There are a reasonable number of UK boarding prep schools which offer accommodation for pupils at ages 7 or 8 onwards; there are very few pre-prep boarding schools for children under the age of 7. A number of so-called prep boarding schools actually only offer weekly boarding from Monday to Friday, requiring parents to be local enough to look after the children each weekend. Many that do offer full boarding will still close the school for weekend exeats every 3 weeks. There are hardly any prep boarding schools in London itself – so most full boarding preps are in the countryside, affording the opportunity of extensive grounds, fresh air and sports facilities.
The reasons for families to choose prep boarding schools are changing. Whilst it used to be the case that they were a necessity for children of the armed forces and a privilege of educated elite there are now a whole range of reasons why prep boarding is becoming more commonplace.
Parents may choose a prep boarding school to be an ideal preparation for a heritage public boarding school, such as Eton, Harrow, Wycombe Abbey or Cheltenham Ladies College. Some parents will be seeking highly academic prep schools where over 50% children are full boarders. Some of these “elite prepping schools” will be setting homework and other activities until well into the evening, making it difficult for day pupils to keep up. This type of senior school feeder often has to prepare children for admission pre tests 2 to 3 years in advance of senior school entry.
Other parents may want a less intensive boarding school with a more family feel. If they are still seeking progression to a senior boarding school, then in some cases an “all through boarding school” may be more appropriate. These take children from age 4 or 7 all the way through to age 18. The progression from prep to senior sections is not guaranteed but usually is expected to happen.
Other parents may be looking for an opportunity for their children to be kept busy with a range of extra-curricular activities and supervised homework sessions during the week when they are busy, and then have the children home with them at the weekend. This is an increasingly popular choice for London parents who will be interested in prep schools offering weekly boarding in the Home Counties.
There is an increasing demand for boarding now from families that work long hours in the city and would prefer their child to enjoy the stability of boarding, rather than long hours at breakfast and afterschool clubs, or at home with a nanny. Boarding allows the children to benefit from a whole range of extra-curricular activities as well as supervised homework sessions. There are numerous Prep schools in the home counties that will collect children from the major London train station on a Sunday evening, and escort them back on a Friday evening.
For families that work long hours, flexi or weekly boarding gives the peace of mind that their child can take part in clubs after school, as well as complete their homework, and eat a home cooked meal. Knowing their child has showered and read their book before bed every night in a secure, caring and unhurried environment can take the pressure off of working parents.
International parents often send their children to UK boarding schools to improve their English, in which case one needs to be sure that the school has a strong English learning support department.
Full boarding is seven days a week. Full boarding schools often have Saturday school, and a comprehensive range of activities and excursions throughout the weekend. Boarding rooms are normally organised by year group; some rooms can be small, catering for three or four children, others can be much larger. Schools normally close for one weekend in every half term, requiring children to go home or to a guardian for the weekend.
Weekly boarding can be for five or six nights per week. Children normally come to school on Sunday evening or Monday morning and stay until Friday evening, or in some cases Saturday afternoon if the school has Saturday school. Children will normally have their own bed at the school so they stay in the same room with the same room mates each week.
Flexi-boarding can be fixed or ad-hoc. Many schools require families to fix which nights of the week a child will board, this might be every Thursday night after concert practice, or every Monday and Wednesday as parents work late these nights. Other schools offer an ad-hoc arrangement where parents can call at any stage in the day and ask for their child to sleep the night. In this case, the child will not have fixed bed and may be in a room with children in different year groups. Whilst this hotel type service is convenient for parents, most schools recommend setting a routine for each child. Always ask the school their policy on beds; if your child is a full or weekly boarder, you will want to be sure they don't have too many other children in and out of their room.
There are numerous elements to consider when choosing the right school for your child. See our decisions and choices section for guidance on how to tell one school from the next.
Whatever type of prep boarding school you are seeking, it is vital to consider the school’s pastoral care and how they ensure young children are not homesick. In most cases it is a good idea to ask for your child to have taster days in your target schools.
There is a huge difference in ethos and culture between one prep boarding school and another. So, tell us your aspirations and requirements and our bespoke placement service will guide you to the best fit of school for your child. Complete our enquiry form or call us on +44 (0)1622 813870.