Fans of Harry Potter or Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers probably have an image in their mind of life at a British boarding school. They may picture swirling gothic spires where young wizards battle on broomsticks or an all-girls’ school perched atop a Cornish cliff. Robin Fletcher, CEO of the Boarding Schools’ Association separates the fantasy from the reality.
Some of this picture is not a million miles from the truth (apart the wizards, of course!), because there are many British boarding schools that look a bit like Hogwarts or having breath-taking ocean views.
The operative word here is ‘many’ because there are more than 450 UK boarding schools, making it one of the largest boarding markets in the world. And with quantity comes choice, whether that’s by size or type of school or just location. There are around 70,000 boarding students in the UK aged seven to 19. The smallest schools have just a handful of boarders while at the other end of the scale there are some with more than 1,000.
Junior (or ‘prep’) boarding schools for instance generally cater for those up to the age of 11 or 13, senior schools from 11 or 13 to 18, and ‘sixth form’ boarding schools aged 16 to 18 or 19. Some schools are ‘all through’ catering for boarders from the age of seven right through to 18 or 19, while some are standalone, catering for more narrow age ranges.
Many UK boarding schools today are co-educational, but there are also still many schools just for boys or girls, and some which are co-ed at junior or sixth form level, but single sex between and 11 and 16.
The final piece of the jigsaw is location. There are UK boarding schools in the heart of London and in tiny villages. There are schools in seaside towns, in the wilds of Scotland, in Northern Ireland, Wales and in every county of England. Different schools suit different people. Some students love the busyness of city or town life, while others prefer the slower pace and better views that come with studying in the rolling countryside.
The unique educational experience provided by a British boarding school affords modern families with a top-quality education and a flexible solution to family life. Academic achievements are fundamental in this fast-changing, global working world, but the ‘extras’ are what really make a boarding school experience count.
The boarding culture fosters meaningful relationships with peers and house staff enabling pupils to gain independence and experience a breadth of opportunities. Each school will have its own specialism and cater for a wide variety of children but what all will have in common is their care for each individual child.
At the heart of every boarding school is the philosophy to ensure that each child is happy, thrives and succeeds, whatever their interests or talents. Whether on the sports field, the concert hall or in the classroom you can be certain that all boarding schools seek to help all pupils achieve their full potential. The structured environment and extended school days are designed to offer pupils a wealth of valuable life experience, in turn enabling them to gain independence and be well-prepared for life beyond school.
Parents may choose for their child to attend boarding school on a full, weekly or flexi-board basis, according to their family schedule. Visits, support at concerts, pitch-side and events are encouraged, as is communication via Skype, email and FaceTime.
Boarding schools work hard to make the transition from home to school as smooth as possible. A sense of community and a busy life outside the classroom while facilitating contact with home helps a child to settle quickly and enjoy all that school life must offer. Most pupils will report that ‘spending time with friends’ is the best part of attending a boarding school.
Boarding will not suit every child or family – but for the right child, in the right school, it can offer an enriching life experience, preparing them for life beyond school.
Learning to live with others with respect and tolerance and having the ability to resolve conflict when it occurs are key skills pupils will need when they enter the working world and experience the challenges of the 21st Century. Often, the achievements, friendships and interests cultivated at boarding school last a lifetime.
As with all schools at the current time, life in British boarding schools at present does look rather different to normal, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But the measures introduced by British boarding schools in the past 12 months have made them one of the safest places to be. Since the pandemic began, schools have implemented strict procedures to minimise risks of a COVID-19 outbreak. The nature of the boarding environment also makes it easier to limit any potential spread of the virus, with students able to be isolated in boarding houses under the care of specialist pastoral staff.
For further information about the Boarding Schools’ Association, or to search for a boarding school, please visit www.boarding.org.uk. In 2020, BSA also teamed up with Bulldog Publishing to launch Schoolplaces.org, a dedicated live information resource for schools, parents and education agents. It enables them to easily identify the right school, in the right place, for the right young person through an easy search tool. It also allows schools to showcase themselves and let parents and agents know why they are the best place for their young person to study. For more information, please visit www.schoolplaces.org.
(this article was previously published in September 2019)
(photos credits to Cottesmore School and Twyford School)