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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Ullmer

Student centered boarding - a case study

CATS Canterbury was rated an Excellent international Boarding School by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, so the challenge we had to set ourselves, was how do we hit above Excellent and develop our Boarding provision further? We already had regular International Evenings, excellent accommodation, student councils and provision with single ensuite rooms, a good range of activities – but where do we go next?

We place great stress on individual support for international students at the college in all areas, so we wondered how this would look if we transformed this to our boarding provision? What would real student centered boarding really look like in 2014 in a college where almost all of our students come from overseas with 52 different nationalities? We wanted to look at putting a range of new ideas in place measured against student outcomes in a Kirkland Rowell Survey showing evidence of student satisfaction in the key Every Child Matters Outcomes.

Internationally Student Centered

We felt student centered boarding would not only provide all key information in English, but would also support students and parents by having all key information available in native languages. All our policies are available on the college website, but we wondered who reads them, did they mean anything, and how could we communicate this key information better – particularly for new students and parents?

So instead of lots of different policies, we wrote a summary document with all the key information we felt parents might need to know and translated it into 15 different languages to go on our website and to email out personally to parents. Many parents had met the Head overseas or on college tours, so a friendly picture of the Head was put on the top of each document to make it more friendly and familiar in a strange new world in England. Here was a face they had seen and know telling them useful information they wanted to know about the college in an accessible format.

Student Centered Caring

Surveys in college clearly told us that students felt it was really important to feel ‘cared for’. They were thousands of miles from home and they needed to know in practical ways that people cared. They already told us they felt staff were approachable and friendly (94% said this), so how could we make this even better?

We decided to rename all our ‘Residence Supervisors’ as ‘House Parents’ and appointed Senior House Parents to oversee that House Parents were providing an even more friendly approach than they had before. We wanted every single student to know they were cared for, not just the ones we saw on any one evening. So we launched ‘calling cards’. These were done for House Parents and for the Principal. So when we did calling round student rooms to chat and make sure they were all right, and check how they were coping away from home, if a student was out with friends or not in their room, they always knew we cared and had checked up on them. Many students would call in to see the Principal or their House Parent the next day after they got a card to say ‘thank you’ or to chat, and it really seemed to work!

We also had welcome cards in every room with the Principals picture on when students arrived for the first time so they would see the card along with a bottle of water and chocolates when they first entered their room, and would feel welcome and cared for.

Student Centered Rewards and Encouragement

We felt that students would also want to have more of their achievements recognised in tangible and personal ways. So we printed ‘Thank You’ and ‘Well Done’ cards. These were available to all staff and House Parents and would have an individual personal comment written on them to thank or recognise something positive a student had done – helping others, excellent work, international decorations in the residence, community service – the list was endless!

Students could collect these cards, and the person with the most at a College Assembly was given a £50 Amazon voucher. The cards were also counted and tracked for each House and could gain House Points towards a new House Cup to be awarded each term. Students gaining Vice Principals Certificates or Principals Certificates or Senior Tutor Certificates also gained House Points, as did achievement in Leadership Awards and extra activities

Student Centered Health

Many international students do not understand the world of Healthcare in the UK – sometimes the temperature regarded as serious varies from the UK – there are different expectations of the roles of Doctors, Nurses and hospitals, and we also wanted to help students with preventative care as well as support when they were ill. So we launched a Health Information booklet, all carefully targeted at international students at the college with all the key information they needed.

We also launched ‘Healthy Living’ cards – just the same as our Well Done and Thank You cards. These cards were to be given out by house staff to students doing healthy activities beyond their curriculum sports. They could be given for gym membership, regular sporting activity, cooking healthy meals in our student kitchen in the evenings – there would be a host of healthy activities these would be given for, and they would be written on and personalised for the student. The student with the most Healthy Living Cards in a college assembly gets a £50 Amazon Voucher, and again these cards count as House Points for each House with a cup awarded every term for the top house.

