The UK is renowned for its large number of excellent boarding schools, the majority of which also cater for day pupils. There are about 700 private schools offering boarding, of which most concentrate on the senior age range starting from 11 or 13 through to 18. There are a more modest number of preparatory boarding schools, mostly offering accommodation from age 8. Only a very small number of preps offer boarding for age 7 or less. A lot of these younger boarding facilities are reserved for families in the UK Armed Forces. Some prep boarding schools only offer weekly boarding and are therefore only suited to UK based families.
Single sex or co-ed?
Co-educational schools form the largest number of boarding schools but there are more than 50 girls only boarding schools and around 20 for boys only. Some girls only schools have a co-ed sixth form to get the girls prepared for university life where everything is co-educational. You can see our separate section on single-sex schools for disadvantages and advantages.
What defines a boarding school?
There are many different ways of defining a boarding school. Plainly the word “boarding” means that it provides accommodation for pupils, but that can mean different things. Some boarding schools and many sixth form colleges use separate university student blocks which can be some distance from the school. This can mean that supervision and pastoral care are quite lightweight. This may be suitable for older male students but is not usually acceptable to parents of girls or younger children. Another form of boarding is to accommodate students with host families, often called “home stay”. This can work out cheaper than boarding on campus, but again is often unacceptable for some parents.
We use our own classification of boarding to mean the school must have at least 20% of all pupils in boarding or a minimum of 50 full time boarders whichever is the less. This means we list about 400 out of the 700 schools claiming to offer boarding. A true boarding school needs a reasonable number of boarders present at the weekend to maintain activities and pastoral care. The bigger boarding schools mostly operate a six day week with lessons on Saturday mornings and activities or sport on Saturday afternoons. Some boarding schools will arrange action packed Sundays with trips or theatre or fun activities like paintballing. Others decide that students should be able to "chill out" on Sundays and do nothing if that is what they prefer. Senior schools which have the majority of pupils on a day basis as opposed to boarding, will not have Saturday lessons and may not make weekend sport compulsory. Therefore it is doubly important to examine how they keep boarders occupied and interested at weekends.
Full boarding and weekly boarding
Boarders who stay all the time are known by schools as "full time boarders" or FTBs. Some schools offer weekly boarding (Mon to Fri) or flexi or ad hoc boarding. The latter is called "hotel boarding" by some schools, when parents can simply book a room for their child as needed on any night of the week.
Number of boarders to a room
Most boarding schools are giving students single rooms by the time they reach age 17 in their final year. They might be in doubles from 14 to 17. Younger boarders are typically in large rooms called dorms (dormitories) which might accommodate as many as 6-8 children. The younger the pupil, the more important it is to have similar aged company so that they do not get homesick.
Will my child be looked after?
A good boarding school will be very skilled with "pastoral care" – looking after the emotional, mental and health issues as well as academic matters. Many schools will allow your child to spend one or two days “trialling” school (called taster boarding) to make sure the child fits in seamlessly. A key figure in your child’s boarding school life will be the Housemaster or Housemistress in charge of their boarding house and you should always try to meet him or her when you visit prospective schools.
Impartial advice on choosing the right school
We try to list ALL UK private boarding schools on our website, unlike most other educational agents, who only use a panel of schools from whom they receive the largest commission payments. We spend a lot of time visiting boarding schools so that we can find the best match for a child on a totally impartial basis.
Boarding schools are spread throughout England, Wales and Scotland. Note that very few are located in city centres because most have large campuses in the countryside. Most are within easy reach of airports or main line railway stations. Many clients ask us for schools near London or Heathrow Airport, but these tend to be the most oversubscribed. We always encourage parents to consider other areas. All boarding schools provide transport to and from major airports at the beginning and end of each term.
Feel free to ask us any questions you may have on +44 (0) 1622 813870 or fill in our Enquiry Form.
You may order our eGuide on Choosing the RIGHT Boarding School for your child, but please note the fuller comprehensive version with a school visit questionnaire is only supplied to our bespoke advice clients.
23rd June 2017
20th June 2017
19th June 2017