How to Help Children Thrive at UK Boarding Schools Like Gordonstoun


As increasing numbers of young people jump at the chance to attend the UK’s top boarding schools, parents are looking for more advice on how to make this move as easy as possible. With the right level of support, young people can thrive in their new learning environments and make the most of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities available to them at leading schools.

In an effort to help parents prepare their children, has asked some of the UK’s best-rated boarding schools, including Gordonstoun (Moray, Scotland), about how parents can offer this support.

Here’s what they found.

Explain What to Expect

Regular family chats can help children get used to the idea of moving away from home and starting their educational journeys. Thankfully, most children adapt quickly when they receive the right level of support from the start. By explaining what to expect, parents can better prepare their children for their boarding school experiences.

When many children imagine their future boarding schools, they picture a Hogwarts-inspired setting. Hogwarts does give a good sense of the house system, independence, and friendships that young people can enjoy in boarding schools. But parents can help them gain a better understanding of what to expect by introducing them to the curriculums that they will follow. For example, Gordonstoun offers a range of extra-curricular options like photography, ecology, and film studies to support its core curriculums.

Children also tend to feel more comfortable when they know exactly what to expect when they arrive at their boarding school. Parents should clearly describe what their first days will look like and what to expect in their day-to-day lives. For example, at the start of each academic year, Gordonstoun’s new pupils join an induction programme, which allows them to familiarise themselves with the school before everyone else arrives. During this visit, international pupils can also set up a UK mobile phone and bank account.

Gordonstoun then kicks off the school year with an expedition to help pupils make friends and ease the transition into regular school days. Pupils leave all their electronic devices behind and set up camp in the beautiful countryside. They work together to put up their tents, light the campfires, and cook meals.

When pupils return to campus, they receive their house assignments and have a chance to settle in. The staff at Gordonstoun put great care into assigning pupils to their houses in order to forge strong friendships. They ensure that children of a range of ages, nationalities, interests, and other factors make up each house.

Discuss the Differences Between Home and School Life

Parents should reflect on their family’s home life and explain how boarding school will differ. This is especially important for international pupils who will be moving to a new country to attend their school. In this case, families should provide their child with key information about the country. Will they need to work on a second language? Will the weather be markedly different? Will they need to open their mind to the possibility of trying new cuisines? Although all these things are exciting, they can feel overwhelming if introduced one surprise after another after a child has started school. Lots of boarding schools welcome many international pupils, though, so these children shouldn’t feel alone. For example, more than 30% of Gordonstoun’s pupils come from overseas.

While exploring the differences between home and school life, parents should also explain the benefits of attending a boarding school. Joining a boarding school may mean that young people will need to adapt, but the benefits make it all worthwhile. Boarding school pupils enjoy many opportunities to gain independence, make lifelong friendships, and participate in an inclusive house system.

Consider Summer School

Some boarding schools also offer summer schools, which can help children get a feel for their new school before moving in for the academic year. For example, Gordonstoun offers a three-week summer school filled with tons of learning and adventure opportunities for young people aged 8 to 17. Those partaking in the summer school enjoy art, sports, and social activities and even embark on an incredible sailing trip along the West Coast of Scotland. Children can learn invaluable life skills, meet friends who will join them in September for their academic studies, and build confidence on this programme.

Comprehensive Packing Guide for Boarders

Once successful applicants have received their places at Gordonstoun, they can work with their parents to pack for their boarding school adventure. Families should think about this early, so they have time to prepare all the items their child needs to enjoy a home away from home. Every pupil needs school uniforms, socks and underwear, extra clothes, sports kits, a rain jacket, and an umbrella. Wellies are a good idea as well, especially for walks out on the beautiful campus. Beyond that, pupils might want to pack:

Pictures of friends, family, and pets
Posters and/or personalised décor
Laptop and/or tablet
Chargers for all their devices (plus adapters if needed)
Extension lead
Alarm clock
A high-quality pair of headphones
Slippers or socks with grippy bottoms
Personal care items

Some pupils also like to bring their favourite snacks or even beloved spices from home so they can share these with their new friends.

Tips for First-Time Boarding School Pupils

Experienced UK boarding pupils have offered handy tips to help new pupils make the most of school. Here’s what they had to say.

·       Personalise your room: When pupils arrive at Gordonstoun and receive their house assignments, they’ll find that their room is a blank canvas, ready for personalisation. So, they should bring décor items like pictures and knick-knacks that remind them of home.

·   Wear a watch: As with all school experiences, timeliness is of the utmost importance. While smartphones usually allow pupils to keep good track of time, they’re not allowed everywhere. So, as a backup, pupils should wear a watch to avoid arriving at class or other activities late.

·   Try new things: Attending a boarding school is all about enjoying new experiences. At Gordonstoun, every day brings new opportunities, from new activities and inspiring events to new foods.

·   Ask questions: Rather than muddling through, pupils should ask questions to make the most of their boarding school experience. At Gordonstoun, pupils can chat to their house captains, house parents, and other pastoral staff when they have any questions or worries. Gordonstoun ensures that every pupil can turn to a network of staff and peers when they need support. 

·   Stay in touch with family and friends: While young people are enjoying their boarding school adventures, friends and family back home eagerly wait to hear from them. So, pupils should keep in touch with texts, phone calls, and letters.

Get Ready for an Exciting First Few Weeks of School at Gordonstoun

With this guidance, parents can alleviate their children’s worries and keep homesickness at bay as they help them prepare for some of the most memorable years of their lives. Although it’s not always easy for young people to make big changes as they transition to boarding school, the potential for their immense growth makes it well worthwhile for them to break out of their comfort zones.

Learn more about what it means to attend Gordonstoun School.

About Gordonstoun School

Gordonstoun School’s latest inspection report describes the school as both ‘outstanding’ and ‘sector leading’. Pupils aged 4-18 enjoy some of the smallest teaching groups in the UK and take lessons both in state-of-the-art facilities and outdoors in the school’s 200-acre campus and beyond. But they don’t only follow core curriculums: Gordonstoun also places a strong focus on character education. This means that the school enriches its academic curriculums with outdoor learning activities, community service, international projects, and opportunities to develop personal skills.