Which boarding school? Suggestions please.(89 Posts)
We are an expat family who live very rurally up a goat track in the middle of nowhere in Southern Europe.
It’s beautiful and idyllic and the kids love it now but the local International school is crap and far from us, the local schools are even worse.
Thinking somewhat reluctantly about boarding school back in UK from Y9.
DH and I both from comps and know nothing about it.
We have 2 boys - both really good at maths, not sporty.
One good at art and likes drama and music, the other one likes science/nature, being outdoors.
We have family in Sussex and Bristol so would want somewhere south.
Any suggestions from anyone who knows anything about boarding schools?
DH and I have fallen down a rabbit hole looking at websites and prospectuses and can no longer see the wood from the trees.
Why the south? Great schools.in North Yorkshire...from tiny state schools with boarding ( Ripon Grammar School) with small boarding houses to a great choice of fee paying schools some are very luxurious and large with broad international cohorts. Check them out! Most are roughly an hour from Leeds/ Bradford Airport and set in very beautiful settings. P S I dont work for any of them...I am just immensely proud of the breadth and quality of educational establishments here !
I imagine the OP wants that area as family are there.
Oratory School in Reading?
If you have friends in the South with similarly aged children at Prep Schools, you could ask where their dc are going. I have a dd in Year 8 and her classmates who are looking to board are going to Bryanston, Lancing, Bedales or Brighton College. All of those would fit your geographical requirements...
I would focus your search on West Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset to fit in with family and airports.
Wells cathedral school in Wells, Somerset? Great school for music, in beautiful setting, close to town centre and fairly close to Bristol. Didn’t go myself but have lots of friends that went and were very happy there.
Don’t do it.
Surely much better to all move back to the uk?!
Lancing college - good reputation for Art/drama too.
Bedales in petersfield.
Millfield - Somerset . Or move and keep your boys with you ?
If they’re academic and creative cheltenham college could work for them, 40 mins from Bristol and friends kids are happy there:
This is where prep school really helps as they can give you guidance on the school to best suit the child but as you need to do it yourself the first thing you need to do is get here and start visiting as many as poss. I’d personally look for ones that are primarily boarding as you won’t be here to take them out every weekend. Bryanston is definitely worth a look and you could look at Canford at the same time (but I know parents who pulled their ds from Canford due to bullying so that put me off) I really liked bryanston, felt a bit like an American college campus, I hear good things about the pastoral care too. Brighton is fantastic but won’t suit less academic kids, there is a big day and weekly boarding element too so campus does empty at weekends but it’s in the middle of Brighton so they wouldn’t feel completely isolated. Stowe is worth a look although it’s more out of the way for your family. Bradfield is another. Bedales is marmite, you’ll love or hate it, only you’ll know when you see it. If you have a couple of years to go I’d strongly recommend a boarding prep now, that way they can help you and dc with the choice and the preparation for common entrance. It’s also a much softer nurturing entrance to boarding that straight into senior school, that way they’ll hit the ground running when that time comes.
When will they be in Year 9? I've been to see Leweston recently (in sherborne) which is traditionally a girls school but has just announced that it's going co-ed. I've got the pack in front of me which says they are accepting boys into Year 9 from September 2019, and there will be a 50% discount for two years for this cohort as they will be the first. Thought this would be food for thought. I really liked it there. My kids are prep age - it goes from 3 months up to 18 - and it has really strong academic results which I liked.
Sherborne School and Sherborne Prep. Both boarding and both really good (have friends with kids at both) Prep School small, good academics and very family feel, Boys School fabulous with excellent academic results and very good pastoral care. Reknowned for music and new head is brilliant.
I think the key here is logistics. You don't want them to fly in and then have a 3hr ongoing journey to get to school.
So which airport will they fly into? Start with that and then look at the schools within an hour radius. If you post which airport you will be using people will be able to give more focussed advice.
Agree you need to look for a full 24/7 school. Many do empty out at the weekends which would not be ideal for your boys. However, even at a 24/7 there will be exeats when they have to go out for the weekend, so being near to family they can go to would be helpful. Bear in mind if they can't go to family for exeats you will need a guardian.
But if family are willing to have weekend care and are not too far weekly boarding might work.
Millfield have advertised for at least 30 staff this year. That's a high turnover in anybody's book and would make me wary. It's also know for being very, very average academically. Hopefully the new Head will turn it round, because it ought to be a great school, but I'm not sure it is at the moment.
My DS’s boarded, DS2 boarded from yr 2 to yr 13 most of our friends children boarded. IME it works i.e. your children will be happy and so will you if you choose a school isa good fit for you all of you.
