While full boarding (where students live on campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week during term time) remains the most common boarding option, most schools offer students from Prep through to Senior the opportunity to spend weekdays at school and weekends at home.
Each school offers its own variation of a flexible boarding model, but essentially it means staying at school for anything from one to six nights a week. Students can get the best of both worlds – a boarding experience during the week, with additional academic and co-curricular activities, and then family time at the weekends.
It can help with the demanding lifestyles that many families have; with some UK independent schools offering last-minute boarding with just 24 hours’ notice, it can really help parents who need to be away for business or other urgent commitments, or anyone trying to juggle the busy schedules of two or more siblings.
Why would a child want to live at school during the week? Well, more sleep, movie and pizza nights, playing with friends, having a hot breakfast every day, and hot chocolate before bed are just a few reasons on the list. Flexi and weekly options can introduce boarding to students who may be considering it in the future, particularly those in Prep School, or it can be the ideal preparation for the move to university life. For students with an early morning swim club or extra-curricular activities that run late into the evenings, it can mean less time travelling during the week (and more time in bed!).
During exam periods, boarding at school during the week can save on travel time which can then be devoted to study time; throughout the year, students can sit with dedicated boarding tutors to help them with their ‘prep’, making battles over homework a distant memory. It can simply give boys and girls more time to immerse themselves in friends and hobbies so that weekends can be dedicated to more family time. (It also means that all meals and laundry are taken care of during the week, another win for the parents!)
So, what are key points to consider before signing up for flexi boarding? There’s the additional cost; occasional boarding varies by school and can be £30 to £65 per night while weekly boarding is around £1,500-2,000 extra per term. Some schools offer free nights of boarding; Farringtons School gives every Senior student the opportunity for one free sleepover each academic year, for example.
Does the school have Saturday school, as this will determine whether your child comes home on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon? Will your child have their own bed? Many schools will provide weekly boarders with their own bed; St Paul’s School in London has a dedicated house for flexi boarders with their own common room. Occasional boarders are less likely to have an allocated bed and will often need to take any personal items back home while they’re not boarding.
Also, how close do you live to the school and what transport services are available? 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.
If you're considering a more flexible alternative to full boarding, here are some of our favourite flexi and weekly boarding options to consider…
This forward-looking co-educational day and boarding school has a reputation for innovative initiatives such as creating a gender-neutral school uniform and becoming a plastic-free campus. And with such a long history of boarding, it is no surprise to see the option of weekly boarding (students can go home on a Friday after school and return either on Sunday evening before 9pm or Monday morning by 8.20am).
As headmaster Richard Cairns says, “4 nights at school, 3 days at home. It’s the perfect mix of education and priceless family time.”
This Pre-Prep and Prep School for four to 13 year olds 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; Upper School students also have the benefit of Academic Tutors to guide them both pastorally and academically throughout their final two years at the Dragon.
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.
This coastal campus in Sussex has a dedicated house, Arnold Lodge, offering flexible overnight accommodation for day boys and girls. Set up due to increasing demand from day parents, students can stay on an ad hoc or regular basis for one night or up to three consecutive nights. As well as accommodation for 23 students, the Lodge has its own kitchen, common room and garden; the cost is £40 per night.
It’s easy for parents to book last-minute overnight stays, and it offers day students a great place to call a ‘home away from home’ as and when they need it. The school has an excellent minibus service too, to make life even easier.
Boarding is very much the ethos of this school, with 60% of students boarding here and staying in one of 10 houses, nine of which are single-sex. The flexi boarding option allows students pupils to regularly stay over for up to three nights per week, making it ideal for students with a long daily journey to and from school.
Students and staff agree that boarding, either full or flexi, enables them to get the most out of the school. “Who wouldn’t want to live here?” is echoed by staff and students alike. Lancing has a Saturday full school day, though, so it is not the school for you if you plan to have busy weekends elsewhere.
Designed around busy parents, this Surrey-based mixed state boarding school for students aged seven to 18 offers a flexi boarding option. Students stay for an extended day and return home in the evenings; they are expected to stay overnight in a boarding house for 7 - 10 nights a year. 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.
Wellington should be (very) high on the list for parents seeking an innovative ‘whole child’ boarding or day public school education for their children. Its weekly boarding students come on the school bus on Monday morning, and return home on Friday evening; its flexible boarding options can be booked for a single night or multiple nights, ideal for those late nights when your child may have additional sporting, rehearsal or other co-curricular commitments.
There’s no one size fits all approach to boarding at this all-girls school, where students can opt for weekly, half weekly (staying Monday and Tuesday or Wednesday and Thursday nights) and occasional. It means students can avoid very early starts and late finishes, and offers day students opportunities to experience a taster of the full boarding experience that is so popular here.
Read more: UK State Boarding: What, Where, How Much?