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Weekly boarding: everything you need to know
By Talk Education
05 May 2021
Photo: Handcross Park
Once upon a time, boarding meant waving goodbye to your son or daughter at the beginning of term and not seeing them again for weeks on end. But today, the options for families considering boarding are more flexible and convenient than ever – with many schools tuning into the market, adapting their models and embracing a weekly boarding framework in response to parental demand. So what is weekly boarding, and what are the pros and cons of your child spending weekdays at school and weekends at home?
Essentially, weekly boarding usually involves pupils staying over at school for anything from four to six nights a week. Each school has its own iteration of weekly boarding. Some, such as
, offer weekly boarding within their full-boarding model, giving pupils the option to go home once they’ve fulfilled all of their Saturday commitments (take note: in these cases, it’s likely that there’ll just be two different fee brackets, day or boarding – so don’t expect a discount if your child is spending weekends at home). Other schools might offer a specific weekly boarding package, with no formal Saturday school (many offer optional enrichment activities instead) or sports matches, allowing pupils to enjoy a lengthier stay at home from Friday afternoon until Sunday night or Monday morning.
Arguably, weekly boarding offers families the best of both worlds. Pupils work hard during the week, taking advantage of an extended boarding day for both academic and co-curricular activities (particularly handy during the busy exam terms – and all prep is usually done at school), more time spent with friends and the support of a nurturing school community. For parents, it can be a godsend; there’s no need to spend evenings ferrying children between clubs and sports practice or juggling the schedules of multiple siblings, and it’s a perfect solution for those with demanding work schedules or regular travel commitments. By staying at school during the week, pupils get the most out of their school’s wraparound care – freeing up space for proper family downtime during their weekends.
What are the key points to consider? Think about your chosen school’s location: if you’ll be picking up and dropping off your son or daughter within the space of 36 hours (which is often the case with weekly boarders), do you really want to be making a four-hour round trip each weekend? Look at whether the school offers transport to and from home (lots offer buses to London, for example), which can be a real blessing. And be aware of any commitments your child may be tied into at weekends (are they expected to play in a sports match every Saturday afternoon? Are Saturday-morning lessons compulsory) or is there a dazzling roster of enrichment activities that your child won’t want to miss out on? Sometimes, your child might want (or need) to stay over at school for the occasional weekend – is that something the school can easily accommodate, and will they be part of a buzzy weekend community or one of only a handful left in their boarding house?
Don’t forget about flexi boarding too: some schools let pupils pick just one or two nights a week to sleep over. It’s a brilliant way for your child to dip their toe in and see if boarding might suit them – and particularly useful at prep-school stage, if you’ve got half an eye on a full-boarding senior and want to suss out if it’s right for your child.
If you think weekly boarding might be the answer for your family, here are a handful of schools that embrace the model – and are well worth adding to your list:
At Brambletye in Sussex, a flexible boarding model gives children the opportunity to maximise their time with their friends while staying within easy reach of their families – something that’s more important than ever in the wake of the pandemic. ‘Over 60 per cent of our boarders live within driving distance of the school, so there’s no logistical reason for them to board, but the children choose to do so to make the most of our evening programme,’ says head Will Brooks. Boarders sign up for a minimum of three nights per week in Year 7, increasing to four nights per week in Year 8 (the younger years can choose any number of nights), and are welcome to pop home for weekends – whether it’s to spend time with their parents and siblings, or to keep up with clubs and sport-training commitments. Weekly boarders can stay in for the occasional weekend if they wish, and many do – no doubt thanks to the school’s 140-acres of woods and parkland to muck around in, plus the draw of bubble football, tree climbing, zip-wiring and much, much more.
With almost every leaver heading off to a full or weekly boarding school at 13, boarding at Cheam is seen as essential preparation for the next stage. That said, it’s incredibly flexible, and everyone pops home for Saturday nights, leaving as soon as they’ve finished Saturday-morning lessons and afternoon matches. The school’s boarding model allows littlies to build up their nights as they move up the school: weekly boarders can choose to stay over for three, four or five nights per week (keeping all their belongings at school, and getting all their washing done – hooray). Flexi boarders pick just one or two nights, bringing in an overnight bag for the nights they stay over. It’s all made even easier by the fact that London parents can pop their children on the school bus leaving Putney every Monday morning, before getting them back on Saturday to enjoy a family weekend together.
Handcross Park’s weekly boarding model offers the best of both worlds – and it’s brilliantly geared towards busy working parents. The school minibus picks Londoners up from their homes on Monday morning before dropping them at school in time for the first bell, where they stay over for four nights, sleeping in some of the nicest, perkiest dorms we’ve seen, filling their lungs with fresh country air and polishing off all their prep, before being delivered safely back home on Friday evening. Family time is hugely valued – there’s no Saturday school or compulsory weekend commitments, leaving pupils ready to spend the whole of their precious weekends with their families. What’s more, the weekly boarding model acts as brilliant preparation for children looking at a boarding senior (a handful of new pupils arrive at Handcross when their London day school finishes at the end of Year 6), so they can get a feel for how things work before hopping on to the likes of Brighton College, Winchester or Charterhouse.
The boarding contingent at Gloucestershire’s Hatherop Castle isn’t huge (there’s a booming local market here), but for those who do board, the offering is about as parent-friendly as they come. Weekly and full are the main options, but there’s also the highly coveted occasional boarding, where families can book their children in for ad-hoc sleepovers – the perfect solution for a last-minute babysitter crisis. There’s no Saturday school (and no plans for it). We’re big fans of the Cotswold Flyer, Hatherop’s very own escorted train service to and from London. Weekly boarders are scooped up by a member of staff at Paddington on Sunday evening, before jumping on the train to Charlbury – and enjoying a good catch-up with their friends on the journey. The same happens in reverse on Friday afternoon, and pupils can hop on or off anywhere they like along the route, meeting parents at, say, Oxford or Reading.
