Boarding schools versus day schools – which is better?
Considering whether to send your child to a boarding school or day school can feel like a momentous choice. Both types of school have their benefits and disadvantages, and it is important to consider where your child will thrive best. Equally, both sectors are incredibly varied; there are competitive, sporty day schools, liberal co-ed boarding schools and everything in between. It is certainly worth spending time researching and visiting a range of schools in both sectors. Make sure to discuss any options with your child, and give them input in the decision-making process; they are far more likely to flourish at a school of their choice.
Boarding – the key benefits:
Boarding schools foster a remarkable sense of personal responsibility and independence. Students learn to take the lead in both their lessons and wider activities; at Eton, for example, most extra-curricular activities are run by the students themselves. Westminster is known for encouraging a debate-style curriculum where students are free to challenge one another’s views. This cultivation of independence also extends to students’ lives in boarding houses; at Wycombe Abbey, girls in the sixth form move into Clarence House to experience ‘university-style’ living, so that the transition to college life is relatively seamless. Cheltenham Ladies’ College also operates separate boarding houses for the sixth form, giving the oldest students a greater degree of independence.
Whilst children socialise at day schools too, the experience of living and working with your peers can be instrumental in forming life-long friendships, as well as helping students develop excellent communication skills. Many former boarders report how their friends from school are like siblings to them, and most schools recreate a familial structure through ‘mixed-age’ dormitories. Having such close bonds with peers gives students the self-confidence they need to adapt to new environments in later life.
Boarding offers families flexibility. For professional parents who travel frequently on business, a day-school routine would need to be supplemented by a host of other child-care arrangements. Boarding can therefore offer both children and parents greater consistency. Schools have also evolved considerably over the years to provide a range of boarding options to suit families; most schools now offer flexi or weekly boarding, where students spend part of the week or weekends at home. This can also be a good way to test whether full boarding would suit your child.
Day-school counterparts may spend their evenings in a whirlwind of activities, yet most boarders benefit from unstructured free time before dinner or at weekends. Unhampered by technology (mobile phones are usually banned) students are free to relax with friends in their boarding-house in the evenings. The use of supervised ‘prep’ time to complete homework allows students to concentrate fully on homework whilst not feeling unduly burdened by academic pressure.
Boarding – the disadvantages:
It is not for everyone
Whilst many students flourish at boarding-school, it does not always suit every child. It would be unwise to withdraw a child at the first sign of homesickness, yet not every young person is ready to live away from their parents. Think carefully about how your child would adapt, and investigate the pastoral support offered by the school. Most schools do have a range of excellent support, from operating a ‘buddy’ system for newcomers to the pastoral care offered by house masters and mistresses. Nonetheless, if your child seems anxious about the prospect of boarding, it could be unwise to pressure them into a change of school. Studies suggest students adapt to boarding much more readily if they themselves have chosen to board.
Day Schools – the benefits:
One of the most important benefits of day schooling is that it enables you to keep in much closer contact with your child. Spending time together each day as a family arguably creates stronger bonds between you, as well as giving you greater input as a parent. You have a detailed understanding of your child’s well-being, their current friendships and latest passions, as well as being aware of any worries or concerns they might have (academic or otherwise).
There are clearly some very academically successful boarding schools, yet day schools seem to have the edge; of the 50 top secondary independent schools in The Times’ 2018 League Table, just 15 are boarding schools. In terms of why this might be the case, day schools can perhaps be more selective owing to the level of competition for places, especially within London. Nonetheless, using an 11+ tutor can help your child in navigating the admissions tests, giving them access to some of the best educational provision in the country. The results at many top London day schools speak for themselves; at Highgate School this year, 68% of all A Level candidates achieved 1 A* or more; at St Paul’s Girls’ School, a staggering 92% of all GCSE grades were an A*. Even for academically selective schools, these results are highly impressive.
Whilst mixed boarding schools exist, co-ed schooling is far more prevalent in day schools. Many parents now actively seek mixed schooling for their children, as single-sex education is viewed as somewhat old-fashioned. Given that young men and women will need to work together at university and in later life, single-sex boarding schools can seem rather outdated.
Wider cultural experiences
In London day schools, students can take advantage of the plethora of wider cultural experiences on their doorstep. City of London School is notably only a few minutes’ walk away from the Tate Modern, whilst University College School students can enjoy theatre and cultural events in both Hampstead and central London. This is not to suggest that boarding schools do not offer a wide range of extra-curricular trips and experiences, yet students in central London are uniquely well-placed to attend seminars, films and exhibitions on a diverse range of topics.
Lack of flexibility
Day schooling may not be the best option for families with demanding schedules; although most offer after-school clubs and activities, working parents will still need to arrange childcare and other supervision for their children. Many families therefore decide that children will feel more settled in a boarding environment with their peers; this is especially true for parents who may need to spend extended periods of time overseas.
So, which is best?
Overall, there is no definitive answer on which type of school may be best for your child. There is considerable diversity within each sector, so that it is difficult to generalise about either type of school. The best day and boarding schools will offer excellent provision in all areas, so that students benefit from outstanding teaching, first-class extra-curricular activities and brilliant facilities.
Before coming to a decision, visit a range of schools and consider which type of school will suit your child’s needs, as well as the needs of the family. Think about your child’s individual characteristics and how the school may support their interests and abilities. Nonetheless, ultimately, once your child is settled at a highly regarded school, whether day or boarding, they are likely to flourish and enjoy the wealth of opportunities on offer. Most schools are also increasingly flexible, with some day schools offering a limited amount of boarding places in sixth form (St Paul’s School, for instance, while predominantly a day school, has thirty-five places for boarders, with flexi and weekly boarding offered to suit individual families). Equally, most boarding schools also now offer a number of arrangements to allow each child to adapt to boarding at their own pace.
How to apply
Once you have investigated which school is the best option for your family, it may be advisable to employ an English tutor or Maths tutor to assist in preparing your child for the 11+ or 13+ Common Entrance exam. Entrance requirements for the most prestigious schools are highly competitive, so ensure your child is prepared through practising past papers with an 11+ or 13+ tutor. Besides Maths and English others subjects will be assessed in 13+ Common Entrance Tests and 13+ Scholarships. A tutor may also be able to help your child prepare for interview questions, an important part of the overall application process.
Whilst choosing the right school for your child can feel daunting, there is outstanding provision available in both sectors. If you research the options carefully and attend open days with your child, you will almost certainly find a school that is right for them, where they can flourish academically and socially.