What is a boarding school UK?

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Boarding school is a part of one of the biggest debates in the UK as parents argue over whether the experience enhances or hinders a child. There are several different types of school in the UK, boarding being one of them. On top of this, there are several branches of boarding school, some less extreme and some more. As a parent choosing a school for your child, it’s important to consider all the options available. But in order to do this, first you must know what a boarding school is.

By definition, a boarding school is an institution where students both learn and live on site during term time. Whilst at boarding school, students are given a dorm room, usually shared, meals and other essentials. Although most boarding schools are private, there are a sprinkling of public, free boarding schools in the UK. No matter what type of boarding school it is, however, there will always be a boarding fee to pay.

For more information about what boarding schools are, including the costs involved, where boarding schools can be found in the UK and an overview of the pros and cons, keep reading.

What is a boarding school?

Boarding school is a form of educatory institution where students can live on site inside school term time. The word “boarding” literally means to stay, so when you hear the term boarding school, it means there is some form of living and sleeping area on the premises.

At some boarding schools, students have the option to choose whether to board or not, whereas at others, being at school all the time is mandatory. This depends on the institution you choose to attend and the activities they provide.

For example, some schools have Saturday school and compulsory sports and art classes after school. These could not be attended if students didn’t stay at school so late.

Those students who choose not to board will be able to leave after school and at the weekends. This is called being a “day” pupil. In the present day, schools who force pupils to board are becoming fewer and further between, so most pupils at boarding school can choose whether to stay or not.

As well as this, lots of boarding schools take on part-time boarders. These are pupils who only stay at school for a few nights a week or during the week to then return home at the weekends. For more general information about what boarding schools are, click here to view the Study UK website.

How does accommodation work at boarding school?

The facilities and accommodation vary between boarding schools. Generally, pupils are assigned a “house”, as with most academies, both state and private. However, at boarding schools, the house is more than just a title. It will be an actual building where students have a common room, places to relax during breaks, lunch and after-school, and most importantly, the bedrooms.

Depending on the school, students will either be in large, shared dormitories, or paired up in rooms of two. One common feature of the rooming system is that boys and girls are kept in separate sleeping areas.

Sometimes, the rooms are structured so that younger pupils are lumped together in larger groups whilst the older students get given their own private space. But again, this all depends on the boarding school you go to. This is one of the many questions you should be asking if inquiring into the possibility of attending a particular boarding school.

Alongside the rooms, there will either be a large, shared bathroom between the whole house or smaller bathrooms assigned to each room of children. Generally, if a student has their own private bedroom, this will not come with a private bathroom as well.

Are all boarding schools private?

In the UK, as of 2022, there are around 170 boarding schools available for pupils to join. Generally, most boarding schools in the UK are private due to the history behind the schools. At lots of private schools, boarding is available not so that students can attend school far away from home, but because of school tradition.

There was a time when all private schools were boarding. However, the feature has since been removed from most independent schools due to its declining popularity.

Despite the tradition, there are 34 non-private institutions providing boarding, as of 2022. These schools are mainly designed for children who either live in remote areas or are international, meaning they do not live close to school. This is why most students at state boarding schools are simply there for the day.

For more information on how state boarding schools operate, click here and read this government article.

As public boarding schools are few and far between, they have a highly selective acceptance program. This means that most students who attend state boarding schools have an outstanding feature which sells them to the school, such as sportiness, creativity, or intelligence.

For parents looking to send their children to boarding school, you can opt for either the private or public route. Both have their positives and negatives, so it’s important to decide on the most important features of a school for you as you can then look specifically for these.

This Think Student article delves into the pros and cons of attending private school, boarding or not, and whether it is worth paying the extra money.

Are any boarding schools free?

Of the many boarding schools in the UK, most of them charge both education and boarding fees. These are the independent institutions who do not receive public funding from the government. However, the point of a state school is to provide students with education for free as the government provides a budget to the school each year for school supplies and teachers’ salaries.

For this reason, day students at public boarding schools should not be required, by law, to pay any fees for their tuition. This doesn’t mean to say that they won’t need to pay extras for things like school trips and extra-curricular activities.

On top of this, any students who board will have to pay accommodation fees, even at public boarding schools. This will incorporate the cost of meals and access to extras such as showers and television. The fee also covers the cost of paying staff to stay after hours to supervise children.

How much do boarding schools cost?

Although there are some boarding schools who do not charge fees, the majority do, and so if you are thinking of applying to boarding school, it’s important to keep these costs in mind.

At a state boarding school, the cost of accommodation can range from £10,000 to £18,000 per year depending on the school. Some will charge extra money for students who request private bedrooms and bathrooms. For a more detailed explanation of the costs involved in state boarding school, as well as some other pros and cons, click here to view this Good Schools Guide article.

