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When should my child start boarding?

York: two hours on the train from London; one hour 45 minutes on the train from the terminal at Manchester Airport; one hour’s drive from Leeds Bradford Airport. Perhaps not quite the centre of the universe, but certainly much more accessible than most people realise.

When should my child start boarding?

There is much to be said for choosing a boarding school in the north of England, particularly given the breadth of schools available. The York Boarding School Group (www.yorkboarding.co.uk) promotes 17 boarding schools, each with its own characteristics but all united by the provision of an outstanding boarding education. The location of the member schools ranges from Yorkshire’s heritage coastline through its breathtaking countryside to the heart of the cosmopolitan city. My own school is situated ten minutes’ walk from both the historic centre of York and the railway station, yet sits in 42 acres of grounds, with the River Ouse running alongside. As a result, rowing is a huge sport at both St Peter’s and St Olave’s. Boarders are able to benefit from being able to walk to the wide range of cultural attractions (and shops) in York. So, boarding in the north is most definitely alive and kicking, and what a glorious environment for young people to grow up in.

A big decision for parents is at what stage to let their child start boarding. Some schools start at age seven, others at age eight, nine, ten or eleven. Much will depend on your own circumstances and on the individual child. There are definite benefits to starting boarding before age 11 (Year 7):

  • children tend to find it easier to adapt when they are younger
  • many boarding prep schools do not do the government’s Key Stage 2 SATs tests at the end of Year 6 – there is a risk that children in schools that do them find that there is too much emphasis on preparing for the tests, especially in primary schools
  • as one of my boarders said to me ‘At home I haven’t got any brothers or sisters, but here I have lots!’
  • many parents of day pupils are finding that, with longer working hours and the need to be prepared to relocate in order to keep their job, boarding is an increasingly attractive proposition; this may be seven nights a week through to a couple of nights in the middle of the week
  • and let’s not forget one of the major reasons – it’s great fun!

Prep schools tend to fall into two categories: stand-alone prep schools that have no attachment to any one senior school, and tied prep schools, which are linked to one main senior school. There are pros and cons to both, and the advantages of stand-alone prep schools are well known. However, the advantages of a tied prep school are perhaps less well publicised:

  • continuity of education between the two schools – heads of department at the two schools liaise closely so that work isn’t repeated, as can sometimes be the case
  • pupils often have guaranteed places to the senior school, whether at 11+ or 13+, so don’t need to worry about entrance exams or passing Common Entrance exams
  • benefits of economies of scale and some shared facilities with the senior school
  • the ethos and values in the two schools will be similar
  • parents, particularly those serving overseas, don’t need to spend time looking round several senior schools in order to decide where their child goes when they finish prep school
  • brothers and sisters can still see each other even when one is at the senior school and the other in the prep school, because they are often on the same campus, not miles away from each other.

So, boarding generally is holding up well, and is something many parents still find a very attractive option, for a multitude of reasons. Boarding ‘up north’ is also something you should consider, particularly if you have family links to the area.

Andy Falconer
St Olave’s School, York