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What about boarding schools?

– Barnaby Lenon, Head Master of Harrow School, 1999–2011, and Chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC)
What is the Independent Schools Council?

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) is the organisation that brings together and works on behalf of independent fee-paying schools in the United Kingdom, which educate more than 500,000 children every year. 

We are at a moment in the history of English education when there is an unprecedented amount of change. The whole curriculum for pupils aged five to 16 has been rewritten and revised A levels and GCSEs are being introduced. Schools are being given more freedoms but also greater responsibilities. 

ISC’s main activity is lobbying the government. Every week a new initiative is announced and we seek to express the views of independent schools to policy-makers.

We also work with the press (stories about our schools appear in the media every day) and we do research on behalf of independent schools. For example: trends in university admissions, the collection of statistics for the annual ISC Census and exam results.

Importantly for our members, ISC provides a central base in London where all the various types of independent school (prep schools, mixed and single-sex, academically selective and non-selective, day and boarding) can come together to discuss issues of common interest.

What about boarding schools?

Boarding schools continue to be popular in the twenty-first century, offering exceptional education and extra-curricular activities with round-the-clock pastoral care.

Despite the recession, boarding schools are doing well and numbers have increased. The 2015 ISC Census showed that 70,642 pupils board at ISC schools, making up 14% of total pupil numbers. A total of 485 schools, representing 39% of all ISC schools, have some boarding pupils.

Parents are able to choose between different types of boarding to suit their child. Around 85% of boarders are full boarders, with the rest choosing weekly or flexi boarding. There are strong variations between different age groups. 14% of ISC pupils board. At sixth form this proportion more than doubles to over one third of all pupils boarding. For junior pupils this proportion is significantly lower, less than 2%.

Non-British pupils with parents living overseas make up just over 5% of the total ISC pupil population in 2015. The two parts of the world supplying the largest numbers of these overseas pupils are Hong Kong and China.

Pupils from overseas
The parents of these pupils choose British schools because they are keen for their children to master the English language, because they understand the significance of extra-curricular activities as part of the wider education, and because they know that attendance of a British school may be the best way to gain admission to a British university.

A number of boarding and day schools have set up franchise schools abroad. While I was Head Master at Harrow we built schools in Thailand, Beijing and Hong Kong. These schools pay a fee to the British school and this money helps to keep down the fee paid by parents at the British school. In return, the UK school provides advice and monitors the franchise school in a way which guarantees standards.

This year school fees have shown the lowest annual increase, at 3.6%, since 1994.

An unprecedented number of pupils, 170,000, now receive help with their fees to a record value of £836 million, up £60 million from last year. 

This reflects the long-term aim of our schools to increase the amount of bursary provision and widen access to our schools. Over the last 15 years there has been a consistent trend of schools providing fee assistance to increasing number of pupils.

More than 41,000 pupils receive means-tested bursaries, valued at £350 million, an increase of 6% compared to last year. The average bursary is worth £8,277 per pupil per year. There are 5,406 pupils who pay no fees at all.

What are the advantages of a boarding school?   
Parents who work in the armed forces will understand better than anyone the attractions of living in a close community. Boarding schools have other advantages:
  • They are able to offer a much wider range of extra-curricular activities to a high proportion of pupils because boarding schools have much more time with them. These schools also tend to attract staff who want to be involved in sport, music or drama at a high level.

  • The standard of pastoral care is often outstanding and, for children whose parents do not live locally or are away for long periods of time, boarding provides a safe and consistent environment with a well-structured and healthy social life.

  • Boarding schools take pupils from all over the country and all over the world. This is a valuable educational experience in itself: the opportunity to know people from many walks of life and from many different cultures. 

  • And of course boarders do not have to travel to school, something which can be challenging in parts of the country.

What about disadvantages?
The boarding environment is not for everyone.
  • Pupils will not have the same level of privacy that they may have at home and some older pupils can find the loss of freedom quite irksome.

  • Boarding schools are wonderful for the outgoing and active pupil but perhaps less ideal for the shy child.

  • Some children get homesick and of course some parents dislike not being able to see their children every day.

  • Boarding requires substantial investment. However, more than a third of ISC school pupils receive help with their fees.

As with attending any school, choosing to board is a personal decision for parents to make with their child and the support and advice of the school. Every school is different but details of individual schools can be found on their websites. Parents can also carry out a detailed school search and find information about all ISC schools at www.isc.co.uk 


Head Master of Harrow from 1999 to 2011, Barnaby Lenon taught at Eton for 12 years, was Deputy Head Master of Highgate School from 1990 to 1995 and Headmaster of Trinity School, Croydon from 1995 to 1999. He has been a governor of 12 schools and is currently a governor of the Chelsea Academy and chairman of governors of the London Academy of Excellence in Newham, the first Free School to be set up for sixth formers and the first sponsored by a consortium of independent schools. He is Chairman of the Independent Schools Council, a Board member of Ofqual, and a member of the Oxfordshire County Council Education Advisory Board.  

Choosing and assessing schools
School Address Phone Type PR Weblink
Clifton CollegeGuthrie Road Clifton Bristol BS8 3EZ0117 315 7000Bo, D, M, 2-18 
Leweston SchoolSherborne, Dorset. DT9 6EN01963 211010Bo, D, G, M(1-8), 0-18 
Bromsgrove SchoolWorcester Road, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. B61 7DU01527 579679Bo, D, M, 7-18 
Queen Ethelburga's CollegeThorpe Underwood Hall, York. YO26 9SS01423 33 33 30Bo, D, M, 3-18 
Stover, Newton Abbot, Devon. TQ12 6QG01626 354505Bo, D, M, 3-18
Pangbourne Reading RG8 8LA+44 (0)118 9767 416Bo, D, M, 11-18
Dauntsey\'sWest Lavington Devizes SN10 4HE01380 814500Bo, D, M, 11-18 
Myddelton College Peakes Lane, Denbigh. North Wales. LL16 3EN+44 174 547 2201Bo, D, M, 11-18 
Lombard Street, Shackleford, Godalming, Surrey GU8 6AS01483 810266Bo, D, B 7-13
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