Which Independent School for your child, day or boarding?
There is a huge range of world class schooling available in the UK independent system, both day and boarding. Whilst many parents of younger children baulk at the thought of their child boarding, it is important to consider the way boarding has changed over a generation and what is best for your child.
For some children, either because of your family’s circumstances or because it will be right for them, boarding in some form is the best option and an experience they will benefit from hugely. Boarding provides a strong sense of community and belonging, clearly defined values and expectations of behaviour, and the fostering of responsible citizenship and respect for others. For those coming from overseas, boarding often gives a family access to a world class education that is not available in their home country.
The key to modern boarding is the flexibility offered. Gone are the days of ‘drop them and run’. Schools offer a whole range of options from full, weekly or flexible boarding. For younger children a few nights a week away from home gives them the confidence to convert to more boarding the older they get. Along with greater boarding options, schools now provide a home from home experience with comfortable, colourful rooms decorated by the children, open communications with family and excellent pastoral support. Overseas boarders must have a guardian, preferably a family member who is able to come to the school, or an experienced guardian who engages with the pupil.
Although full boarding remains the most popular boarding pattern, the proportion of weekly and flexi boarders has increased for three consecutive years. With more couples both working to afford independent school fees, knowing their children are safe, happy and engaged in extra-curricular and academic pursuits all week, brings peace of mind.
An important point here for those looking for full boarding - although many schools offer a full weekend programme be sure to check the numbers involved or percentage of pupils there at weekends when you look at schools and question the pupils closely. In many cases, schools empty out on a Saturday afternoon. If you are sending your child hundreds of miles to board, you do not want to find that many of the pupils are going home most weekends.
The day option works well for many families, particularly with younger children, but in cities the pressure for places and hours in the car involved to fulfil extra-curricular activities can be demanding. In London, for example, the pressure for young children with assessments and exams for 7+ and 8+ places is not for the fainthearted. Some children thrive under this pressure but for others, a gentler day route will suit best. With very young children, my advice would be to look at your best local options so that you are able to walk, cycle or scooter to school. As children get older they can travel independently to school and pupils at the top city day schools normally come from a very wide catchment area.
One option is to mix day and boarding with a move to boarding at sixth form. For many, this is a good time to spread their wings and become a little more independent before higher education. Again, look at what works for you as a family with travelling time or proximity to the airport or relations, being a priority. A move at sixth form also gives a pupil a fresh start and can encompass a different curriculum and qualifications. Most boarding schools provide transport links to London and other major centres, as well as airports, to make life easier.
A final word. Don’t be swayed by dinner party or school gate chat. You are not a monster if you send your child to board and you are not a pushy parent if you decide to keep your child in a central London day school. Go with what is best for your child and works for your family.
Diana Morant is Head of Schools and University Consultancy at William Clarence Education