Skip to main content

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

Digging deep

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.

Financial considerations

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

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.

Senior schools

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. 



Related articles

  • Special Needs introduction

    Signs of special needs in school age children; how to get help; which type of school to choose; Education, Health and Care Plans ... Read more ... Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need.  Our SEN team helps…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. Subscribe for one month for £15 (£0.49 per day) Subscribe for three months for £36 (£0.41 per day) Subscribe for six months for £60 (£0.33 per day) Subscribe for one year for £105 (£0.29 per day) Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get an exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special…

  • Where to find a state grammar school

    Identifying and locating grammar schools. Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools.

  • Boarding schools explained - the right choice?

    The headmaster/mistress runs the school but boarding houses are usually the domain of either houseparents or, in smaller schools, the head of boarding. Whilst the housemaster/mistress oversee the house, the day-to-day running is usually under the supervision of a matron.

  • Choosing a school for a child with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

 GSG Blog >    In the news >


Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

This month 'Breducation'

Are you knowledgeable about Scottish schools? Would you like to review them for the Good Schools Guide? Click here for more information.