Article published 14th May 2008
It's not just the financial outlay... Most people are aware that, for the vast majority of boarding schools hefty fees and extras are a given, but what about the hidden costs? The social, the emotional?
I’d love to say it gets easier with time…I was so excited when my son went off to boarding school, eager to hear all about his friends, lessons, activities, pillow fights, secret snacks.
After the first term it was a doddle - for him. He’d trundle back to school, his second home, and I’d just feel gutted. I knew about his friends, his adventures, his ups and downs. He was happy and I knew I should be but he wasn’t likely to ever come home again after every school day and tell, or even refuse to tell, of his day... This sense of loss can be quite overwhelming
The greatest stress though is not the bulging bill but the phone call from HM when Johnnie has been in trouble, then proceeded not to dig a hole to bury himself in, but practically excavate the whole foundations. Comfort yourself that you are far from being the only person ever to get such a call. Parents these days can get away with telling the HM ‘I’m paying you, you sort it!’ – though you may feel that this calls for more sang froid than you have just at that moment.
Coping with homesickness
Homesickness is often the first hurdle and, in fairness, most children get at least a touch of it, at whatever age they board. Schools are used to it and should be full of help and advice. Mostly it fades naturally, sometimes it becomes an exercise in parent-control - don’t be shocked if the school says, ‘Susie reserves her homesickness especially for you, then she puts the phone down and skips off to play with her friends...’. Reverse psychology seems to work well:
I always told my children they could pick-up the phone and I’d collect and bring them home any time, no questions asked – to date they never have.
Another parent whose child didn’t appear to be settling after almost a term at prep school decided, after an exeat from hell, that her child would not return. At 6pm on the Sunday, he appeared in the sitting room fully kitted out in uniform, ready to sit out the rest of the term and perhaps a bit more too. Reverse psychology has the additional advantage that, if things really are bad, your child may take you up on your offer.
There’s a whole array of boarding schools with tariffs to match, from free (schools such as Oban High, in Scotland, to which some pupils travel from the far reaches of the Islands and Highlands, to what is effectively, their nearest school) to cheap (state boarding schools, where tuition is free so parents are only charged for the boarding) to the downright pricey who charge the earth ‘because they can’.
Prep schools, perhaps more than any other sector, are struggling to get bodies in beds.
Some still insist on all final year youngsters boarding. It’s seen as good preparation for senior schools.
If children board with us, they’re comfortable, know the staff, know the school, they’re with friends, they get used to being away from home. It lessens the shock of moving to senior school, one less thing to worry about.
However, some parents are digging their stilettos firmly in the Astroturf and refusing to kow-tow. ‘In a way it's a shame for the child, they can be under a lot of pressure in common entrance year. Boarding eases pressure on revision, gives time for activities and builds a sense of camaraderie.’ If financial pressures are the sole reason for wanting to opt out of a final year board, speak to the school. Often there’s a deal to be done and a deal of fun to be had.
There are around 500 independent senior boarding schools. Fees range from around £6,000 a term to over £10,000 for some sixth-formers – with extras (music, trips, individual tuition, books, exams) that can equate to £1K a week for the weeks when they are in school. Of course fees don’t necessarily equate to quality. Don’t assume £9,000 means goose feather pillows and silk sheets. No, £9,000 means you’re more likely than ever to have to supply your own. If you’re going for the more expensive end of the range, make sure that whatever it is that the school is spending your money on is something that your child will benefit from.
Where a school offers both day and boarding places, it’s often easier to get a boarding place than a day one – all those fixed costs the bursar is desperate to cover.
For the same reason, you may be able to negotiate fees where a school is not as full as it would like to be.
State boarding schools
Open to anyone who has a UK Passport or is a EU citizen. Will probably set you back approximately £3,000 per term for the boarding. Facilities are not as luxurious as in some independent schools but, aside of fancy trappings, they’re subject to the same care standards inspections and we have reports of very happy children and contented parents. Many have put on a real turn of academic speed over the last ten years, as parents have discovered their virtues. Class sizes tend to be larger though; they are after all state schools.
The Good Schools Guide and boarding
The Good School Guide reviews more than 450 British boarding schools. The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants is ideally placed to help you find the right school, day or boarding, independent or state for your child.