Long the preserve of the upper classes, a wave of cut-price boarding schools providing a state-funded education could be made available to children from less privileged backgrounds.
New statistics show that there has been a huge rise in applications from academies, educational charities and individuals involved in the free-schools movement to arrange boarding facilities for pupils.
In just the first four months of 2013, the State Boarding Schools’ Association (SBSA) said it had received 20 applications from those interested in opening new institutions. This compares with only one application per annum over the past five years. These new schools would offer a free education and charge only for the cost of boarding – reducing the demands on parents’ bank accounts from more than £25,000 a year to around £10,000.
Although it is still a substantial monetary outlay, the charges can cancel out childcare costs and it is hoped the schools could provide an option for more children from families experiencing problems at home.
The new generation of boarding schools comes in the wake of the inner-city London school Durand Academy’s plan to open the “Eton of the state sector” in West Sussex for 600 children.
Three academies opened boarding facilities last year, with five more announcing plans to do the same. The Wellington Academy in Tidworth, Wiltshire, sponsored by the £30,000-a-year Wellington College, also offered boarding places to 100 pupils in 2012. Even the elite Eton College is planning to sponsor a state boarding school, Holyport College, which will open in 2014 just seven miles from the public school in a village near leafy Windsor.
The Harefield Academy in Hillingdon, west London, was the first academy to open a boarding house nearby, for 50 of its students in 2012.
Headmistress Lynn Gadd said the school decided to offer boarding to help pupils from working-class areas.
“For children who are on the verge of failing because they’re not in class, if you put them in boarding school it’s going to make a difference – it’s a no-brainer,” she said.
“There are also lots of children who we call sofa surfers. They move from mum to dad to gran, so they’re never in one place to do their homework or have a place to call their own.”
However, she admitted very few of the families can afford to pay the £10,000 fees to cover the costs to board over a year – saying that it could sometimes be a struggle to find funds for children who would benefit most from the experience.
“The Government funds the building and the facilities but it doesn’t fund the places,” Ms Gadd said. “So you have to go to charitable trusts for funding and local authorities for financial sponsorship.”
Melvyn Roffe, a senior member of the SBSA and the headmaster of the Wymondham College state boarding school in Norfolk, said: “It’s sort of going back to the future. It was a form of education that was very popular years ago and now it’s come back around.”
Case study: It’s like a family; everyone looks out for each other
Lauryn Nwaeze, 16, is completing her GSCEs at Harefield Academy and moved to the boarding house at the school in September.
I moved because of the long commute to school which would have been an hour-and-a-half.
It’s really helped me because it’s so close to the school that if I ever need help from teachers they’re literally two minutes away. My homework has improved because we have scheduled study time.
I quite like being in the boarding house because it’s like a family; everyone looks out for each other.
If you stay at weekends you’re allowed to do what you like but obviously we have a curfew – for Year 11’s that’s 10pm.
Before I came I thought boarding was going to be like in Harry Potter but it’s really normal and you’re in safe hands. I’ve got my own room and toilet, and we have a head house-mistress and people who look after us and keep us in line.
I don’t mind not being at home because my mum’s a nurse and she works quite a lot. What I love the most about being here is that I’m not on my own as much, and you also get to be more independent without your parents.