Sometimes it’s easy to forget how intimidating and exclusive some of the language in the independent school sector can be. From exeats to ‘long leave’ and ‘short leave’ and from ‘big school’ to historic house names, it can sometimes seem that schools go out of their way to build a barrier to ‘strangers’.  Occasionally schools can sound like a bad ‘Monty Python’ sketch:

Girls may have day exeats any Sunday, subject to School commitments apart from “closed weekends”. These are the first and last weekends and the weekend after Long Leave of each term and girls should not go out unless there are special circumstances which have been agreed with the Housemistress… When there is Evensong, girls may take an Exeat from 9.15 am until 6.30 pm… If a girl has a School commitment on a Sunday or there are special considerations, she may be allowed to go out on a Saturday instead, from 11.45 am until 8.45 pm…. School commitments take priority over Exeats and it is the girl’s responsibility to ensure that she does not miss any match, rehearsal, etc. which she should be attending.

This extract from a school’s web site is hardly guaranteed to make life clear to the prospective parent (and this is just a short extract from a long page). Of course, these terms have usually been in use for many years – in some cases for some centuries – and when their use started, they were probably everyday words. Times have changed, however, and at least half the parents now being attracted to the independent sector did not go through the system themselves and cannot act as interpreters for their children.

There will be some terminology that schools want to retain because they form part of the school’s character such as Radley College having “Socials” rather than “Houses”. But schools should take steps to explain what they mean, or to provide a context such that the meaning becomes clear. Cranleigh School in Surrey use the terms “exeats”, “long leave” and “short leave” but do so in a calendar and so the meaning is reasonably obvious.

Terminology should not be a barrier to prospective parents and children. Prospective parents and pupils should not feel they are being excluded in the life of the school. Explaining the language used is simply the beginning of the inclusion process.

It is too easy to forget how intimidating independent schools can be to those with no prior experience of them. In the present economy, it is more important than ever to ensure that every prospective family feels welcomed by the school they are visiting, whether in person or on their web site.

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