What about boarding schools?


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

The Independent Schools Council (ISC) is a membership organisation that brings together seven education associations and works on behalf of more than 1,300 independent 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 2019 ISC Census showed that 69,155 pupils board at ISC schools. Overall 473 schools, representing 35 per cent of all ISC schools, have some boarding pupils. 

Parents are able to choose between different types of boarding to suit their child. Although full boarding remains most popular overall, the pattern appears to be changing with weekly and flexi boarding becoming more popular. The proportion of weekly and flexi boarders has increased for three consecutive years. In 2016, 15.7 per cent of boarders were weekly or flexi boarders.  This year it stands at
17.9 per cent. Many working parents value the flexibility of these boarding options. There are variations between different age groups. For the sector as a whole, 13 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 2019, average fee increases were 3.7 per cent. A total of 176,633 pupils now receive help with their fees to a value of over £1 billion, an increase of 5.3 per cent on last year. 

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. 

More than 40,000 pupils receive means-tested bursaries, valued at over £400 million. The average bursary is worth £9,634 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:

l They are able to offer a wide range of extra-curricular activities to a high proportion of pupils because more time is spent by pupils on the school grounds. These schools also tend to attract staff who want to be involved in sport, music or drama at a high level.

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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