What provision does state-funded boarding make for the needs of children from Service families?
Raymond McGovern, Headmaster of St George’s School
If you are reading this article then clearly a boarding education is something you are exploring and that needs careful consideration. Most people assume that boarding education means independent education. It may therefore be something of a surprise to learn that this is not necessarily the case. There are currently 40 maintained or state-funded boarding schools including academies and free schools in England providing high-quality education and boarding.
In these schools and academies, parents pay only for the boarding element and the government pays for the education. This means that parents pay about £9,000 to £14,000 per year for a state boarding school. For some affordability may be a factor. For others it might be location, accessibility to guardians and other family members or ease of transport – being close to service establishments or locations where there is an understanding of the demands on Service families. For some there may be a philosophical dimension to their choice of school: they may prefer a state education to an independent one. However, for most it really comes down to where their child feels happiest and is likely to 'fit in' well with the ethos and values of the school.
So are there any catches when choosing a state boarding school? Well, the simple answer is no. If you don’t believe me, put us to the test. What are the questions that you would want answering when selecting any boarding school? Academic performance? Excellent pastoral care? Quality accommodation? Good sports facilities and access to a great range of activities? Well, state boarding schools can provide all of these, and you will find one that will match your needs as a Service family and your child’s individual needs. We don't see ourselves as being competitors with our independent brothers and sisters. We work in a collaborative manner to achieve high quality boarding and we look to complement each other. We will even recommend each other’s schools if we think they would be a better match for the child's and family's needs.
Many state boarding schools are among the highest-performing schools in the country judging by the raw score of GCSE and A-level results, Average Point Scores and even the percentage of pupils achieving the English Baccalaureate, if those are the measures that are important to an individual family. Some families may value other measures of quality such as sporting achievement, music, pastoral care, personal and social development and the extra-curricular offer. Whatever the measure there will be a state boarding school to suit.
Demand for places is high, so in recent years additional places have been created in existing schools and several new schools have opened with boarding provision, giving more parents the opportunity to send their children to these schools wherever they live. There is real diversity and choice in the state boarding sector, with schools ranging from single-sex grammar schools to the largest mixed boarding school in Europe. There is even a school that specialises in rural technology and attracts 50% of its pupils from the world of farming. This means families can find a school that suits them and will help their children realise their potential.
Living and working together
Living and working together is part of the adult world, so boarding schools can rightly claim that they prepare their students for real life and, of course, real work. The facilities at state boarding schools do match many of those found in the independent sector, but it is the ethos that we share that is even more important. Respect, responsibility and caring for others are integral to how boarding schools operate. Working and playing hard are essential ingredients, but so is the caring relationship that is formed between staff and students. The stability offered by state boarding schools gives parents the confidence of knowing that their children are well cared for, while gaining the benefits of growing and learning with their friends.
Many Service families will not be aware that in 2012 Ofsted published a report on the quality of provision for children from Service families. My previous school, Sexey’s, was selected to be part of this survey, as were a number of other state boarding schools. HMI Andrew Harrett wrote that ‘Sexey’s’ contribution to the quality of provision and partnerships for students who are in families of Service personnel is outstanding.’ The same applies throughout the sector, and parents may want to find out more when they visit schools by asking the question, ‘What provision do you make for the needs of children from Service families?’
The State Boarding Schools’ Association (SBSA) website (www.sbsa.org.uk) has all the details and I can guarantee that you will find a school that will be just right for your child and your family’s needs.
Raymond McGovern is Headmaster of St George’s School, Harpenden. He was previously Headmaster and Deputy Head at Sexey’s School, Bruton. He was Chair of the State Boarding Schools’ Association (2010–12) and Chairman of the Boarding Schools’ Association (2013–14). He has also been a Housemaster at Christ College, Brecon, and before his teaching career served in the Royal Air Force as an Aircraft Engineer at RAF St Athan, RAF Bruggen and RAF Brawdy.