Leading article: The case for boarding schools

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The Independent Online

For some time, the Government has been urgently seeking a way of improving the life chances of children in care. Statistics show they do far less well in exams, are more likely to turn to a life of crime and tend to experience literacy problems. One of the more imaginative possibilities being explored is boarding school. The Schools Minister, Lord Adonis, has been liaising with leading independent and state boarding schools to see if they would consider admitting children in care on subsidised places. And so far the response has been encouraging – with about 30 schools prepared to do so.

Now, there is independent research to back up this approach. Vulnerable children, it suggests, do succeed if they are given this opportunity. The research, from the Royal Wanstead Children's Foundation (RWCF) – an education charity whose main aim is to subsidise boarding school places for children from vulnerable families – also shows that the net could usefully be spread wider than just children in care. It shows that youngsters from single-parent families living in substandard accommodation or whose parents have a history of mental illness also benefit from boarding school.

The findings are quite startling, with 85 per cent of those admitted from vulnerable backgrounds performing better than the average child after three years at a boarding school. Indeed, more than a third also come in among the top 25 per cent for their age group. When you compare that with the backgrounds they came from (60 per cent from abusive family situations and 70 per cent diagnosed with severe emotional problems), it is likely that they would have slipped through society's net.

Colin Morrison, the chairman of the RWCF, estimates there are about 2,000 more children from similar backgrounds who could be accommodated in boarding schools if the extra funding were to be forthcoming. All this makes perfect sense. Today's modern boarding schools are a far cry from the cold shower and mass dormitory caricature that epitomised the sector in the 1950s. But the advantages they offer are the same: a structured day, the consistent presence of responsible adults, and a context that favours learning. In their home environment, these children would receive little encouragement with their education and would find it almost impossible even to do their homework.

We know that the Government is sympathetic to the plight of these youngsters. All that now remains is for it to get out its cheque-book – the very same cheque-book that currently pays huge sums for often unsatisfactory remedial education. Then more children would receive the advantages of the kind of education from which Lord Adonis benefited.