Aileen Kane, COO, Boarding Schools’ Association, UK

Published 27/02/2020

Aileen Kane is the COO for the Boarding Schools’ Association and director of the Safeguarding and Child Protection Association. With a background in international marketing, she moved into the boarding school sector after becoming passionate about independent education. Her work also focuses on safeguarding, where she says there is much to be done around the mandatory reporting of abuse. Kane spoke to The PIE about the challenges, trends and successes of the UK’s revered boarding school sector.

The PIE: What is your background? Were you always in education?

Aileen Kane: My background was in international marketing and then I worked for a couple of independent schools both of which had boarding. Six years ago I joined the BSA and quite quickly I got involved with a lot of policy and safeguarding.

“Quite often there’s the misconception that boarding schools are only for the rich”

BSA has been driving a lot of the safeguarding work for the sector, and two years ago we employed our first head of safeguarding, Dale Wilkins. It is a very interesting sector to work in.

The PIE: Tell me why you decided to move to BSA.

AK: I joined BSA as the head of communications in March 2015. My role in the organisation has changed since, but what is really interesting for me, from a personal point of view, is that I was state educated in Scotland. So this world wasn’t necessarily a natural pathway for me. But having worked in two independent boarding schools, I saw the real opportunity that boarding gave to all students.

Quite often there’s the misconception that boarding schools are only for the rich. But I have done a lot of work with children on the edge of care, I’ve worked with refugee partnerships and as a sector, we’re trying to broaden the horizon of people who are in boarding schools.

Being able to see firsthand the opportunities for children, it gave me a real passion for the boarding sector. So when the role came up at BSA, it felt like a good natural progression to then go forward and represent the whole sector, and not just one or two schools.

“Our boarding schools are trying to prepare students for a world of work that probably doesn’t exist to you and me now”

The PIE: What does BSA do?

AK: We are the largest association for boarding schools in the world. We currently have just over 600 boarding schools. Approximately 500 of those are here in the UK, the other hundred are international. Then in England, there are also 40 state boarding schools.

BSA works with the government on everything from representing the sector including on immigration and policy such as the National Minimum Standards for boarding. We also provide training for boarding staff. The pastoral staff will come through our training program called the BSA Academy.

We run regular webinars, one day events and residential conference. In addition, we also run accredited training courses. That ranges from your entry into the boarding world with the two year accredited course, right the way up to a master’s in residential education [that is] run in conjunction with Buckingham University. The whole idea is that there is continual learning and that the people who are looking after children in boarding houses, are well trained and able to support the pupils in their care.

The PIE: How important are international students to British boarding schools?

AK: Oh they’re hugely important. Our boarding schools are trying to prepare students for a world of work that probably doesn’t exist to you and me now. Having that global outlook and having a global network that they can look to, and being able to be accepting and understanding that there are different cultures and different ways of working in the world, I believe this is really valuable for any young person.

Also, they get the opportunity to spend time and have friendships with people from across the globe. I think, equally, that’s the case for international students coming to the UK. They gain access to our world-class education system, but also to network with children from across the globe. It’s a fantastic opportunity.

The PIE: What are the biggest challenges being faced by boarding schools at the moment?

AK: I think the immediate challenge is the coronavirus. We have a very broad international community who could potentially be at risk because of the coronavirus and because our children come from all over the world, but also because our parents travel extensively. So while it is a huge benefit to our community that there are children from every single country in the world in our schools, it’s equally a risk at this time.

“We have a very broad international community who could potentially be at risk because of the coronavirus”

However, It’s been great to see schools, parents and pupils all working together to try and make sure that the children and their families are safe and, depending on which way the virus goes, that everybody has got somewhere to go where they are safe and supported. Not just in terms of their health but also their well-being as well. We are likely to have some students in our schools who have family in affected regions and it’s good that our boarding community is able to support those children who are going to be clearly worried at this time.

The PIE: What are the biggest trends for boarding schools?

AK: One thing I have seen over the last 10 years of boarding, is that our schools are far more receptive to changing family dynamics. There are a lot more first time buyers in the market now then there was in the past and the emerging trend seems to be that pupils in the younger years will start by flexi-boarding or boarding on an occasional basis, to suit family demand.

I live in London and I quite often see children crossing London to go to music lessons, sporting lessons, etc. which is tiring for them. So the advantage of flexi-boarding is that you can do those extracurricular activities and then it means the next time you go home, it’s just quality family time.

When family demands are so busy today, I think that’s a real advantage. As the children move through the school and move towards GCSEs and then sixth form, we see that the trend moves more towards weekly and then full boarding in preparation for university. So I think our schools are definitely looking at those demands from parents and helping to support the family network.

The PIE: Tell me about your role as director of SACPA.

AK: BSA have done a lot of work on supporting the mandatory reporting of abuse. In the past there has been abuse in boarding schools and what we wanted to do is look at what’s happened in the past, and try and learn some lessons. We as a sector support the mandatory reporting of abuse, which currently is only the law in Northern Ireland and not the rest of the UK.

“At BSA we were starting to get calls from organisations who weren’t boarding schools…asking for our help when it came to safeguarding”

We’ve worked with survivors of abuse, we’re working with the independent enquiry into sexual abuse as well. As part of our work, we’re running training, we’re providing advice and support. But at BSA we were starting to get calls from organisations who weren’t boarding schools, such as sporting and voluntary organisations and charities asking for our help when it came to safeguarding. It struck us that there was nowhere for people to go and gain advice, share best practice and network. As a solution, at the end of January, we launched a sister association called SACPA, which stands for the Safeguarding and Child Protection Association.

It is for anybody who’s involved in safeguarding and child protection. That can be anyone from a childminder, right the way up to say university or a children’s or an old people’s home. It doesn’t really matter.

The idea is that it’s a hub, to share knowledge, share policies and to provide training and guidance for people who require that support.

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