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State Boarding SchoolsIf you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer. These have seen a surge of popularity in recent years, partly due to family breakdowns, and partly due to increasing numbers of families with both parents working long hours. ‘We all work hard during the week, and get together at weekends,’ said one father. ‘It’s much less stressful than trying to oversee homework and music practice after a long day at work and travelling, and she is happy to spend week nights at school with her friends.’ Those offering full boarding are popular with families working abroad, in the Forces, the Diplomatic service or with international companies.

What do State Boarding Schools cost?

They are comparatively cheap – mostly somewhere between £10,000-£14,000 a year in boarding fees – because the government foots the bill for tuition. The majority of pupils in most state boarding schools are day pupils, but many stay for after-school activities alongside the boarders – ‘a boarding experience minus the bed,’ as one school put it. Some of the schools, such as Gordon’s in Surrey, levy a compulsory ‘day boarding’ fee of several thousand pounds to all day pupils to cover after-school activities (though bursaries are available for low income families). Others, such as Hockerill Anglo-European, have free day places for normal school hours attendance, but charge a day boarding fee to those who wish to arrive for breakfast and stay for activities, supper and homework.

Who can apply?

As with other state schools, these are open to British citizens, EU passport holders and anyone with a right of residence in the UK. Some are academically selective, some are single sex, and they are permitted to interview pupils (which other state schools are not) in order to ensure they are suitable candidates for boarding.

How many are there?

There are 38 in England, including one in the Scilly Isles, plus one each in Wales and Scotland – the latter for children from Forces families – with a total of some 5000+ places. Some offer full boarding, others only weekly boarding, some have boarding for sixth formers only and one is a specialist sixth form college run by the MOD.

What to consider

As with any other school, read prospectuses, school magazines and newsletters, inspection reports and reviews, such as those in this book; we review about half of British state boarding schools, and we have extensive data for all of them on our website.

Distance: how far are you prepared to travel for concerts, parents’ evenings, matches and weekend pick ups? Many seasoned boarding school parents caution against choosing a school more than about 90 minutes away.

Activities: what happens after school and at weekends? Do activities accord with your child’s interests and abilities, whether in sport, music, art or drama?

‘The John Muir award for conservation is undertaken by everyone; beyond that the surrounding mountains and lakes create a whole realm of opportunities to get seriously wet and/or muddy with canoeing, raft-building, orienteering, sailing, rock-climbing, fell-running, horse-riding, mountain biking and skiing all on offer.’ Extract from the GSG review of Keswick School.

‘Sporting whizzes will be right at home here. The head reels off a long list of current and former pupils who are competing at the highest levels. ‘We’re very good at tennis, we’ve got the under-14 number two in the country. We’ve allowed him to reduce his timetable and take time off school. One girl is representing the country in the under-19 MCC ladies' cricket team. Two girls represent England in the ISF World Cross Country Under-18 championship’….’ Extract from the GSG review of Sir Roger Manwood’s School.

Numbers: how many boarders are there of your child’s age? And how many regularly stay in school at weekends? If you are considering full boarding, it’s vital that your child doesn’t spend weekends rattling around with few friends or activities.

Entrance: if it is academically selective, is your child likely to make the grade?

‘Ferocious competition for places. Selection subject to success at 11+ exam and Buckinghamshire criteria, including the ever-moveable feast of catchment. School’s own procedure adopted as and when places become available higher up the school.’ Extract from the GSG review of the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe.

On your visit

Draw up a shortlist and arrange visits. Don’t expect the schools to have the extensive grounds and expensive facilities of many independent boarding schools – though some do. Some tattiness won’t matter, but if you sense neglect, beware. Don’t assume single en suite rooms are essential: many younger children in particular like the camaraderie of dormitories. Most important is the atmosphere. Could you imagine your child living here? Does it feel friendly? Are pupils happy and enthusiastic? And most of all – is your child keen to join?

‘Staff say it's a lovely place and all want their children to come. 'Every year someone's child doesn't get through the exam and it is a real sadness for everyone'. Parents say it is warm and friendly and has the intimate feel of a small school. Pupils spontaneously want to share not only personal news but also what they have been reading or hearing. There is an informality about the relationships and a sense of mutual respect.’ Extract from the GSG review of Adams’ Grammar School in Shropshire.

‘Very strong community feel, with everyone getting involved. ’Not just a place to be - a place where you grow up,’ said one remarkably mature young man. Strong sense of mutual respect between teachers and pupils: ‘Teachers give a lot. We want the knowledge and the teachers help us to learn’. Extract from the GSG review of Hockerill Anglo-European College.

The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants State School Service (SSS)

In order to meet the needs of increasing numbers of enquirers who are interested in the state sector only, this service (The SSS) will advise and support parents who are committed to state sector education and who need help with eg admissions criteria, catchment areas, grammar schools etc. This service has its own price structure. Read more about The State School Service.

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