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15th November 2018

What is a boarding school and what makes them unique?

What is a boarding school?

A boarding school is an educational institution where pupils live on the premises, either fully or part time. Boarders eat all their meals at schools and stay overnight.

Boarding schools are typically secondary, with pupils beginning at the age of 11 or 13. However, preparatory boarding schools also exist, some accommodating children as young as eight.

Boarding schools may be either single sex or coeducational. In the latter case, boys and girls may study together in class but board separately, or study and board separately but come together for leisure time such as breaks and in the evening.

Some boarding schools are also day schools, accommodating both local students and those from further afield. In such schools, boarders and day pupils are taught alongside one another.

What is a boarding school?: History

Boarding school has been a tradition in the UK for centuries. Viewed as highly prestigious and a means for educating the children of the country’s elite, boarding schools in the UK are almost exclusively public (selective schools that charge high fees).

Australia, the US and many other former British colonies have adopted the boarding school system and modelled it on British schools. In Australia, many of the oldest and most prestigious grammar schools are boarding schools.

What is a boarding school?: House structure

Boarding schools – particularly traditional ones – have a distinctive school structure that sets them apart from more modern styles of education.

Students are divided into houses, each of which is supervised by a head of house, generally referred to as the housemaster or housemistress who is responsible for many of their pupils’ needs. Each house may also have a house tutor who acts as an academic advisor to the pupils under their charge.

Pupils sleep in the same building as other members of their house. The houses of a modern boarding school typically include bedrooms, study spaces, a dining room and kitchen. Religious boarding schools may also include a chapel for each house.

Some facilities may be shared by houses. For instance, although houses may have an individual library, it is more typical for the school to have one large library building that all pupils have equal access to.

At boarding school, houses are often encouraged to compete with one another in events such as sports or debating. Rivalry between houses is one of the most famous aspects of boarding school.

What is a boarding school?: Styles of boarding

Boarding school pupils may board in two ways. Full time boarders live at school both weeknights and weekends, only returning to their families during the holidays. This is the most traditional type of boarding and one adopted by most boarding schools.

Weekly boarders live at school from Sunday evening until Thursday evening, then return home for Friday and Saturday night. This is a more contemporary style of boarding, which particularly suits children who live too far away to be day pupils but want to maintain regular contact with their parents. Especially for younger children, this is often believed to be healthier psychologically.

Boarding schools that have a mixture of boarders and day pupils may also offer flexi-boarding, which allows a customised approach where parents may book ahead of time when they want their children to board and pay accordingly.

Boarding schools also typically have a different school holiday structure, with shorter terms and longer breaks.

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