What about boarding schools?

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by Barnaby Lenon, headmaster of Harrow School, 1999–2011, and Chairman of the Independent Schools Council (ISC)
What About Boarding
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What is the Independent Schools Council?

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) is a membership organisation that brings together seven associations and works on behalf of more than 1,300 independent fee-charging schools in the United Kingdom, which educate more than 500,000 children every year. 

The ISC has six principal activities, including lobbying the Government. New initiatives are announced regularly and we seek to express the views of independent schools to policy-makers.

We also work with the press (stories about our schools often appear in the media), we undertake research on behalf of independent schools, for example on trends in university admissions, and we collect statistics for the annual ISC Census and exam results.

Importantly for our members, the ISC provides a central base in London where all 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. 

The 2018 ISC Census showed that 69,979 pupils board at ISC schools, making up 13.2 per cent of total pupil numbers. Overall, 474 schools, representing 36 per cent of all ISC schools, have some boarding pupils. 

Parents are able to choose between different types of boarding to suit their child. Around 85 per cent of boarders are full boarders, with the rest choosing weekly or flexi boarding. There are variations between different age groups. For the sector as a whole, 13.2 per cent of pupils at ISC schools board. At sixth form this proportion more than doubles to over one third of all pupils. For junior pupils this proportion is significantly lower, with only 2 per cent of pupils boarding.

Non-British pupils with parents living overseas made up 5.4 per cent of the total ISC pupil population.

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 a wide education, and because they know that attendance at 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 headmaster 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 fees paid by parents at the British school and can be used to fund transformational bursaries at the UK school. In return, the British school provides advice and monitors the franchise school in a way which guarantees standards.

In 2018, school fees showed the lowest annual increase since 1994, up 3.4 per cent. 171,488 pupils now receive help with their fees to a value of nearly £1 billion.  

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

Over 40,000 pupils receive means-tested bursaries, valued at close to £400 million. The average bursary is worth £9,352 per pupil per year. 

What are the advantages of a boarding school? 

Parents who work in the Armed Forces will especially understand the attractions of living in a close community. Boarding schools have other advantages:

Things to consider

The boarding environment is not for everyone.

As with attending any school, choosing to board is a personal decision for parents to make with their child – and with support and advice from their chosen school. Every school is different and 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

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