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Mount Kelly boarder in boarding house kitchen6 July 2022

Despite a drop in international pupils due to the pandemic and world events, UK boarding is as strong as ever. Growth has been recorded across all age groups and while the number of younger boarders remains modest, senior schools have seen a surge in interest and a third of private school 6th formers now board. So, for those families feeling drawn to the dorm, here are six insider tips from our boarding school experts to help find the right school for your child. 

1. Pick out a house that’s right for your child.

Plenty of mythology surrounds boarding houses. There’s the sporty house; the one that organises the worst socials; the one with the tasty food….and so on. Take recommendations and criticisms with a pinch of salt. It’s important that you visit a number of houses, meet with housemasters/housemistresses and matrons to ensure you share values relating to things like study, discipline and personal development. You want an ethos to suit your child and an environment where they will feel supported; a comfortable home from home for winter evenings or if they’re laid up in bed with flu. 

2. What’s going on at weekends?

If you’re considering full boarding at a school which offers a mix of full, weekly and flexi boarding you want to make quite sure that there will be plenty to occupy your child at the weekend. Find out how many pupils of your child’s age are typically in school at the weekend and what is laid on for them. If it turns out that 90% of boarders actually go home for Saturday night and those who remain are left to their own devices, then maybe it’s time for a rethink. Alternatively, the school may put on lavish outings, activities and sport for full boarders which are infinitely preferable to a quiet weekend at home with the ‘rents. 

3. Are the beds big enough?

And more generally what’s the state of the living quarters? We’ve seen everything imaginable, from subterranean cells to bright, modern studio apartments - not surprising, given the variety and age range of school buildings. When on a school tour, check out the practicalities in the room such as storage and work space; look at the kitchen facilities; how many showers? And are the beds big enough? We learned on a recent visit to Rugby School that a shipment of new beds has allowed 6 foot plus pupils to sleep comfortably for the first time. Quite important for the home of the first 1st XV! 

4. What are the rules on phones, Siri?

If we had a pound for every variation on phone rules we had witnessed, we’d be a very rich schools guide! Are phones allowed during the school day? At lunch break? Are they allowed in bedrooms at night? Is it different in 6th form? Usually, we find that pupils adapt well to these rules but it’s the parents who want to be able to call up their son or daughter at all times of the day. Once upon a time, Sunday night at boarding school brought with it the promise of the weekly letter home and polishing shoes. Now, when you are so used to firing unlimited communiqués via text, email and calls straight to your child’s pocket, how do you feel about a housemaster acting as gatekeeper to your child’s phone? 

5. A tipple for your teen.

All families have a different approach to alcohol. When handled sensitively it can lead to a teenager having a mature attitude and respect for alcohol. If school is to be a home from home for teenagers, then it too needs to deal with the tricky issue of drink. Does it surprise you to learn that some schools have a bar for pupils? Remove all notions you may have of an onsite Queen Vic, these are places where one pint of beer or a glass of wine is available on a Saturday evening for pupils at the top of the school. Heavily supervised (some schools even breathalyse pupils) and only open to pupils with express parental permission, Eton has ‘Tap’, Malvern College has the ‘Longy’, other schools, Canford, Giggleswick and Uppingham, have bars with rather less catchy names. Some schools have agreements with a local pub to allow pupils over the age of 18 to stop by for a drink at the weekend. All carefully monitored and popular with mum and dad who would rather this approach. ‘They’ve got to be ready for life when they leave,’ we were told by a parent.  

6. Day boarding.

You may be a little undecided as to how keen you are for your child to board and so day boarding could be exactly what you want. Boarding schools have days which start earlier and end later than any day school. If pupils are onsite 24/7 it means staff are too and you will find that everything from sport to academic support can take place at all hours of the day. Day boarders are the ones who take advantage of all of this and yet go home at the end of the day to their own bed. Three meals a day at school; homework done at school; socialising done at school. Some schools charge extra for these perks but it’s a great option for parents who work long days and for children who benefit from this kind of structure.  

Photo credit: Mount Kelly


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