British boarding schools have a rich history of providing outstanding teaching, and are internationally renowned for their quality of teaching. The unique feature of boarding schools is their all-round approach to learning, which is facilitated by the close-knit learning environment provided by students living on-site, in beautiful grounds with excellent facilities to pursue their extracurricular interests.
Most boarding schools are located outside big cities, often in very picturesque countryside which creates a calm and peaceful educational environment. These out-of-town locations house all of their learning facilities in one place, and feature fantastic opportunities for extracurricular activities, with swimming pools, golf courses, cricket and football fields, Art studios, libraries, student theatre all within close proximity.
Many boarding schools are single sex, and those that are coeducational have separate boarding houses for sleeping. Girls-only and boys-only schools are sometimes praised for giving a more focused approach to teaching, while mixed schools are seen as a more ‘real-life’ form of education. Often single-sex boarding schools encourage mixing with neighbouring schools and often establish social events or joint theatre plays and sporting competitions, particularly for the older students. It is thus common for pupils to leave school with some friends beyond their individual school.
At British boarding schools, students sleep in dormitories or ‘boarding houses’. This experience of communal living allows children to completely immerse themselves in school life, and tends to produce very close friendships and a strong sense of community. The older the student, the fewer roommates he or she will have; most senior students have a room to themselves or share with one other pupil. Every dormitory has its own house master as well as live-in tutors, whom students can approach for any help they may need. The dormitories have sleeping quarters and study areas, and students receive three daily meals, laundry service once a week and on-site primary medical care.
Students’ daily routine tends to be very busy. From 8:30 in the morning until 5:30 in the evening students go to classes, play sports and participate in artistic activities. After teaching ends, there is a break for dinner and free time, followed by a period for homework. Depending on the age, bedtime is either 9pm or 10pm.
The curriculum at British boarding schools is broadly similar to that in British public schools in general: students either take the International Baccalaureate system, or GCSEs and A Levels. Often particularly traditional boarding schools may have more of a focus on classical subjects, like Ancient History, Latin and Greek. Class sizes are small and teachers are of the highest-quality.
Many boarding schools start at 13, and prior to this children tend to attend a prep school. For their first three years, students taking GCSEs take the core subjects (English, Maths, Biology, Chemistry, Physics) alongside four or five more of their choice. Most take at least one modern language, a traditional humanities subjects (History, Philosophy, Classical Civilisations) and perhaps a more creative option (Photography, Music, Design, Art). The IB is similarly broad at this stage. Students also have compulsory sports sessions at least twice a week, as well as extracurricular activities like orchestra and drama.
At 16, they enter the ‘sixth form’; most students stay at the same school, but some may use this opportunity to move schools and some schools become co-educational. A Levels and the IB are more focussed at this stage, in order to prepare students for applying to university. See our page on sixth form colleges in the UK for more information and click here for our interactive graph on the British education system as a whole.
Great Britain has over 2,500 public schools. About 500 of those make their way into ranking tables. The top 100 schools in the ranking tables are known as “selective schools”, which attract students with an above-average academic ability. It is to these schools that the elite of the British Empire – the Royal family, aristocracy, prominent politicians, and artists send their children. However, money does not guarantee enrolment into these schools; finances will only allow parents to give their children sufficient preparation before they apply. Anyone can get into a selective school if they pass the entrance exam and can pay the school fees. Surprisingly, these fees are very similar to most other public schools and they usually range between £25,000 and £30,000 per year.
Depending on the school, the cost of one academic year ranges from £18,000 to £36,000. School fees include meals and accommodation and sometimes cover extracurricular activities on weekends. Usually payment is expected before the start of each term and prior to the student’s arrival at the school.
Extra expenses can sometimes include the cost of accommodation over holidays, school trips, school uniform, additional language tuition and pocket money. There is also a registration fee for all new students. The cost of textbooks and exam fees are sometimes included in the overall fees, although sometimes they may appear as additional costs. The cost of guardianship is not included in the school fees.
To secure acceptance into a boarding school, students must take an entrance exam and attend an interview; most enter at 13, for which the exam is known as the ‘13 plus’. Usually, the exam covers Mathematics and English, although some schools also test more specific subjects and use general intelligence tests like verbal and nonverbal reasoning. Competition is very tough; a place at certain schools is seen to establish a child on a successful trajectory for life, so many parents begin preparing their children at an early age.
It is important to have sufficient preparation before taking entrance exams, and most children have private tuition. For international students, English language tuition can be particularly important. At UK Study Centre we can arrange an experienced private tutor to help your child prepare for both the tests and the exams.
We also understand how difficult the process of choosing a British boarding school can be. Our advisors can lead you through the options, providing you with insider information on the merits of each institution. In addition, we can arrange visits to schools, so you can look around to ensure you are making the right choice.
To arrange a consultation, call 0203 397 7744, email or just visit us in our Highgate office.