House system

House system

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The house system is a traditional feature of British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 school
School
A school is an institution designed for the teaching of students under the direction of teachers. Most countries have systems of formal education, which is commonly compulsory. In these systems, students progress through a series of schools...

s, and schools in the Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

. Historically, it was associated with established public schools
Public School (UK)
A public school, in common British usage, is a school that is neither administered nor financed by the state or from taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of endowments, tuition fees and charitable contributions, usually existing as a non profit-making charitable trust...

, where a 'house' refers to a boarding house
Boarding house
A boarding house, is a house in which lodgers rent one or more rooms for one or more nights, and sometimes for extended periods of weeks, months and years. The common parts of the house are maintained, and some services, such as laundry and cleaning, may be supplied. They normally provide "bed...

 or dormitory
Dormitory
A dormitory, often shortened to dorm, in the United States is a residence hall consisting of sleeping quarters or entire buildings primarily providing sleeping and residential quarters for large numbers of people, often boarding school, college or university students...

 of a boarding school
Boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...

. In the case of a day school, however, the word 'house' refers only to a grouping of pupils, rather than to a particular building.

Pupils are likely to be divided into a number of houses, which are often named after saints, famous historical alumni or notable regional landmarks (at international schools, for example, houses may be named after famous local people). Other more arbitrary names – animal names or colours, for example – may be used where the house system is adopted by a primary school.
Pastoral care=ouse system exists to provide pastoral care of the students. In a world with absentee parents, some children require schools to look after their basic physical, social and emotional needs. Learning can only take place when the needs of the students are being met. Schools that use a house system provide this care along with boarding.
Competition between houses
A secondary feature of house systems is the competition between houses. The traditional school sports day
Sports day
Sports days, sometimes referred to as Field Day, are events staged by many schools and offices in which people take part in competitive sporting activities, often with the aim of winning trophies or prizes...

 is usually an inter-house competition. Debating competitions and charity drives are also often organised along inter-house lines. Merit points for behaviour and academic achievement may also be totalled up for comparison between houses.
Membership and roles
In the past, pupils may have been assigned to houses randomly, on their first or last names or based on ability, with the aim of balancing the houses in order to increase competition. But today, the assignment is based on the social and emotional needs of the student and to ensure proper peer mentoring is enhanced with the right fit of students within a house. Traditionally, however, once a pupil has been assigned to a house, any younger siblings he or she has may automatically become members of that house when they arrive at the school, but this varies from school to school. (This tradition sometimes extends to the children of former pupils.)

One notable feature of the house system is the nomination and election, or appointment, of house captains for the junior and senior school, whose job it is to run the entire house, with staff assigned to the house serving only as advisors and mentors. Large schools may have a house captain for each year group (with vice-captains in the largest schools).

In boarding schools the term housemaster is held by the member of staff responsible for pupils living in a particular dormitory. In state schools, members of staff are appointed as (or volunteer to become) head of house. However, both terms can be used at either style of school for the sake of formality.
Other uses
The term "house system" is also used to refer to the residential college
Residential college
A residential college is an organisational pattern for a division of a university that places academic activity in a community setting of students and faculty, usually at a residence and with shared meals, the college having a degree of autonomy and a federated relationship with the overall...

 systems found in some colleges and universities, such as Caltech, Yale College
Yale College
Yale College was the official name of Yale University from 1718 to 1887. The name now refers to the undergraduate part of the university. Each undergraduate student is assigned to one of 12 residential colleges.-Residential colleges:...

, Harvard College
Harvard College
Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of two schools within Harvard University granting undergraduate degrees...

, and University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

. These systems are based on the college systems of Oxford
University of Oxford
The University of Oxford is a university located in Oxford, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest surviving university in the world and the oldest in the English-speaking world. Although its exact date of foundation is unclear, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096...

 and Cambridge Universities
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 in the United Kingdom, which in turn share many similarities with the house systems of British secondary schools.
Prominence in school stories
The first boarding school story was Sarah Fielding's The Governess: or Little Female Academy, published in 1749. They didn't become popular until 1857, with Tom Hughes' novel Tom Brown's School Days. The house system has since featured prominently at many thousands of school stories books, with many authors writing whole series of books like Chalet School
Chalet School
The Chalet School is a series of approximately sixty school story novels by Elinor Brent-Dyer, initially published between 1925 and 1970. The school was initially located in Austria, moved to Guernsey in 1939, following the rise to power of the Nazi Party, then to "Plas Howell", a house on the...

, Mallory Towers, Jennings
Jennings (novels)
The Jennings series is a collection of humorous novels of children's literature concerning the escapades of J C T Jennings, a schoolboy at Linbury Court preparatory school in England. There are 25 in total, all written by Anthony Buckeridge...

 and Billy Bunter
Billy Bunter
William George Bunter , is a fictional character created by Charles Hamilton using the pen name Frank Richards...

, which have been published around the world and translated to several languages. The Harry Potter
Harry Potter
Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

 books and films (re)popularized this genre, and created unprecedented popularity of British boarding schools (and its associated house system) in countries where they were previously unknown.

These stories depict the popular conception of a British boarding school rather than how these boarding schools work in reality, and focused in the most positive aspects. For example, loyalty to own's house is very important in real life houses, and it's featured prominently in these books. The Harry Potter books have updated the boarding school to modern values, for example by using mixed-sex education houses. Many British people never went to a boarding school, but have integrated their values by reading these books.

The translators of the foreign editions of the Harry Potter books had difficulties translating the "house" concept in countries like Russia, because there was no adequate word that could convey the importance of belonging to a certain house, the loyalty owed to your house, and the pride in the prizes won by your own house. This forces translators to insert extra explanations in the dialogues, making foreign readers think that the house and boarding systems were a special feature of the fantasy setting, when they are really a real word feature doesn't need to be explained to any typical British child. The French translation doesn't explain the differences between the French and English real-world boarding schools, including that French houses are not responsible for their own discipline via head girls/boys.
See also
  • Harvard House system
  • House System at the California Institute of Technology
    House System at the California Institute of Technology
    The House System is the basis of undergraduate student residence at the California Institute of Technology . Caltech's unique House system is modeled after the residential college system of Oxford and Cambridge in England, although the houses are probably more similar in size and character to the...

  • Hogwarts houses, fictional houses in Harry Potter
    Harry Potter
    Harry Potter is a series of seven fantasy novels written by the British author J. K. Rowling. The books chronicle the adventures of the adolescent wizard Harry Potter and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, all of whom are students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry...

     books
  • Ball culture
    Ball culture
    Ball culture, the house system, the ballroom community and similar terms describe the underground LGBT subculture in the United States in which people "walk" for trophies and prizes at events known as balls. Those who walk often also dance and vogue while others compete in various genres of drag...

    , a North American sub-culture also known as the House System