The first question is do you want proper full boarding; all or the vast majority of children (except day pupils) have to stay in all weekend except exeats, if yes you choices are going to be more limited. Or are you happy for weekly boarding, the vast majority go home (in your case to relatives) on Saturday PM and come back to school Sunday evening or even Monday AM this is what most UK boarding schools offer. Or even flexi boarding your DS’s stay in school 3-4 nights a week and stay with relatives 3-4 nights a week. A full boarding school is a completely different animal from a weekly/flexi boarding school. Many schools offer all three but in my now very extensive experience full boarders will always be in the minority in these situations and I don’t believe it’s a good as a full boarding school. The commonest complaint/reason for removing them friends with DC’s at boarding schools give is that they thought they were sending their DC’s to a full boarding school (usually because they hadn’t investigated it carefully enough and schools lie about the actual number of full boarders because they want your money) and discovered that their DC was 1 of only a handful in school on Sunday and they were under pressure from their DC to be brought home on Saturday. Quickly looking at the those suggested above none are full boarding only schools. ISI reports for some reason classify what I call weekly boarding as full. So if you want full boarding you need to thumb screw the actual numbers of full boarders out of the admission dept (never ever forget that most boarding school despite what their websites say are struggling to fill their vacancies and want your money so are economical with the truth).
Secondly how old are your DC’s? Quite a few “Pre test” in yr 6 and then offer a conditional place in yr 9 on the condition they “pass” an entrance exam (the pass mark is set by the individual schools the more academic the school the higher the pass mark), in yr 8 this could be CE or a exam written by the school.
With regard to your DS’s likes, boarding schools (I’m talking about schools where the vast majority do some sort of boarding not day schools with a handful of boarders) need to keep children busy so nearly all boarding schools are going to have compulsory sport usually three times a week, come wind rain or snow, most school have a major sport each term, for the boys think rugby, rowing football hockey athletics cricket etc, there may be a choice say between rugby or rowing and 1 other, and then minor sports e.g. fencing swimming can be done on other days as an extra curricular activity.
Drama, art, music are likely to be of a pretty high standard at most boarding schools, so for example at DS’s school there were 25-30 concerts/master classes etc a term, 8-9 orchestras quintets, jazz bands etc (I believe you had to be minimum grade 5 to even be considered for one, music scholars were grade 8 minimum (at 13) in uncommon instruments higher in common instruments this is not unusual), I think over 2/3 of the school played 1 instrument many played 2 or 3, there were 6-7 plays a term, the art dept was open daily including Sunday’s with art staff always available, most full and even primarily weekly boarding schools will offer something similar. Again partly because these activities keep children busy and this is one of the things parents are paying boarding fees for lots of extra curricular stuff. So I wouldn’t overly worry about the amount art and music being offered.
Science/math again are likely to be of a good standard as these are core subjects usually with excellent facilities flash science depts etc again because parents stumping up large sums of money are expecting this. Obviously the more academic the school, more will be offered. DS2’s school (which is a super selective) regularly and successfully competed in science/maths Olympiads often representing the UK in world championships. Most boarding schools will have science clubs, math clubs etc, so DS2’s school has its own observatory and a thriving astronomy club. I do think one of the advantages of boarding is that the very broad curriculum means that a science orientated child can discover a love of subjects that perhaps he wouldn’t normally consider in a day school where he had less time. So my math/science orientated DS did 1 art subject in the 6th form. With regard to being outdoor most boarding schools have extensive space and many full boarding schools will offer outdoor activities on Sunday afternoon.
The next piece of advise I’m going to give you and most on here whose children have boarded will agree. If you expecting or hoping your relatives in the UK are either going to have your DS’s every weekend or even only at exeats, attend plays, concerts, watch matches, etc then unless they list driving as their passion and only hobby, have no major commitments elsewhere, e.g. work, other children etc or own a helicopter then the absolute max distance your DS’s school should be from their home is 1 1/2 hours one way preferably less. It is surprising how many times you have to go to the school and often at weird times or on inconvenient days.
If I was you draw up a list of what I would want. Full/weekly boarding. What area. Must haves; if your DS is a fantastical tiddlywinks player does the school have a tiddlywinks club? Never assume that even for £38k pa it will. I used to work in a full boarding school and I once listened to a new parent telling me her DS was an outstanding and obsessive basketball player, when I pointed out the school didn’t offer basketball she looked surprised and annoyed. Another friend sent her not overly bright but talented gold playing DS to a well know school and then moaned that the school didn’t have a golf course, she again just assumed they would. If it matters ask. Decide what ethos suits you. I’m hopelessly liberal a hand off parent. We choose a very liberal school where parents were not encouraged to get overly involved. There were few social things (thankfully as I hate them) parents attend matches etc (again something I hate doing), others schools will bombard you with regular reports, organise regular social things and lots of parents will watch rugby matches. I am well know for my loathing of ridiculous uniform, we chose a school with few uniform requirement. Do you want coed or SS? Do you want a super selective selective or one than has a broad academic intake? Which do you think will work best for your DSs? Urban or rural, we live in the latter so choose a boarding school in the former.
