The UK has the world’s most famous boarding schools, many of which are exhibiting at the Independent Schools Show. The Show is an excellent opportunity to meet the world's leading schools, discuss entrance requirements, fees and bursaries, think about taster days, and consider whether a first class education would be right for your child.
The oldest boarding schools were established over 1000 years ago (The Kings School Canterbury, Westminster School) but some very well-known schools such as Millfield and Stowe were founded less than a century ago. UK boarding schools, whatever their age, have invested heavily over the last 30 years and their pupils enjoy world-class facilities.
Is your child a future leader?
Contrary to what some people think, former boarding school pupils don’t rule the world – but they would probably give it their best shot if the post became available. Famous former boarders of course include David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Justin Welby, but alumni are not just at the front in politics, the Conservative party or the church. Carey Mulligan, Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch all boarded. Boarding breeds top entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, business leaders, musicians and sporting heroes.
Indeed it is a common complaint, usually from those who did not go to one, that boarding school pupils still dominate Britain’s elite.
Boarding might make you think of Jennings or Harry Potter but those stories are based on conditions fifty years ago. Cold showers, huge dorms and bare floorboards are things of the past. The boarding houses are cosy, and children are encouraged to arrive with their creature comforts. Boarders are now even heard to rate the food!
Many children do not suit the highly pressured academic bubble of London schools. If you haven’t considered boarding for your child, below are a few reasons you should be exploring them:
- Complementing family life – a main concern of parents is how detrimental a child boarding may be to their family life and how it will make their relationships feel fractured. The opposite may actually be true. The teenage years are a testing time for the whole family – often filled with daily arguments about homework, too much screen time or an over hectic social life. Boarding schools enable you to look forward to quality time with your children at the weekends and during the holidays.
- Around the clock entertainment - children need a huge amount of entertainment and as they get older increasingly prefer to spend time with their friends rather than with their parents. In a boarding environment not only is there continual activity but the student is part of a strong community. Friends made at boarding school last for life.
- Extensive facilities - boarding schools usually have beautiful and inspiring buildings, spacious grounds and world-class facilities with great libraries, laboratories and IT. Those studying subjects such as music, theatre studies and art benefit from around-the-clock access to facilities and likeminded peers with whom to practice and develop ideas and projects.
- Time not spent in a car or coach - imagine no commute to school and no journeys to after-school clubs. Music lessons, sports coaching, play dates all happen on campus. Think of the hours saved each day for you and your child to have more fun and be more productive.
- Country life - the majority of boarding schools are outside London. This has significant pluses – far more space for sports grounds and facilities, as well as for outward bounds, climbing and other adventurous activities.
- Catering for a wide range of academic abilities - entrance to the top London schools is highly competitive. Some boarding schools are also highly selective but many cater for a far wider mix of abilities (see last week’s UPDATE on value-added). If your child is a late-starter, or they have learning difficulties and would benefit from somewhere nurturing, boarding can be a game-changer.
Some frequently asked questions
- What age can my child start boarding?
There are definitely good ages to start boarding. Prep boarding starts at the age of 8, but many children wait and join for the last two or three years when they are 10 or 11. This is a great preparation for senior school boarding which starts at 11 for girls or 13 for boys / children at co-ed schools. Boarding through the sixth form is also very popular, with some teenagers starting to board at 16 as a preparation for university life.
- Can I afford the fees?
Fees are expensive – over £8000 per term is common. There are bursaries and scholarships available, but even without these many parents find boarding school surprisingly cost-effective. If you are considering boarding fees versus London day school fees, then the additional cost of boarding compares well with having full-time childcare (a nanny or au pair requires a salary, a bedroom and perhaps a car).
- Can my child try boarding to see whether they would like it?
Absolutely – most boarding prep schools (for children up to the age of 13) run taster nights.
- How often can my child come home?
The days of whole terms away from home are long gone. Boarding schools have lots of exeats (full weekends off) and long half-term breaks. Lots of children weekly-board and some children now ‘flexi-board’. It is not unheard for children to board a few nights a week when their parents are busy.
- How do I know my child will be safe?
Since April 2007 all boarding provision is now inspected by Ofsted every three years. This is a rigorous inspection regime and all reports are made public. Parents have never been better informed about the quality of care in boarding schools.