The news that boarding is undergoing a revival, as shown in a survey by the Royal Wanstead Children's Foundation (RCWF), is welcome. This is not a return to the days of cold showers and chilblains for the rich and privileged. The new breed of boarder is likely to be a young person from a broken home on the verge of being taken into care for whom the offer of a boarding place is a way of giving them a decent education and some respectable nurturing.
Boarding schools have moved a long way from the stereotype of freezing dormitories, lumpy food and spartan regimes. For several decades now they have been building better equipped and comfortable dormitories, as well as arts and other facilities. Moreover, independent schools are boosting the bursaries they have on offer to ward off the Charity Commissioners as they attempt to ensure private schools are able to justify their charitable status.
The Government is playing its part, too. Andrew Adonis, the Schools minister, himself the beneficiary of a subsidised boarding school place, has long advocated the idea of the state paying part, or all, of the cost of more places for vulnerable children in boarding schools and has set up a "pathfinder" project to encourage local authorities to explore this option.
There is more to be done. According to Colin Morrison, the chairman of the RWCF, there are still 2,000 unfilled boarding places in state and independent boarding schools, while there is a vast army of youngsters in vulnerable circumstances who could benefit from such a placement. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has revealed that – despite pledging support for the pathfinder project for the best part of two years – only 10 children have so far been put on it, and a further eight are being considered for placements. A full review of the scheme is being carried out in November with a view to rolling out the programme nationally if it is shown to be successful. To fill the surplus places would cost the taxpayer an extra £20m a year and – although we are not suggesting the Government should foot the whole bill – it should not be beyond the wit of officials from the DCSF and representatives of the independent sector to negotiate an expansion of what appears to be a worthy scheme.