For many parents, deciding whether to send their child to boarding or day school can be difficult. Both types of schools have their own benefits and drawbacks, and whilst parents may be tempted to make their decision based on their own schooling experience, they need to consider what is best for their child and their own family context. There are many factors to evaluate, including cost, curricular and extracurricular opportunities, facilities, level of pastoral care and supervision and location, and visiting a school is the best way to get a feel if a school is the right fit.
It’s also important to remember that, in many ways, the gap between boarding and day schools has narrowed; for example, many boarding schools now offer flexi options and lots more exeats, whilst day schools now rival boarding schools in terms of their extra-curricular opportunities.
What are the benefits of boarding schools?
Gaining independence: There’s no doubt that boarding gives students a level of resilience, resourcefulness and self-confidence that will be invaluable in adulthood. Ben Beardmore-Gray, Headmaster of Moulsford Boys, says that “whilst full boarding at prep school is still a relatively niche market, it is excellent preparation for senior school and boarders love the social atmosphere of school life.” Moulsford has around 50 boarders, and interestingly almost all of them are local, and therefore board out of enjoyment rather than necessity.
Extra-curricular opportunities: It’s important to remember that boarding schools have changed and modernised immensely; they are no longer about cold showers, inedible food and strange initiations, and instead can offer world-class facilities and a holistic, 24/7 education. For example, Charterhouse has its own golf course, Wycombe Abbey has an incredible sports centre and indoor pool, whilst Harrow School even has its own working farm. As students do not have to waste time on a daily school-run, they have more time and freedom to engage in school life, plus keeping them busy will also stop them from being glued to their phones.
Flexibility: For working or busy parents, boarding school can effectively function as a form of childcare, whilst also allowing parents freedom of choice without being constrained by geographical location. Flexi and weekly boarding is an increasingly popular option for parents and many schools are very adaptable to parents’ needs; for example, at Whitgift School, parents only need to give 24 hours notice if they would like their child to stay overnight, and this can be very appealing to parents as circumstances may change.
Pastoral care: James Outram, Registrar of King’s School Canterbury, says that the most important thing a boarding school should do is “provide a home away from home. Everyone at a boarding school, from the tutors to the chaplain to the counsellor to the support staff, has a role to play in caring for every individual.” Joanna Cameron, Principal of Queenswood agrees: “Long gone are the days when boarders would be cut off from all family contact until the end of term. Communication between teachers, parents and students is so much more effective and essential for happiness.” At Repton School, students take regular well-being questionnaires which flag any potential problems, whilst Sixth Formers are also trained in Mental Health First Aid and safeguarding.
What are the benefits of day schools?
Cost: Day schools are undeniably less expensive than boarding schools; for example, at Rugby School fees for day pupils are £8000 a term whereas fees for boarders are almost £13,000 a term. However, it’s also important to remember that there are ‘hidden costs’ to day school; for instance, the cost of house prices to live in an expensive area within commuting distance of a school, or the day-to-day costs of feeding and looking after a child (after-school childcare in itself can be costly).
Greater parental involvement: One could argue that day school pupils foster stronger relationships with their parents, who in turn can more effectively support their academic success as they have greater supervision over their progress and well-being. Whilst this will vary from family to family, some students may need more parental support whilst some parents may feel that their children can gain independence in different ways; for example, Jenny Brown, Head of City of London School for Girls, believes that the girls’ commute into central London is integral to their maturity.
Academic excellence: In general, day schools tend to perform better in league tables as they are more academically selective than boarding schools, which tend to be less over-subscribed. Some boarding schools, for example Gordon’s School, are non-selective, which means that there is no specific entry criteria and students do not have to pass an entrance exam. In the top 100 schools by GCSE results for 2019, in the top ten schools six are day only, three offer both, and only one is boarding.
Greater choice of co-educational schooling: Compared to day schools there are relatively few co-educational boarding schools, and many are only co-educational at Sixth Form (for example, Westminster School). Whilst some co-educational schools do offer boarding, day pupils tend to be the majority; for example, at Caterham School, only 165 board out of nearly 900 pupils, and an even smaller minority are full-boarders. Whilst many schools do try and make an effort to ensure integration between day pupils and boarders, some parents may prefer to send their children somewhere where there is no segregation.
Overall, parents need to carefully consider what is best for their child. As Dr Ruth Sullivan, Headmistress of Sherborne Girls said at the Independent Schools Show, “the most important thing is that, when deciding on a school, parents have an open mind. Many parents have preconceived notions about where they are going to send their child, but they also need to think outside of the box, and be happy with being surprised.”
About the author: Kristina Murkett is a teacher and a freelance writer specialising in education, film, literature and women’s rights.