Boarding Schools

The over-subscribed London day school market is encouraging many families to choose boarding schools just outside London, says Gillian Upton



Photo: Woldingham School

If the competitive London day school options are not a good fit for your child, you may want to look further afield. Widening the net of schools not only brings more choice but the option to enjoy an entirely different educational experience. It also highlights that “you don’t need to be next to a school to go to it,” observes Ben Hitchman, show director of The Independent Schools Show.

“More people are finding it so hard to get into schools in London yet there are so many amazing schools outside London. My advice is to look further afield and consider boarding,” says Hitchman.


London-based Ben spent his prep school years at Caldicott in South Bucks, and you only have to observe the coaches unloading London children at Clapham South station on a Friday night from Ardingly College, the buses picking up from Putney en route to St John’s in Leatherhead, or the hordes of girls disembarking a train at Clapham Junction from Woldingham, to know that it’s become a popular choice.

The 4.29 on a Friday is the busiest of the week for the Woldingham girls, who have the luxury of a train station in the school grounds. “Many see us as an alternative to a London day school,” says Woldingham head, Alex Hutchinson.

Recent leavers from Newton Prep, Thomas’s, Broomwood Hall and Fulham Prep often find themselves catching the 6.40 bus at Clapham Common bright and early on a Monday morning, heading for Ardingly College. They arrive back on a Friday evening at 6pm, ready for the weekend.

There are plenty of benefits when weighing up boarding for your child. Some boarding schools are only an hour’s drive away, most provide transport options to make it easier for London pupils and many are broader in their intake of students.

boarding2Moreover, the breadth of facilities cannot be matched in London. Woldingham lies in 700 acres of magnificent Surrey countryside, Cranleigh is set on a beautiful 240-acre campus and Ardingly College is spread over 420 acres of West Sussex countryside.

Andrea Saxel, deputy head pastoral at Cranleigh, outlines other plus points: “As well as the academic advantages of a longer day, more time with teachers and help with prep, they gain independence and the time and space to try new things and to flourish in their chosen activities.”

The introduction of flexi- or weekly boarding offers the best of both worlds. Your children come home and can still enjoy a full weekend and experience the best of what an out-of-town school offers: expansive grounds, plenty of co-curricular activities, a chance to form robust friendship groups and to complete prep before heading home.

She believes weekly boarding enables an incredibly positive family experience. “Teenagers are intellectually and physically challenged, and cared for, all week, then at weekends they come home for quality family time without the pressures of having to complete prep.” Around 20% of Cranleigh’s boarders live in London.

For those parents unsure of how they and their child will cope, flexi-boarding is the ideal way of dipping a toe in the water. Prep schools usually offer a minimum of two consecutive nights per week for children aged 7 to 13, which can gradually be increased to weekly or full boarding at senior school.

“With flexi-boarding children can stay at school the night of their hockey match and save the journey home,” says Woldingham head, Alex Hutchinson. “We try and be as flexible as we can.” This September the school is extending flexi- boarding from Years 7 and 8 into Year 9.


It’s not all glamour

The Wolf of Wall Street and The Social Network make for interesting discussion but Business lessons will not offer you quick tips on becoming a billionaire. You will learn the fundamental principles that underpin a commercial enterprise.

Observe and reflect

Case studies are key to business courses. Get into the habit of looking at differences in business operations – why one might be more successful than another.

Application, application, application

There is no commercial panacea. Context is key in Business exams and many students struggle with this, so sharpen your exam technique from the start.

Select the right course

Why Business instead of Economics or Accounting? Do not assume it is easy and do not underestimate the essay-writing. A Level Business is an excellent course but students also obtain places at some of the world’s best universities after studying BTEC Extended Diplomas and International Foundation Programmes.

Source: DLD College London


“Flexi-boarding is very popular with working parents and those with a commute to school,” says Cranleigh’s Saxel. “Pupils board on the same nights each week for the whole term.”

By Years 8 and 9 flexi- and weekly boarding come into their own and by sixth form full boarding becomes the norm.

Having said that, St John’s School, Leatherhead stopped full boarding six years ago when it took the decision to stop Saturday school. As a co-ed independent school for 11-18 year-olds it offers day, weekly and flexible boarding for its 700+ pupils.

“Flexi-boarding is convenient for parents with their busy lives,” says Ashley Vargas, head of boarding at St John’s. “It breaks up the week and it’s a taster of what it’s like.”

Weekly boarding is £2,070 per term or pre-paid flexi boarding – two nights per week – is £54 per night. These costs are on top of termly school fees of £6,170 in lower school and £7,860 in the senior school.

Royal Russell has just opened a state-of-the-art boarding house for boys, such is the demand for full boarding at the Croydon school, which comes mainly from Years 11,12 and 13 pupils.

“We’re looking at offering flexi-boarding but at the moment we’re full with full boarders,” says Nathalie Hart, deputy head pastoral.

Choosing to board your child is clearly a large financial undertaking. Cranleigh’s fees are £35,370 per year, for example, Stowe in Buckinghamshire is £35,595. Woldingham’s start at £33,000 per year and are £35,500 from Year 9. “Full boarding is a tough one, naturally,” says Woldingham head Alex Hutchinson. Childcare costs don’t come cheap either though, and these would be saved if your child boards.

Boarding is an excellent alternative to a London day school and should never be viewed as second best. Boarding schools should be firmly on your radar when weighing up where your child will best thrive and for some parents, the advantages will far outweigh the disadvantage of distance.



Aegrotat – illness or sickness, often shortened to aeger and is used mainly by classics students showing off their Latin. “Barty skipped rugger last night, a touch of the aeger.”

Beak – teacher.

Crammer – an educational institution which organizes intense series of stand-alone revision sessions, usually in the holidays before exams. Almost exclusively paid-for, these are often used by pupils hoping to “bump” a grade eg. “I was forecast a B in English so my parents sent me to a crammer and I somehow squeaked an A”.

Dormy raid – attack by one dormitory upon another. Usually performed under cover of darkness and when the stakes are high, eg. after a pizza delivery or visit to the tuck shop.

Exeat – a leave of absence from school.

It’s generally used to describe weekend leave from a boarding school.

Formal hall – the whole school eating together.

Soup strainer – moustache.

Mufti – the wearing of ordinary clothes, ie. not school uniform.

New bug – new boy or girl.

Prep – another word for homework in the private sector.

Tardy – late, used recently by Prince William to describe the overdue birth of Prince George. “I’ll remind him of his tardiness when he’s older.”

Trunk – errrr actually just a trunk! But it’s the most common method used to transport belongings to and from a boarding school.

Tuck box – a robust, lockable box essential for boarding school life.


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