Boarding School Briefing – February 2022
The APPG was pleased to welcome speakers from across the boarding sector in February 2022, focusing on: trends in boarding education, the state boarding system, the armed forces boarding scheme, and affordable approaches to boarding.
Andrew Lewer MBE MP, Chair of the APPG, welcomed attendees from independent schools, sector bodies, and the wider education system, and introduced the speakers for the briefing.
Aileen Kane, Chief Operating Officer of the Boarding Schools Association (BSA), gave the first talk on trends in boarding education. BSA represents both state and independent boarding schools. Though the majority of boarding schools are independent schools, state boarding is an important option as part of the boarding mix:
- Among BSA members, 30% of their membership (145 schools) have only 4,000 boarders between them – averaging 28 boarders each. These schools have only small boarding provision, responding to a particular need from some parents (e.g. Armed Forces families).
- Conversely, 31 schools (6%) of the membership have 21,000 boarders between them – averaging 704 boarders each. These are the stereotype, where all or most pupils board. However, this stereotype is not typical.
- There has also been rise in flexi- or weekly boarding, where boarding arrangements match the particular needs of the parents and the desire for children to go home for clubs, trips, etc. Boarders have also become older – particularly 16 – 18-year-olds preparing for public exams (and getting used to living away from home).
Diane Weir, from Anderson Education spoke about boarding for Armed Forces and diplomatic staff.
Both the Ministry of Defence and FCDO operate Continuity of Education Allowances (CEA) – importantly, these are not a privilege of rank, but open to all who need it due to repeated overseas deployments, or frequent in-country movement.
It is very important for these families to have stability. A service family can have as many as 14 houses in 6 years. This would mean changes of school, disruption to education, loss of friends/networks. CEA gives access to the stability of a boarding school.
Chris Pyle, Headmaster of Lancaster Royal Grammar School spoke about state boarding schools in the UK. Lancaster Royal Grammar School (LRGS) is a state boarding school – meaning that pupils must hbe eligible for a state school place, and the fees charged cover boarding costs only. They are Ofsted inspected, as they are a state school:
- LRGS has been a boarding school since 1288, and now has 1,200 pupils in the school, 170 of whom board. They’re boys only 11 – 16, with a mixed Sixth Form
- The profile of a boarder varies – some come from a 1-hour radius, others have parents working overseas (including through the Armed Forces scheme), some families are UK based but as far away as London, others have a particular need for boarding.
- Very few parents have experience of boarding school before choosing to send their child to board at LRGS – it is about need and the service, rather than family tradition.
- There’s also value in state boarding to local authorities – boarding schools can be a great resource for children in distressed circumstances.
Guy Emmett, Headmaster of Scarborough College, spoke about their approach to keeping boarding as affordable as possible:
- Scarborough College has just over 400 pupils, aged 3 – 18, with a mix of day, flexi-, weekly, and full boarding. 85% of pupils are from the UK, and 15% from overseas, often Europe (they offer the International Baccalaureate at Sixth Form).
- They seek to provide a comparatively affordable boarding experience and have seen considerable interest in their weekly and flexi-boarding offering – allowing pupils to get home at the weekend.
- The school offers the full range of boarding activities, and access to the North Yorkshire coast, moors, and towns and the city of York.
- They have seen the same trends as discussed: a move towards flexi-boarding, increasing interest at Sixth Form, and decreasing interest among younger years.
Our thanks from the whole APPG to the speakers for their insight and their time.
International approaches to independent schools – September 2021
The APPG heard from school leaders and educationalists from across the globe in September 2021. The Group explored how different countries – their parents and their governments – approach independent education, and whether this has lessons from the UK.
Professor James Tooley, of the University of Buckingham, has experience founding low-cost independent schools in India, Africa, and now in the UK. He explained that some form of paid-for education was considered normal in many countries, albeit at very low cost. These schools are often run as small, sustainable businesses – employing local people as teachers, and benefitting the community.
However, there are different prevailing attitudes to independent schooling, some governments seeing them as a threat to state systems, others encouraging them as high-quality, and much needed capacity (without burdening Government resources).
Rodrigo Quieroz e Melo represented ECNAIS, the European Council of National Associations of Independent Schools. Across all of Europe, approximately 19% of children are independently educated – varying from up to 70% in the Netherlands, to fewer than 2% in Ireland and Lithuania. The figure is approximately 7% in the UK.
Europe itself sees a variety of structures:
- Denmark provides some funding to independent schools, but the schools charge parents the remainder, feeling that this gives greater engagement with their child’s learning
- Sweden has seen controversy over private religious schooling, but not for-profit schools
- Different funding structures exist for governments to support independent schools, principally: tax credits for parents, school vouchers, ‘lump funding’, and funding formulas.
Wayne Brown is the Headmaster of Whanganui Collegiate School, New Zealand. This is one of New Zealand’s oldest schools, founded in 1854, and it now operates as an ‘integrated school.’ It runs on a private model, but with some government oversight and investment. 85% of pupils remain boarders, and parents value the school for character education, and a heavy focus on service. They explicitly look to the UK as an inspiration.
Caralyn Dea has experience of independent school systems in the US, China, and Australia. The US sees very high fees, though these often include a significant philanthropic element to fund bursaries. COVID has seen a large enrolment uptake in the US, with parents wanting higher-quality education, and education which explicitly develops students as leaders, and service-focused individuals.
In China, there is a greater variety of fee levels, and investment from the extended family in funding the most expensive place they can afford for the child. Both provincial and central governments are investing in Chinese independent schooling, to relieve pressures on the state system. This may well have an impact on the Chinese market for UK independent schools, and international schools using a UK curriculum – similar trends have been observed in Thailand.
The Group would like to thank all of the contributors, for such a useful and insightful debate.
SEND education briefing – March 2021
The APPG on Independent Education heard from leaders in independent school SEND provision in March 2021, exploring how independent schools support pupils with SEND, and how they work with state schools to improve support for all SEND pupils.
We would like to thank our guest speakers: Dr Duncan Pritchard (formerly of Aran Hall School), Jen Weeks (LVS Hassocks), Claire Wellington Smith (St Peter’s, Exmouth), and Barry Huggett OBE (More House Foundation)
The briefing heard from independent special schools about how they could support children who have failed to fit into mainstream schooling. One school provides a range of functional, vocational, and academic curricula – with those on the academic path often progressing to mainstream 6th Forms. They have found small class sizes – no more than 8 pupils – to be key in achieving this.
Good relationships with local authorities are also key. Speakers discussed how local authorities can be nervous about using mainstream independent school places – but that these places can often be in the best interests of the child. There needs to be a shared focus on the child, and closer links between independent and state professionals.
Independent schools can also contribute research into managing SEND conditions – one speaker at the APPG had regularly published research in international journals and has two chapters forthcoming this year. While not able in every independent school, the specialised environments of some schools allow them to make contributions to the whole sector.
Thanks again to all our speakers, and for attendees asking insightful questions on therapy, complex needs, and pharmacological interventions.