Boarding schools are too expensive for most. But, for those who can afford it, £130 a day might seem good value for full board, 24hr care, loads of activities, and…teaching.
Most discussions about boarding schools tend to develop in one of two ways. The first centres on cost and accessibility. The second centres on the angst of separation and the mitigating benefits. In the time honoured fashion of following everyone else, so will these two posts. When you’ve finished this one you’ll have decided whether boarding is out of the question. And for those still in, “Should I send my child to a boarding school?” will explore some of the pros and cons.
In the UK there are 517 schools that offer boarding to 83,000 pupils; that’s only 0.7% of the total pupil population.
Though there are 35 state boarding schools, the 482 independent boarding schools dominate provision. 29% of independent schools offer boarding, and boarders account for 13.3% of all independent school pupils.
Boarding schools are different today and had to change
With its roots in monastic learning, boarding flourished during the days of Empire when parents in the Armed Forces or overseas administration opted for the trusted standard and continuity of a UK boarding school rather than chance the disruption and variability of education at a series of overseas postings.
But in recent years, the reduction in both the size of the military and the MoD education subsidy led to a steep decline in the number of boarders. Even in the period 1980-2000 the number of boarders in the UK dropped by 40%.
Boarding schools responded in three ways that are relevant today. Firstly, they dramatically improved the quality of their provision. Goodbye Spartan quarters resembling military barracks, hello three and four star accommodation. Secondly, they marketed to wealthy overseas students looking for the cachet of a UK Public School education. Thirdly, they made boarding much more appealing to would be day pupils by promoting weekly boarding (home at the weekends) and flexi boarding (boarding à la carte). The number of boarders has since been stable.
Boarding schools are professional organisations, run by professional people
Let’s just get this one out of the way. UK boarding schools are a fabulous option for schooling. They provide safe and comfortable living quarters from the “homely” to the “boutique hotel”. They offer facilities and activities that parents can’t sustainably provide. And they are regulated. Your child will be cared for by qualified, vetted and compassionate people; people such as teachers, house parents, nurses, matrons, and matey gap-year students. Pastoral care at boarding schools is among the best at any school. Consign any fears of quasi-Victorian correction facilities to the dim and distant past.
Boarding schools are expensive
This is the knock-out blow for the vast majority. Few parents can afford a boarding education for their children. In 2016 the average cost per term for full boarding (81% of boarders were full boarders) rose from £6,900 in Year 3 to £9,400 in the 6th form. In today’s prices that’s an average of £275,000 over a school career…before extras…and from taxed income. Yes, it’s expensive.
Is it any wonder then, that such a large proportion of boarders are children of wealthy foreign nationals, bankers and associated legal and accounting professions? The upside is that these demanding customers drive up standards of provision. Many boarding schools now have professional standard sporting facilities with a consequent increase in fees. The downside is the inevitable homogeneity of the social mix.
Too expensive for the majority of people. But those who can afford it will prefer to take the view that £100-£130 per day/night boarding is excellent value. £100-£130 for the accommodation, meals, round the clock supervision and care, activities and, not forgetting, teaching.