Student Centered Planning and Leadership

We also reviewed all the comments made by students over the past three years and looked at how exactly they felt about their accommodation. Our international students clearly liked new single ensuite rooms and wanted to be close to the college and not in small old houses. So we felt our planning as a Senior team needed to reflect the clear views of students. We planned to slowly get rid of our older houses across the city and committed over three million pounds developing a long term strategy linking the growth of the college to views expressed by the students. This year

a brand new accommodation called Knights House opened next to the college, with beautiful common areas, large single ensuite rooms in a modern facility in keeping with our historic location. Planning permission has been granted for a new 100 room residence to be built right next to the college this year with more large single ensuite rooms while all the old houses on leases will be released by September 2015 and no longer form part of our accommodation. 57 New Dover Road has also been secured and is being completely refurbished inside to provide more large single ensuite rooms in a beautiful location again just opposite the college.

Letting students know the strategic direction of the college was important. This information was available to staff, so we felt it would encourage buy in to the college by involving students in clearly seeing what our development planning involved. So we put it in a student friendly format of:

What have we done?

What are we doing?

What do we aim to do?

Student Centered Accommodation

These initiatives did not only apply to our Boarding House Staff – we also looked carefully with our maintenance and operations staff at how they could be more student centred too. We were aware that students coming from a wide range of cultures were very sensitive about who went into their room, so we launched a calling card for our maintenance and operations staff. This card was to be left in every room after they called in. It told the students they had been there and why, and the student was able to comment on the visit. It could be because there was a problem – broken shower, new light needed etc, and the card would say what had been done, and ask if the student was happy with it. It again got students involved, explained what we were doing, and asked for their opinion on it and checked they were all right.

We also looked at particular needs of international boarding students and how if they travelled thousands of miles to be here, our half term model really didn’t work. Those who left the school at half term were not making proper provision and we were worried about the experience they were getting. So we launched free accommodation over half terms to accommodate students from a long distance away with trips, visits and structures fully in place to care for accommodate overseas students at half terms. Last half terms we had university visits, study sessions and trips and visits and students could be with us without charge but properly cared for and looked after.

A Student Centered Experience

We had already launched our Tell Us button at the College – a button you press on the intranet which triggers an email to key people in charge if a student is not happy with anything or just wants to tell us anything. We were very conscious that in some cultures it is tremendously difficult to tell staff in person in they are not happy with something, and the Tell Us button gave students a little more distance and made it easier to report on things. We reflected that although this system worked really well, we did not have detailed figures or ways to measure it formally. So we launched an electronic report back which told Senior staff how many ‘Tell Us’ requests were made in any one month so we could see overall what the issues were for the college and how these were changing month by month. Again, it really gave us a strong oversight of how students were feeling and what we needed to focus on at a high level.

Student Centered Counselling and Supporting Spirituality

We also started to think more about personal needs of students. We already had extensive links with the NHS and a variety of outside agencies, but when a student is in difficulty and needed counselling support we felt an appointment in a week or two weeks time wasn’t actually exactly what they needed. We wanted fast and immediate support. So this year we appointed our own college counsellor to give qualified and more immediate support than we could get from external agencies. We also listened to what students wanted from a prayer room, and then renamed it the ‘Chill and Prayer Room’ open to those of all faiths and none. We installed a low level sink for ritual washing and put Christian and religious texts in there in 16 different languages. When a student is facing difficulties or a crisis we felt we wanted them to have access to religious texts in their own language to comfort and support. We also launched a regular minibus service to Friday Prayers in town to help students who wanted to attend but were a bit nervous of going on their own. We also had staff from the Christian Global Café available to support students going to events with local churches.

Excellence in Student Outcomes

One objective measurement we had was our Kirkland Rowell student survey which benchmarked us against other independent schools. We were delighted to see from this that we were rated as ‘Outstanding’ in comparison to other schools in all the key areas we had targeted. Our efforts in making our boarding really student centered had clearly supported very strong student outcomes. Our overall grade for the Every Child Matters areas was Outstanding:

Caring/approachable attitude of staff Happiness of child

School Discipline/good Behaviour Developing potential

Celebrating and rewarding achievement Prevention of bullying

Developing self confidence/esteem Caring/approachable attitude of staff

Encouraging local community activity Treating all pupils fairly and equally

Personal Development Community spirit

Promoting Racial Harmony

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