confident students is at the centre of HLC’s focus. The school finds that the best way to balance high-intensity academics is by embracing all sorts of other experiences — from joining a sports team and acting in plays to running a student club and volunteering on or off campus. The result? A holistic, down-to-earth journey of self-discovery. It all unfolds in a dynamic and compassionate community.

*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International