I’m often surprised to hear that so few parents have heard of state boarding schools; but they are often recognised as the UK education’s ‘best-kept’ secret. Given that state boarding can offer a stable, caring environment and provide high-quality education, state boarding schools seem to offer the Holy Grail – all at a reasonable cost.
Any student with a UK passport is eligible for state boarding. The costs are limited to the boarding element. The educational provision is, like community-based state schools, free. Therefore, state-funded boarding school fees are typically around a third of the cost of the independent sector. A state boarding school costs, roughly, £10,000 a year; a number that compares positively to private school fees, which have increased by an average of 20 per cent since 2010 – four times the rate of growth in average earnings, according to Lloyds Banking Group. That’s not a small difference, especially for London parents struggling with rising living costs, and juggling the demands of the school run and extracurriculars, while working long hours or with travel expectations.
Of course, cost isn’t everything. Our children’s education is worth every penny, but pupils at my own school, Sexey’s in Bruton, Somerset (and, no doubt, at the other 37 state boarding schools up and down the country), are also involved in their local communities. They have an understanding of how the breadth of society works, and most importantly, can converse easily with people from all walks of life. Simultaneously, they also benefit from many of the elements often valued in independent education: excellent facilities, pastoral care, and a range of extracurricular activities that promise a tailored, unique experience for each child, from music, sport, art, and drama to horse-riding and debating.
But, what about the level of education? All state boarding schools follow the National Curriculum, and pupils take the same exams as they would in a state day school. Whilst the exams are the same, the performance typically exceeds that of many other state schools, with state boarding schools frequently featuring at the top of league tables. For example, Sexey’s achieved the best state school GCSE results in the South West this year. It was also listed as being in the Top 50 state schools across the country for their GCSE grades. The school’s A Levels this year were also strong: over 34 per cent achieving A*-A (versus 25.7 per cent nationally); and over 86 per cent reaching A*-C (versus 75 per cent nationally). A survey of parents by the State Boarding Forum found that over 80 per cent choose state boarding schools due to their high academic standard, and the opportunity for children to fulfil their potential.
Of course, boarding isn’t for everyone. If it is something you would consider for your child, there are 37 different state boarding schools around England – from selective to comprehensive, from co-educational to single-sex, from primary, secondary and sixth-form.
Parents usually find a school that meets their requirements, no matter how specific they are. For further information, please take a look at the State Boarding Forum website www.stateboarding.org.uk.