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Meet your boarding school family: Assistant head of boarding

Campbell College in Belfast, Northern Ireland

At a UK boarding school, the assistant head of boarding looks after students’ welfare and administrative duties. Schools are usually made up of several ‘houses’, with separate accommodation and dedicated staff looking after the pupils who live there.

John Anderson is assistant head of boarding at Campbell College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a boys’ grammar school with around 133 boarding students (as well as some day pupils). He tells us about his role in pastoral care – and why he wishes he’d been a boarding school student too!

‘I didn’t go to boarding school myself and to me, the idea of living away from home, seeing your parents once every few weeks and sharing a dorm with students from all over the world didn’t seem that appealing – until I saw what it’s really like at Campbell.

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‘Now, during my eight years working here, I’ve seen students grow up to become adults in their boarding houses. The friendships they have now, the experiences they have had and
the connections they leave with – all those things make me wish I’d been a boarder too!

‘As Assistant Head of Boarding of School House (one of eight houses at Campbell College), it is my job to ensure that the
pupils within the house fulfil their potential and know that they are valued members of our community. I provide a link between the boys, parents, agencies, guardians and teachers. This role is all the more important for our international students, being so far
from home. Ensuring that our pupils integrate and achieve are
our highest priorities.'

Senior students get experimental in science class (Photo © Campbell College)

‘I live on site with my family, which means we’re part of the boarding community too. We share meals with our neighbours (staff and students alike) – this for me is a highlight of life within House. The opportunity to share food and laugh about the day’s events, or share worries about what tomorrow may bring, helps us all to feel that we belong. 

‘I have a wide range of responsibilities. These range from administrative – whether that means processing applications or giving tours of the boarding house and the school – to pastoral care. This might include dealing with sensitive personal issues or taking a group of boys to Belfast for a fun weekend excursion!'

Just like Hogwarts? The school's annual Christmas party (Photo © Campbell College)

‘As Assistant Head of Boarding, I have a study within House. All the pupils know where it is, and they often drop in to have a chat about rugby, what’s new on TV and, most importantly, any issues or problems they may be having. No subjects are "off topic" and we would encourage our boarders to come to us at any time, as problems that are shared early can usually be resolved quickly. 

‘Homesickness is very normal, but thankfully, with instant messaging, social media and video chat, the world is such an accessible place nowadays and pupils chat to their family and friends at home every day from school – if they’re not too busy or having too much fun, that is!

‘If it’s your first time at boarding school, I’d recommend you bring "home" with you – bring little mementos, pictures, toys, or even bedding from your room at home (never underestimate the power of a mum’s laundry softener!), to help make your space at school your own.'

Left: A senior student's room; Right: A dorm for junior students (Photos © Campbell College)

‘At Campbell, students between the ages of 11 and 14 share a dorm, and I think this is a great idea. What better way to stave off homesickness than having pupils your own age all around you, helping you have a laugh, providing help with homework and growing up with you?

‘Boarding school is a global community and being part of it will provide opportunities beyond the seven years you spend at school. It can give you inner confidence, lifelong friends, future professional contacts, and academic potential that may not have been discovered without the chance to nurture personal discipline and rely upon yourself and others that boarding school provides.

‘In my eight years as a teacher, I have seen how boarding school can lead to achievement, from higher education to career opportunities. What’s more, a UK boarding education can equip each individual with the personal attributes and qualities they need to thrive in business and society anywhere in the world.’

Left: A game of rugby; Right: The school sports fields (Photos © Campbell College)

The essential guide to boarding schools in the UK