Finally (you might have given up reading by now) the with regard to the comment “Don’t do it”. There are many anti boarders on here, most will come out with anecdotal stories of there DH being at boarding school 30 years ago and being thoroughly miserable and now he is a totally dysfunctional sociopath who has a damaged relationship with his parents. My DS2 full boarded from 7 he’s now 19 we are as a family exceptionally close over the years numerous people have commented on how close we our and how happy we are many boarding families are the same. He is a charming popular easy going adaptable guy, who’s can talk to anyone regardless of their background, read situations in a second, in his gap year he worked in three totally contrasting environment totally different to what he knew at school, everyone has a good word for him. I would like to think that as parents we have played a large role in shaping him into the person he has become but I also believe that boarding has also shaped him. I’ve worked in boarding schools some are unhappy (as they are in day schools) but vast majority love it and are benefiting in all ways from what it has to offer.
I boarded from 13-19 & loved it. The beauty of it when I went was that my folks shortlisted a group if five schools in the area they wanted (similar reasons, family close enough by) & then we went & visited each one; I got final choice out of the shortlist.
The thing for me was that the place I would be spending half my time had to feel as homely as possible; my folks did their bit researching the academics & all that, but the boarding side is just as important.
I don't know many BS in the south as I went to Harrogate, but I just wanted to add my little tuppence worth about choosing from the pov of an ex boarder. If the boarding facilities don't feel right to your child, the rating of the academic stuff won't matter one bit. Good luck 🙂
Wow so many messages - thank you.
To those saying keep them with us - we may well decide to do that and top up with tutoring but the schools here can’t compete with the extra curricular available at uk schools, also sometimes they can’t offer certain subjects like further maths, physics, design and technology because they don’t have a teacher or don’t have enough students who want to take it as an option.
All of us moving back is also option but complicated by our work options if we move back, uk house prices and brexit.
We can fly into any London airport, Bristol or Southampton.
I agree it needs to be a school that doesn’t empty out at the weekend and needs to be Sussex/Hampshire way is the best for family near by.
If your child isn’t sporty I wouldn’t recommend Millfield.
Bryanston is good for the arts and slightly alternative. Someone mentioned Wells Cathedral School which is near my parents’ house - have heard it’s a nice school.
I taught in a co-ed full boarding school for fifteen years.
I enjoyed the experience. I think most of the girls enjoyed the experience. So did the sporty boys. The less sporty boys were not so keen.
As happygardening said, boarding schools tend to have compulsory sports, in all weather, and for boys that generally means rugby. If your DSs are just not especially interested in sport but are OK with it, fine. If - like me when I was at school - they actually hate competitive sport then you have a problem.
I think it's very important for your DSs to be fully on board with the Idea and very involved in the final decision.
Bryanston and Wells are not full boarding only a friend pulled her DC from Brynaston because it wasn't full boarding.
Full boarding schools in the south east Marlborough, over subscribed not super selective but nearly, not liberal amazing facilities, pre tests in yr 6, Winchester over subscribe, liberal one of the few where sport is not compulsory (least it wasn't now has a new head) may suit the more eccentric (part and child) and no major/minor sport, super selective pre test in yr 6, Eton very famous, lots of everything, amazing facilities, very over subscribed, super selective, pre tests in yr 6 very loyal parents, Kings Canterbury, selective I don't think it pre tests in yr 6 although it may do now, seems to suit lots of different children, lots of extra curricular stuff. St Edwards Oxford was full boarding or day, I noticed it now offers weekly boarding so likely within a few years many will go home on Saturday. ??Pangborne, military orientated (wince) maybe full boarding but I don't know, Christs Hospital I think is still full boarding or day, huge bursary scheme so a broad intake, ?two entry points yr 7 and yr 9. Sherbourne I think is full boarding but in Dorset don't know much about it.
On a personal note its you can't afford house prices in the UK can you afford what will realistically amount to at least £400K in school fees over your DS's time at boarding or are you hoping for significant financial help from the school in the form of a scholarship or bursary that may further limit your choices.
Take a look at Christs Hospital in West Sussex. It's a bit quirky but produces well-rounded individuals.
And Radley I think pre tests in yr 6 mega traditional over subscribed pretty selective now, Im constantly told by those in the know very much a man up culture, amazing facilities and Harrow north London (groan) famous very over subscribed ridiculous uniform ?pre tests yr 7 very selective although not quite super selective.
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