There are many questions to answer when considering a boarding education. Will your child thrive in a large, all-through school with a rigorous academic curriculum, or a smaller standalone prep with a very nurturing, family community. Do you want them to have a co-ed or single sex education? And would you prefer a school offering plenty of fresh air in acres of land or a city-based school with facilities on its doorstep?
Do you want a full or flexible boarding programme? In a fresh approach, schools have started to offer more flexible boarding programmes, where students can stay over for a single or occasional night, which can help with the demanding lifestyles that many working parents have. Schools are also offering students a taste of boarding life; students at Belmont School are given vouchers to exchange for four nights of free boarding, for example.
If choosing a weekly boarding programme, you may be able to save yourself a three-hour round trip every Friday evening and Monday morning by sending your child on a school bus. Hatherop Castle has a free escorted travel service for its weekly and full boarders that leaves on a Friday afternoon and returns Sunday afternoon; Dragon School, Oxford has a supervised bus service from Central London every Sunday evening, meaning students can get back to school in less than one hour, and Cranleigh Prep has a bus service that runs to and from London for weekly boarders.
Where will your child be sleeping at night? Many schools are investing in improved, modern boarding facilities that can offer that ‘home away from home’ experience. The all boys’ Pilgrims’ School in Winchester, for example, has themed rooms including a superhero dorm, surf shack, Beano room, and sports den.
Also, how does the school make your child feel ‘at home’. The prep schools that stand out make the extra effort to make students feel part of their houseparents’ extended family, whether that’s walking the house dog or having Friday night social events. All Hallows Prep, for example, has introduced a Boarding Pass, used by boarders to invite a day student friend for a free overnight stay.
To help you narrow down that shortlist of boarding prep schools for your child, we recommend you take a close look at these schools…
Set in the stunning county of Cumbria, this small and friendly full boarding school is like a breath of fresh air for outdoorsy, sporty students. Casterton Sedbergh Preparatory School (and its sister Sedbergh School) is an unpretentious, happy school that is renowned for its pastoral care and sporting excellence. The prep school offers the “breathing space for its pupils to enjoy childhood” (whether that’s caring for the school chickens, goats and rabbits or guided reading in the Secret Garden).
There are 180 day and boarding students in the prep school and 550 in the senior school, and around 20% are international students. With 95% of students boarding at Sedbergh, it offers a full and very real English boarding experience where students eat lunch and dinner together in their house dining room, and they enter house challenges together. It all helps to create a tight-knit, cross-year community where students are supported and well-known by staff they get to know well.
The majority of boarders in Years 3 to 8 at Casterton are full or weekly, but there is also the option of Tri-Boarding (any three nights during the week) and Flexi-Boarding (occasional one-offs to a regular one or two nights per week).
Why we like it
Read our full review of Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School.
Located in West Sussex, Cottesmore School is a small, popular co-ed countryside prep with a reputation for producing well-rounded students who are ready to take on the next steps of their education at some of the UK’s leading senior schools. It has an excellent boarding programme, a beautiful location, and a record of sporting success. An innovative academic curriculum, plenty of outdoor activity and a healthy balance between play and hard work make up what is known as the Cottesmore Experience.
The school's warm, family vibe makes Cottesmore feel hugely welcoming (particularly for boarders from Year 3 upwards), and its forward-thinking curriculum prepares students exceptionally well for Year 9 entrance exams. Cottesmore’s boarding programme is excellent, and it has been recognised in several high profile awards. The school offers a full boarding programme to children, which is best described as a home away from home.
Cottesmore is a full-boarding prep (no day, flexi or weekly options here) and around 80% of students are boarders who stay in the 25 dormitories in the school’s main manor house. With 90% of its teaching and pastoral staff living on the school’s estate (the Headmaster’s house is located on the grounds too), there’s a strong family atmosphere.
Why we like it
Read our full review of Cottesmore School.
Dragon School, Oxford is a co-ed day and boarding Pre-prep and Prep School for four to 13 year olds. It combines a well-rounded curriculum with bespoke support on moving to senior schools – and the school has a track record of sending children onto some of the UK’s most selective private schools including Harrow, Eton College, Wycombe Abbey, Oundle, Magdalen College School and Wellington College.
The Dragon School offers a choice of full, weekly and flexi boarding from Year 4. Students live with dedicated houseparents in one of 10 family-style boarding houses. All boarding houses are located close to the main school buildings; there are two Junior Girls’ Houses and two Junior Boys’ Houses, with a maximum of 25 children each, as well as two Senior Girls’ Houses and two Senior Boys’ Houses.
Compulsory academic lessons on Saturdays have been replaced with the Dragon QUEST Saturday enrichment programme, which is now attended by around 85% of Year 4-5 students. Weekly boarders can leave after school on Fridays or stay for Dragon QUEST activities such as Japanese pottery and The Great Dragon Debate. There’s a popular supervised bus service from Central London to the school every Sunday evening too, making it even easier for students to make a weekly commute.
Why we like it
Read our full review of Dragon School, Oxford.
Dean Close Prep is a small independent day and boarding school in the Cotswolds. There are close links between the prep and senior schools and campuses, which occupy 50 acres of the town, and students in the lower years benefit hugely from sharing the facilities and specialist teachers of the senior school.
