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EL Young learners: Beginner’s guide to British boarding



Melanie Butler explains the why, what and how of the UK system

The British have been sending their children to boarding schools for centuries. The oldest boarding school is the King’s School Canterbury, founded in AD 597 as part of the cathedral. Most of medieval Europe had cathedral schools but the British continued with the tradition partly because, during the time of the empire, the British upper class sent their children home to be educated. Just under thirty boarding schools have their English language courses and summer schools inspected by the British Council. Others, like King’s Canterbury, rent their buildings out to private course providers in the summer.

Most British boarding schools are independent schools, which simply means they are not funded by the state. Legally an independent school is any school with five or more fifteen-year-olds which does not receive state funds, while the legal definition of a boarding school includes any school with fifteen-year-olds which offers accommodation, even if that accommodation is with host families.

All independent schools must be inspected either by state inspectors from Ofsted or by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI). They must also meet the national minimum boarding school standards for accommodation and child protection. Schools that only take students over sixteen are not covered by these standards, though if they enrol international students they must be inspected by the ISI under the Educational Oversight scheme, in which child protection standards are less strict.

‘Public school’ is the name given to historic independent secondary schools which enrol children at eleven or thirteen. Only schools which are members of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference or the Girls School Association can be called public schools. All members must be not-for-profit organisations, though some of their activities, including their summer schools, can make a profit.

A preparatory schools or ‘prep school’ is the name given in the UK to an independent primary school enrolling children to the age of eleven or thirteen. Traditionally prep schools were attached to a public school or were family-run. In recent years large educational businesses have begun to buy these schools. In the US the term refers to independent high schools.

Pic courtesy: Peter Banyard