A Force for Good – Assisted Boarding

Elin de Zoete

“And next week I’m going to be getting on an aeroplane and guess what… I’ll be flying it!” boldly announced fourteen year old Rebekka Slee with a Cheshire Cat grin on her face at the Royal National Children’s Foundation (RNCF) conference yesterday.

That’s impressive stuff for any fourteen year old, but perhaps not entirely surprising coming from a student of a £24,000-a-year boarding school in leafy Oxfordshire.  Flying lessons are exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear about from privileged, rich children as they opine about their extended day and extra-curricular activities.

So why were we all sat there – HRH Princess Anne included – with watery eyes, hanging off Rebekka’s every word?  This bright, eloquent young lady hasn’t sailed through childhood wondering whether to join pony club or take up archery.  She hasn’t spent her holidays running around the country estate.  And, before joining Kingham Hill School, she certainly hadn’t been able to come home every night to a stable environment. Far from it.

Rebekka grew up in a tough inner-city environment, with a father in prison and a mother with learning difficulties, who became unable to cope with raising a teenage daughter.  Rebekka, herself diagnosed with Aspergers, was facing being put into care, something that nobody wanted to happen, least of all her.  This was where the RNCF stepped in and helped to get her life back on track.

The RNCF currently places around 300 children aged seven to 18 in boarding school every year, securing funding from donors, private school foundations, local authorities and other charities, to give disadvantaged children this life changing opportunity.  While boarding might not be for everyone, yesterday we heard five speeches from five very different children that showed just how transformational it can be.  These children have been given a chance and have grabbed it with both hands.

With the RNCF now driving towards a target of 1000 placements a year and with state boarding projects like Durand Academy’s coming to the fore, I think we can safely say that boarding is no longer just the preserve of the most advantaged in society. We are seeing more and more evidence that it can provide the structure and support needed to help the most vulnerable children to flourish.

To learn more about the work of the RNCF, please visit their website at: http://www.rncf.org.uk/

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