The school has around 150 pupils in the Pre-Prep (ages 2-7), 300 pupils in the Prep (ages 7-13) and 500 in Dean Close School (ages 13-18). There’s a large boarding community, accounting for around 55% of the total student body, and students come from both the local area and overseas. Students in the Prep school can board from Year 3. There are six day and boarding houses all located in the Prep school grounds, including a junior boarding house which offers a very nurturing ‘home away from home’ environment for the school’s youngest boarders.
Dean Close’s family vibe is built on a very strong house system, and students are quickly made to feel part of the community whether boarding or spending time before and after school in a day house with a mix of students aged seven to 13 years.
Why we like it
Read our full review of Dean Close Prep.
Students looking for an excellent education within the stunning surrounds of the Scottish capital should seriously consider a boarding life in the turreted (and superbly equipped) campus of Fettes College.
With its distinct uniform (the girls wear tartan skirts and the boys wear pink and brown-striped blazers), Fettes has a rather lovely traditional feel to it. There’s a close-knit, caring community here, helped in part by a well-established house system; while in the minority, day students are given that sense of belonging by being assigned to a boarding house and having their own study area too.
Fettes is a full boarding school, and there are currently no options for flexi or weekly boarding. There’s a huge boarding community here, and students stay in 10 boarding houses: two for Juniors (housing around 70 students), four for Senior girls, four for Senior boys (total of 550 students), and a Sixth Form house (100 students) with en-suite study bedrooms.
Why we like it
Read our full review of Fettes Prep.
Royal Alexandra & Albert School is a state day and boarding school with a broad curriculum that works towards a choice of academic and vocational pathways. Located in Reigate, Surrey, it is also one of a small number of all-through state schools in the UK that offer an education from primary through to sixth fro
Students can board from Year 3 through to Year 13 (and many do), and there is a choice of full and flexi boarding programmes costing up to £18,000 a year. There’s a large community of boarders here (nearly half of the school’s cohort are full boarders) and over 660 students are flexi boarders who have their meals and activities at the school but return home in the evenings. For an additional £1,500 (Junior) and £2,100 (Senior) a term, students can stay at school from 7.30am until boarders in their year group go to bed.
There are four boarding houses on campus including one house for Years 3-6. The school’s boarding provision was rated Good by Ofsted inspectors in 2022, highlighting “the child-focused, high quality care provided by the boarding staff” who the report describes as “passionate and dedicated.”
Why we like it
Read our full review of Royal Alexandra & Albert School.
Wycliffe is committed to creating a nurturing and inclusive community for all its students and pairs a flexible curriculum with a diverse extra-curricular programme. Located in the Cotswolds, this co-ed day and boarding school is home to around 700 boys and girls aged 3 to 18 years; the Prep and Senior Schools have separate campuses within half a mile of each other, but they share facilities and teachers.
This is a small school that thrives on having a strong sense of family amongst both day and boarding students; seniors ‘buddy’ younger students, day students can join boarders for daily supper at 5.30pm, and there are houses with common rooms where all students can socialise and work. As well as having one third international students, Wycliffe is a popular choice for military families from the UK; the school is easily accessible from several major Army and RAF bases across the South West, and families pay only 10% of fees thanks to a Forces Bursary from the government.
There are 65 boarders from Years 3 to 8, mostly coming from HM Forces families and around 15 from overseas. In the senior school, there are 220 boarders, with a high percentage of coming from Forces Families from Year 3 through to Year 13 (33%).
Read our full review of Wycliffe Prep.
Students can board from Year 3 at Clayesmore, a rural day and boarding school in North Dorset with a Prep, Senior and Sixth Form. It is a school with plenty of wide-open space, which is used extensively to offer an holistic education that is delivered in the fresh air as much as in the classroom.
Clayesmore is a dynamic, forward-thinking school that clearly challenges itself to keep learning relevant. In the last few years, it has replaced the traditional Saturday school with an innovative programme covering the Great Outdoors; Arts, Creativity and Culture; Enterprise/Employability; Academic Extension; and Service/Leadership.
The Prep boarding home for around 70 students in Years 3-8 has a strong focus on creating that home away from home atmosphere for the school’s youngest boarders. One boarding house at Clayesmore is in the former village rectory where students enjoy a wonderful garden with a small football pitch. Another is a purpose-built boarding house by the lake where there’s a wonderful community spirit with 'family' groups of girls and regular Crumpet Frumpet Fridays. Forces families who receive the CEA get an additional 22% (Prep) and 15% (Senior) discount off the full boarding fees.
Why we like it
Read our full review of Clayesmore School.
Port Regis is a countryside prep with a flexible boarding programme from Year 3 that offers excellent preparation for admission to leading senior schools in the UK.
Boarding is very popular at Port Regis, with around 75% of students choosing full, flexi or occasional boarding and almost 100% choose to board by their final year. The school’s flexible boarding programme is perfectly suited to the demands of modern working life; most boarders stay for the week and return home at weekends to enjoy that perfect balance of school-family life and many students take up the 'local boarding' package of two nights a week which is included in the fees for Year 3.
The school has created a real ‘home away from home’ atmosphere in its four boarding houses – two houses for 7-11 year-olds in the main Mansion building, and two purpose-built single sex houses for 11-13 year-olds. In each house, houseparents, house mothers (matrons) and big ‘brothers and sisters’ (gap year students known affectionately as ‘gappies’) are there to offer support, guidance, and join in the fun! There are some excellent facilities (everything from table football to cinema rooms), a close-knit community where students can be awarded 'dorm winner' for the tidiest dorms and 'star of the week', and a busy programme of evening and weekend activities.
Why we like it
Read our full review of Port Regis.