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Can you beat the boarding schools?

These year-round stalwarts know what they’re doing, says Melanie Butler

British boarding schools are famed across the world for their excellence in education, so it should, perhaps, be no surprise that those which are accredited by the British Council outperform all other sectors based on the inspectors’ report. This year they have just nosed ahead of their greatest competitors, the UK universities.

Some language school chains also operate boarding schools. Where the same teachers were working across both operations at inspection, we include them in the boarding school category.

Like every other sector, boarding schools have seen their numbers fall during the pandemic. Five schools have left, though only one, King’s College St Michael’s, has closed. One new school, Ratcliffe College, has recently joined the scheme, bringing the total number up to 24 and the percentage of schools lost from the scheme to 14%, the lowest rate for any sector we have analysed.

Boarding schools have a mode score of 11 net areas of strength, one point higher than the universities, as is their median score of 10. Both sectors have a standard deviation of just 3.3, showing the quality is very consistent.

Where boarding schools absolutely dominate as a sector is in safeguarding, where an astonishing 75% score an Area of Strength, nearly three times as many as in the industry as a whole.

The boarding schools can be beaten – the 10 well-established independent private language schools which make up The English Network have a higher mean average score: 12 areas of strength and a perfect 15 as their most common result – but there are half as many operations in the language school group and their standard deviation score of 3.7 suggests they are a little less consistent,

Nearly 60% of accredited boarding schools are Centres of Excellence and, while only one has ever made it into our rankings on first inspection, they tend to hit the industry average score on the first attempt and then head upwards. Perhaps this should be no surprise in a sector which deals with under-16s all year round and where they are governed by the fearsome Boarding School Standards, said to include the strictest child protection rules in the world.

Boarding school Centres of Excellence

  1. Bishopstrow, Millfield, St Edmund’s (13)
  2. Heathfield (12)
  3. Buckswood, Concord College, Harrow Short Courses, King’s London, King’s Oxford (11)
  4. Bede’s, Kings’ Brighton, Sherborne, St Clare’s, Stonyhurst (10)

Key The numbers given in brackets refer to net areas of strength awarded at inspection. All schools enrol under-18s and are all inspected in 15 areas.

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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