At private school, they not only charge fees for the accommodation, but also for the tuition itself. At a non-boarding private school, the fees are upward of £10,000 per year, with the average private school charging around £15,000 per year.

Not only is there an added boarding cost at boarding cost, but the tuition fees are generally higher as well. This is down to the fact that boarding students can stay in lessons for longer and participate in more after-school activities.

The day fees for a boarding school are closer to £30,000 per year on average, with the highest-class boarding schools such as Eton charging almost £50,000 per annum. You can read more about the fees for private schools, both boarding and not, in this article.

Most private boarding schools charge the money for either “weekly boarding” or “full boarding”. Weekly boarders only stay at school from Monday to Friday and go home at the weekends, which costs around £10,000 per year. Full boarders stay for the entire term, including weekends, and pay closer to £12,000 each year.

Can you reduce the cost of boarding school?

Although private boarding schools are massively expensive, lots of them provide ways for students to reduce their fees. One of these is through scholarships, which are awarded to “exceptional” students.

Usually, how this works is that students in Years 6, 8 and 11 can take a set of exams in a certain subject or subject area (such as the Arts). If they prove themselves to have exceptional academic, artistic, or sporting ability over other students, they may be awarded a reduction in fees by the school.

The other method of fee reduction is called a bursary. This is very similar, but students are not in competition with each other. Generally, the point of a scholarship is to allow a student to prove their ability, whereas a bursary is given for talent, but more because a parent is struggling to pay the fees.

This Think Student article describes what a bursary is, reasons you may be granted with one, and how to apply.

The reason bursaries and scholarships exist is because boarding and private schools want to increase the intake of students into their school. Having very talented students attending the school makes prospective parents more likely to sign their own children up. For this reason, the school is willing to allow talented children into the school at a discounted price.

How many boarding schools are there in the UK?

In the UK, there are just under 170 different boarding schools accepting admissions applications from students. To view a full alphabetical list of every boarding school up and down the country, click here from the BSA’s guide to boarding schools.

However, as a parent, the process of finding a boarding school should take several factors into consideration. The school you choose can all depend on your child’s age, gender, location and even hobbies and interests.

It is so important that you start your search for the right boarding school by making a checklist of the key points you look for in a place of education. This will allow you to filter out any schools that don’t suit you immediately, making the process that little bit easier.

What factors should you consider when choosing a school?

The first of the factors, gender, affects lots of boarding schools. For example, there are only 23 all-girls boarding schools in the UK, if a single-gender school is what you’re looking for. In the same way, there are 51 boarding schools in the UK which purely provide senior education. This means that there is no option for children under the age of 11 to attend.

Location is far less restrictive than the first two factors in that it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re child moves particularly far away as they stay overnight during term time anyway. However, there may still be a particular town or city which you would like to send your children to for whatever reason. You may also want to keep them close if they plan on boarding weekly rather than termly.

Several search engines have been created on various websites allowing you to filter boarding schools by location. You can find one of these, looking specifically at London, if you click here, on the Schools Search website.

Some boarding schools in the UK are specialised to a certain subject or subject area. For example, Tring Park School in Hertfordshire is specialised to the performing arts, so students receive extra lessons in drama, music and dance each week. Specialised schools like this exist for almost all subjects, including sport, science and art.

You may also opt for the state option when looking for a school. As there are so few, they can be difficult to find. However, this article taken from the UK Boarding Schools website contains a list of every state boarding school in the UK.

How do you apply for boarding school?

Unlike with universities and UCAS, there is no set application process for boarding school. Each school will have its own requirements and unique deadlines. Instead, you will have to research and contact each individual school you plan to apply for before well in advance to find out what is required of you.

The applications process could be at any time in the year, so make sure you visit any open days during the first term. You can then decide on your preferred and back-up choices and still have plenty of time to apply before the deadlines.

Most independent schools, boarding or not, have an entrance exam which is taken by all pupils as a baseline intelligence test. This will be at the national average difficulty for whichever age group your child is entering, testing verbal and numerical reasoning, English and maths.

The highest brow boarding schools will have lots of forms for you to fill in as a parent. Part of this may be asking for a reference from previous schools, which it is your responsibility as a parent to source. Generally, this can just be a simple statement from a teacher or member of SLT commenting on your child’s attendance, work ethic and ability.

Is boarding school worth it?

Boarding school is a controversial concept amongst many parents. Some believe it gives children the fullest possible education whilst others think it weakens the family bond. There are arguments both for and against boarding school which should be considered.

For one, being at school all the time reduces time wasted travelling to and from school which means lessons can start earlier, finish later and breaks can be longer. As well as this, any extra-curricular activities such as sports practices can be carried out more regularly without any interruption.

However, on the flip side, the biggest problem with boarding school is that parents are unable to see their children for extended periods of time. This can massively hinder the development of the child-parent connection. Being at school constantly also means that any activities or hobbies outside school like Scouts may have to be given up.

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