State boarding schools: the UK’s best kept secret?

Posted on 17th Apr 2024 in School News, International Education, International Schools, Boarding, United Kingdom

David Woods, Principal at Hockerill Anglo European College, shares the benefits of a state boarding school experience and why they are a unique education opportunity.

The UK offers an extensive and excellent range of private international boarding school options, but perhaps less well known is that among them are 32 state boarding schools. Education at state boarding schools is funded by the government and so parents pay only the cost of boarding. Despite this, pupils will find the same levels of care both in and out of the classroom as they would expect in their private counterparts. State boarding schools are generally for pupils aged 11-18, are co-educational, non-selective and regularly among the highest-ranking schools in league tables. The quality of provision is assured through regular inspections of both education and boarding.

State boarding schools offer several advantages over private boarding schools. One of the most significant is that they are generally more affordable. As they receive funding from the government, there are no tuition fees and so overall costs are considerably lower. This does mean though that access to the schools is limited to children who hold a full UK passport, a BN(O) or other right to residency in the UK. The relative affordability of state boarding makes the schools accessible to a wider range of students, meaning that they attract a diverse student population from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This diversity creates a rich and inclusive learning environment where students can interact with peers from various cultures, experiences, and perspectives. This enhances their global awareness and intercultural competence which prepares them more effectively for an increasingly interconnected world.

State boarding schools are also known for their high academic standards and rigorous curriculum resulting in exceptional examination outcomes and access to top universities in the UK and around the world. While some of the state boarding schools offer UK qualifications such as GCSEs and A Levels, others offer the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (IBDP). These are highly prized over-arching qualifications which build students’ academic and life skills, readiness for higher level study and are recognized as university entrance qualifications throughout the world.

The funding model for state boarding schools also means that they have all of the facilities that you would expect of a private boarding school including modern classrooms, libraries, laboratories, sports facilities, and recreational spaces. They will also have an extensive range of extra-curricular activities and dedicated support services, such as counselling and learning support which contribute to the overall well-being and development of students, fostering personal growth and creating a balanced and enriching educational experience.

Hockerill Anglo European College is typical of the provision to be found in a state boarding school. Located in Bishop’s Stortford, close to Stansted Airport, the College offers the MYP, GCSE and IBDP qualifications to 920 day (510) and boarding (410) students. The full, weekly and flexi boarders are accommodated in 5 boarding houses on a leafy 9 hectare site that includes Grade 2 listed buildings, state of the art classroom facilities, an astro pitch and modern sports hall. Extra-curricular provision includes music, sport, foreign languages and culture & leisure

activities with all students - day and boarding - expected to participate on a regular basis. Teaching staff are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds to reflect the internationally and culturally diverse student population. Examination outcomes at GCSE and IBDP are exceptional with the College regularly placed in the top 10 of non-selective schools in England. Graduating students move on to top UK universities such as Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, Imperial, Durham, Edinburgh and Bristol and internationally to the US, Europe and Asia.

So state boarding schools have a wide range of high quality educational provision which is the equal of most schools in the private sector. If you are looking for an inclusive school in which your child will thrive personally and academically within a diverse and enriching community then a state boarding school may be just what you are looking for. And as fees are payable only for the boarding, value for money is exceptional. State boarding schools may be the best kept secret in the world of boarding provision but demand for places is very strong and interested families are advised to apply early, ideally in the autumn before proposed entry, if they want to secure a place.

This article first appeared in the 2023/24 edition of John Catt's Guide to International Schools, which you can read here: