FIFO Survivor Auntie Sandy on the pros and cons of boarding schools

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Hi! I'm Sandy (although lots of people call me 'Auntie') and my husband works offshore in oil/gas on a 6 in 1 roster. We've been together for 27 years and are the proud parents of two daughters, aged 19 and 21. I wanted to write for Mining Family Matters to show you can survive FIFO.

We made the decision early on in this nomadic lifestyle that I would stay in the family home and give the children a base and some solid routines. If anyone had suggested boarding school seven years ago, my answer would have been that I didn't have my children to be sending them away to school! How things have changed.

As daughter #1 reached her final year of school, I could see things were not running smoothly. We then lived in a rural area with only one local school. The other choice was to send them to school approx. 30km away and involved a drive by private vehicle and bus. Not the easiest to do when she didn't have a license and I worked full time. Then the local paper printed an article on schools that were 150km away and offering boarding facilities. Why not have a look?

We drove down and attended open days for three boarding schools. Wow what a difference between public and private schools! We fell in love with one particular school and they were so helpful and inviting. They understood the distance we had travelled and arranged interviews with the Boarding House Mistress, Dean and Principal. My daughter was even allowed to sit relevant tests on the day - so then it was a waiting game. A week or so later the phone call came that we had been waiting for. Yes there was a position available in the boarding house - and this meant entry into the school.

Sending her away was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. But now we're on the other side, I think it's the best decision we could have made. It really hit home last year when she admitted that if she'd stayed at the local school, she would have dropped out.

So, the reasons for choosing this particular school:

  • Roll of 1400 but with boarding for only 35 students.
  • Boarding for the older girls is in a shared room. (This meant they learnt to get on with their room mate or had to get involved in extra curriculum activities to "get away" from their room mate.)
  • They asked me what they could do for my daughter. Other schools asked what my daughter could offer them.

Daughter #2 is a real home body and we never expected her to go to boarding school. But when a reminder notice arrived for an open day, she asked if we could go down. Once again we did the look around, and at the end of the tour she asked for my phone. Little did I know she was talking to her Dad and said: "Dad I'm coming to this school!" Wow - hit me with a wet fish!

She had the advantage of attending the school for two years and now asks "Why didn't you send us earlier?" She went on to make head girl for the boarding house in the second year, which came with privileges like a single large room. That was such a great confidence boost for her.

You know you have done the right thing when both girls are at university and through their private school have formed life-long friendships with girls from all over the world. This has increased their desire to travel. You might ask what happened about friendships from the public school? Even though these girls had been "friends" for most of their schooling days, when it came to leave most wouldn't talk to girls and it has stayed this way. They didn't understand the FIFO lifestyle and the fact they we sent the girls off to boarding school

The long-term plan was for the girls to attend public school and then I would join my husband. Because of boarding school I was able to join him a year earlier. Daughter #2 was heavily involved in sport and would only return home for school holidays - and some of these were spent away at various tournaments. When I moved, it meant she could fly to wherever we were based. She has had some holidays in bizarre places, but now enjoys exploring and travel.

The only problem with this was that early on she asked the question: "Where is home for me?" Simply, it is wherever we are based. She has become a very capable traveller and able to deal with all situations that arise. Actually, as I write she is caught up in the Chilean ash cloud and enjoying the luxury of a motel with meals provided. Not bad for a poor uni student. She has had to deal with missed flights and lost luggage. It has made her strong and able to stand up for her rights.

The difference between our public and private school experience was amazing. Communication lines were very open with private - at any stage I could contact them and receive answers straight away. The girls were offered really varied opportunities for learning and extra-curricular activities (#1 tried her hand at lacrosse). Learning support was available and we did need to obtain extra tuition. And they went from a school that had 47% of students go on to tertiary education, to one that had 97% go on to tertiary education.

Boarding school is not for everybody and every family's situation is different. But it certainly worked for us. If it had not been for this lifestyle, our girls would not have had the opportunity to do it.

Home schooling is another option (click here for a great story on this from one MiningFM reader) and would allow children to travel with the family. Because of the level of sport our girls were doing, this wasn't an option for us.

Whatever choice you make, you need to be an informed parent - keep in regular contact with the school and ask what is going on. Listen to your children and their friends about what's going on.

More from Auntie Sandy:

If you've got a question for 'Auntie' Sandy or would like to make a comment about FIFO living, we'd love to hear from you. Click here!