There’s plenty to consider when choosing the right UK boarding school for your child. Do you want a single sex or co-ed school; an all-through or separate prep and senior; and full or flexi boarding?
If your child is coming from overseas, you may want to consider a more international boarding school; check the mix of nationalities at the school as it can be helpful if there are other children from your home country, but too many can prevent your child from improving their English.
You’ll also need to consider the choice of town or country, and whether you want your child to have the social and cultural opportunities of a city or the great outdoors of a large countryside campus.
As well as reading reviews of the schools on your shortlist here, you need to see the school for yourself. Independent schools across the UK are starting to offer open days once again, which is your opportunity to tour the campus, meet the senior academic leadership team, ask questions about the curriculum, and see classes in action. Go prepared with a list of must-ask questions on open day and, if your child will be a boarder, this has to include questions for the head of boarding or housemasters.
Finding a school that is the right fit for a boarder is not all about the curriculum and campus facilities; while your child will be a student for around seven hours a day, they will be a boarder for the remaining 17 hours a day. So, if you are going to put your child into boarding education, you will want to see where they are living and meet the people who will be looking after them. Check ahead of your school visit, that you will be able to see the boarding facilities and meet with staff such as houseparents.
There’s a choice of over 500 boarding schools in the UK, the majority being fee-paying independent schools and a small number are state boarding schools with reduced fees for tuition only. Read more about UK state boarding schools.
With many schools now offering a choice of boarding packages, it’s important to understand how many students are full boarders and stay at the school seven days a week. Also, ask what the proportion of boarders to day school students are. If the school has few full boarders, your child may be lonely in the evenings and at weekends, and there’s likely to be less on offer in terms of after-school and weekend activities.
To really get a sense of what daily life is like for boarders, you need to know what your child will be doing from breakfast through to lights out. What time does the day start, what time is bedtime, when do lessons finish and how much free time do students get in the afternoon and evening? It’s also a time to ask about how students are expected to complete their homework or ‘prep’; are there supervised homework sessions at set times that they have to attend?
Always take your child with you and encourage them to ask questions.
Boarding schools need to be offering outstanding pastoral support that allows you to relax in the knowledge that your child is being well taken care of. To help put your mind at ease, understand who is charged with looking after your child’s wellbeing beyond the classroom – houseparents, tutors, counsellor, matron? Also, what happens in the case of either illness or an emergency or accident? And ask who your child can speak to if they miss home, and who you can contact if you’re concerned about your child or need to speak with them urgently.
Are the boarding houses mixed or single sex? Are they separated by year group, or do they have students of mixed age groups? Will your child be sharing a room, and if so, with how many other students? What facilities do they have in terms of common room, kitchen etc, and how far is it to walk from the boarding house to school? You should be given a tour of a boarding house during your visit, when you can check how clean and modern the rooms are (including the toilets!), and how well the students look after them.
Ask for a timetable of the extra-curricular activities offered in the evenings and at weekends, to check that there is something to match your child’s interests and keep them busy. Can boarders access campus facilities such as the library or swimming pool after-school, and does the school organise trips and excursions at the weekend? Also, check if the school has exeat weekends; how often can students return home for the weekend and are there compulsory exeat weekends when students have to leave the campus?
If your child is coming from overseas, it will help to understand if the school has a large international community and how the school supports its international students. Is there an EAL programme, and are international students placed in a boarding house with students from the same country.
Read more: International Students: Preparing for UK Boarding School
There are many reasons to choose a boarding education and how the school answers this question, is key to understanding the culture of the school and its strengths. The school’s focus may be more on academics and exam results, or on the creative arts or sport. They may talk about offering the opportunity to learn to live independently, which is excellent preparation for university life; socialising with students from around the world and having the opportunity to learn about different cultures; or offering a complete integration into school life with additional opportunities for activities and excursions. If possible, ask a student what they think to really get a feel for the school.
If you are new to the area, you’ll need to understand where the nearest shops and transport facilities are – and if your child is allowed to leave the campus at any time.
Induction programmes will vary from school to school, and some will invite new students onto campus during the summer term before they join the school to visit the boarding house and talk to current students. This may not always be possible for international students who will typically start a few days before the start of term so that they can have a cultural introduction. Ask what the school offers in terms of buddy and mentor programmes, and what you should expect from the school in the weeks and days leading up to the start of term.
This may be top of the list for your child – and rightly so! If they are going to be eating three meals a day here, they need to know they are going to enjoy the food. Find out what kinds of meals are typically available, if the school can cater for any special dietary requirements your child may have, and how the school monitors if your child is eating a healthy, balanced diet. It’s also interesting to know where your child will eat each meal; at some schools, all meals are served on the main campus, at others students return to their houses for lunch.