Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Home Away from Home? Boarding in Australian Schools

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Home Away from Home? Boarding in Australian Schools

Article excerpt


Currently, Australian boarding schools undertake to provide a home away from home for around 20,000 adolescents. Research documenting the boarding school experience is scarce, and, with few exceptions, exists as a less significant aspect of more general research into private school education. Such school-based research focuses on the positive, character-building benefits of the boarding experience. However, case studies of former boarders paint quite a different picture. In order for boarding schools to best support boarders' development, it is vital that adults who fulfil a parenting role undertake appropriate training. This paper draws together available information to present a comprehensive picture of boarding in Australian schools, with a focus on the challenges faced by the in loco parentis role of staff. It is apparent that more skills-based training is vital to better equip staff in this very important role.

Keywords Boarding schools, non-government schools, boarding houses, private education, isolated students, residential care


The purpose of this review is to assemble a current picture of boarding in Australian schools, with a specific focus on the challenges presented by the in loco parentis role of staff in their undertaking to create a home away from home for the young people in their care (boarders). Acting in loco parentis, or in the place of a parent, refers to the legal responsibility of a boarding school to undertake a number of the responsibilities of a parent. This role is pivotal to boarders' developmental outcomes but is also a role that presents many challenges in an increasingly demanding and litigious world (Anderson, 2005; Hawkes, 2001). Available information and research on boarding schools is, in the main, of a theoretical, philosophical or a sociological nature (Anderson, 2005; Hawkes, 200l; White, 2004), with very few attempts (Bramston & Patrick, 2007; CSC, 1982; Cree, 2000; Papworth, Martin, & Ginns, 2011; Papworth, Martin, Ginns, & Liem, 2012) to quantify important aspects of this environment. There is a pressing need for data to inform the parenting role of boarding staff (Bramston & Patrick, 2007; Van Hoof & Holger, 1999), and this paper represents an initial investigation into the pastoral needs of adolescents who live in boarding school environments and the staff training required to respond to these needs. Information for the present review was gathered by searching catalogues and both education (ERIC) and psychology (psychinfo) databases, using the search words 'boarding', 'boarding schools', 'residential schools', 'private schools', 'private education', 'isolated students' and 'boarders'.

Boarding schools are regulated communities designed for the education and development of residential students (Cree, 2000; White, 2004). These institutions seem to hold a degree of fascination, particularly for those who have not had the 'privilege' of sharing this unique experience, and graduates are typically portrayed in promotional material as self-reliant young people well equipped to deal with the complexities of life beyond the school gates (Boarding Schools Association [BSA], 2007; Gerrard, 2001; Independent Schools Council Australia [ISCA], 2008). Famous Australian alumni of elite boarding schools include political leaders such as Robert Menzies, as well as business giants, Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch. While works of fiction paint a whimsical rather than a realistic picture of the life of a boarder, they nevertheless constitute a popular representation of this environment and its inhabitants. The few authors who have investigated Australian boarding schools (see Table 1) have commented on the scarcity of relevant boarding-school research, both in Australia and overseas, and have also noted that what is available is often dated and exists as a less significant aspect of more general research into private education. …

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