Boarding is a big deal at Summer Fields (around 80 per cent of prep pupils opt in), but the school is well tuned into parents’ desire to spend more time with their children – a few years ago, it introduced a ‘proper’ weekly boarding model for boys who prefer to head home on Saturday evenings. ‘More choice and flexibility has certainly been hugely appreciated by the boys and their parents,’ says deputy head pastoral and head of boarding James Aldred. Those who sign up to the weekly boarding model are free to leave after Saturday-afternoon sports fixtures – some go home every week, some very occasionally, and others never at all (this is a school that remains very much alive seven days a week). The school has also responded to a changing market by opening up places for day boys – but in reality, almost everyone has a go at boarding before heading off to their senior schools at 13.
Boarding is an intrinsic part of life at Wellesley House – and although there’s a thriving community of full boarders here, the school’s brilliant weekly and flexi options mean there’s something to suit everyone. Weekly boarders are free to leave after lessons and matches on a Saturday, but crucially, anyone who commits to sleeping over more than one night a week is assigned their own bed – a huge bonus, given most other boarding schools require pupils to board weekly in order to snag their own space. Ad-hoc boarding is possible too, provided there’s a spare bed, which is a real lifesaver for busy parents. Best of all, there’s no lower age limit for boarders – even Reception pupils can stay over if they wish.
Windlesham House is one of only a few remaining full-boarding co-ed preps, and the school has long been a stalwart of the seven-day-a-week model. But in response to parental demand (and heavily influenced by the pandemic), weekly and flexible boarding have been added to the options list for the first time this term – and the new model is already proving a resounding hit, with younger pupils lining up to take advantage of the new rules, and families who might never have considered boarding before rushing to sign up. Under the new plans, weekly boarders can stay over for four nights a week, heading home after lessons end on Friday and returning to school on Monday morning, fully refreshed after a weekend at home. As the number of weekly boarders grows, there are plans to extend the existing exeat and half-term London bus to weekly shuttles too – which we can see will only boost the new model’s appeal.
One of the most high-achieving, broad-minded and forward-thinking co-eds in the country, Brighton College is also one of only a handful of senior schools that offers proper weekly boarding (‘Four nights at school, three days at home: it’s the perfect mix of education and family time,’ says head Richard Cairns). Almost one third of the school’s 1,000 boarders opt in to the weekly option, and the school bus shuttling pupils to and from Clapham each week is unsurprisingly popular (there’s another bus serving Surrey, and a fast train that zips pupils from London to Brighton in just under an hour). And there’s no pressure to leave if staying at school would be more convenient – plenty stick around for the occasional weekend if they’ve got, say, a drama rehearsal or sports match, getting stuck into a packed timetable of clubs, societies and movie nights to keep them busy all weekend.
Less than 25 minutes by train from Clapham Junction, Caterham offers a weekly boarding package that is a top option for south Londoners, who can be at the school’s massive 200-acre campus in the heart of the Surrey Hills quicker than it takes to schlep across London on the Tube. It’s also helped to bring boarding to the school’s thriving day market, which many choosing to board from Monday till Friday to give themselves more time to get stuck into all the sporting and co-curricular activities on offer each evening – leaving parents free from the pressures of logistics-juggling during the week. Even better, there are no lessons on Saturday – so once the weekend rolls around, it’s free for pupils and their families to enjoy exactly as they wish.
At Surrey’s Frensham Heights, full, weekly and flexi boarding are on offer to everyone from Year 7 and up. There’s a small cohort of international boarders who stay in for weekends, with activities hugely influenced by what they’d like to do – whether that’s shopping trips, mountain biking or relaxed dog walks around the grounds. But with no formal Saturday commitments, most boarders choose to go home (some live as close as 10 minutes away, but sleep at school during the week because they don’t want to miss out). Londoners can jump on the school bus heading towards the capital on Friday evening, returning in time for bed on Sunday evening, refreshed and ready for another busy week.
Lancing has been carefully tracking the shift in the market away from full boarding – and bagging one of the school’s flexi-boarding spots is a real golden ticket, because there’s only a limited number up for grabs each year. Flexi boarders get the best of both worlds – a bed in their boarding house three nights a week (with the option to add in an extra night here and there, provided there’s space), plus heaps more time to throw themselves into everything from evening clubs to academic clinics and lectures. It’s a great option for families who might be anxious about committing to boarding (particularly those with younger children), or those who want to switch across from day to boarding as they get older, in readiness for the sixth form. Full boarders aren’t tied down to set exeats either – everyone’s welcome to go home for the weekend whenever they like, free to head off as soon as they’ve honoured their Saturday commitments.
Wellington College may proudly be a full-boarding school, but thanks to its proximity to London and its broadly local school community, the school also offers what head James Dahl calls ‘weekly boarding in a full boarding framework’ – that is, a busy seven-day-a-week school, with the opportunity for everyone to head home on Saturday afternoon if they’d like to. Saturdays are full-on – there are lessons in the morning and sports matches in the afternoons, but once commitments are over, pupils aren’t due back at school again until 9pm on Sunday evening.
If the weekly boarding model sounds like it might suit your child, click ‘weekly boarding’ on the Talk Education
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