At Boarding School Action we believe that placing children, especially young children, in boarding schools, may be a contravention of their rights under the UNCRC.
The preamble to the convention describes how “the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community”, and states that “the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding”. There is currently no lower limit on the age that children can legally attend boarding school, and therefore it seems impossible to argue that these values are being upheld, we would therefor suggest that article 4, stating “governments must do all they can by passing laws which protect children’s rights”, is not being acted upon. There is mounting evidence from experts in the field like Professor Joy Schaverien, that early boarding can cause psychological and emotional harm, but often these issues are masked by ideas of social privilege, and therefore the lack of legislation and investigation of this issue can be seen as a failure under article 3 that “the best interest of the child must be a top priority”.
Article 7 states that as a far as possible children should be cared for by their parents, and article 9 states that children should not be separated from parents against their will unless they are being harmed. Even if children ‘choose’ to go to boarding school, we would argue that they are not able to consent to this at a young age, using the notion of Gillick Competence, and would welcome investigation of this matter. Article 25 states that where children cannot live at home they have the right to regular reviews of their care, and under article 20 they have the right to special protection and assistance.
Where children board on a flexible or weekly basis, they have a greater claim on their right to family life. But only on in 13 boarders are flexi-boarders, and even in the 7-11 age category he figure is only 40%. We believe this situation does not represent a reflection of the ethos of the UNCRC.
Moreover, as an ever increasing number of children in UK boarding schools are from abroad, 34% at present, the situation poses increasing problems in terms of maintaining family contact and cultural ties associated with children’s rights. Article 30 states that every child has the right to learn and use the language, customs and culture of their family: this is not possible in a boarding school environment. Article 11 states that governments must to everything they can to stop children being prevented from returning to their home country, yet the government currently permits a system whereby children can stay with paid guardians even in the school holidays.
Where boarding school places are being given to children from so-called challenging family backgrounds, this practise is not necessarily in keeping with article 18, stating that parents should be given the help and support they need to raise their children.
We have concerns that children in boarding schools do not have the opportunity to raise and express their views feelings and wishes as outlined under article 12, they may not have the freedom of expression and to access all kinds of information as stated in article 13, and may lack the freedom of association (to meet and socialise with children from outwith their boarding communities) as identified in article 15. We would welcome investigations into whether the children in these institutions feel these rights are being fulfilled. We also have concerns about the right to privacy (article 16), especially privacy of correspondence, and would like investigate the provisions for that right in boarding schools.
Article 31 states that children have a right to play and rest. Taken as unstructured and free, play is lacking in boarding schools. Also, children are kept busy so that they are not aware of being homesick or unhappy: this represents a fundamental breach of their right to rest.
Finally, article 29 describes the goal of education as to ‘encourage a child’s respect for human rights, respect for parents, their own and other cultures and the environment’. It does not seem possible that a six-year-old educated in a boarding school is having these goals effectively reached, indeed we would argue he or she is having their respect for human rights undermined rather than encouraged.