While the traditional view of UK boarding schools is one of cold showers and austere dormitories, the reality of today is very far removed from this image. Many schools say parents of international students are increasingly demanding single rooms, en suite bathrooms, computer access and 24-hour pastoral support, and are updating accommodation arrangements to stay competitive.
Stephen Winkley at Rossall School in Fleetwood, Lancashire, says that for all parents, the room sizes and quality accommodation is paramount. “We have invested UK£1.5 million (US$2.3 million) in the last two years in building new accommodation for pupils. We have increased our boarding capacity substantially as a result.”
The current trend is to provide smaller dormitories for younger students, single rooms for older students and accommodation blocks to create small student communities.
Winkley says, “The junior boarders from age seven-to-13 years tend to be in larger dormitories of about three, four or five. We no longer have any dorms of say 10 or 20 because we believe these to be too impersonal. For sixth formers, we always try to provide a single room, particularly for those in examination years years 11-to-13.”
At Godolphin School in Salisbury too, the boarding facilities have undergone a rethink. According to Lesley Hodgson, girls between nine and 13 years old have a separate house, and the school has introduced boarding activities for different age groups. “The [international] students are housed with the UK boarders throughout our three boarding phases. This aids integration and understanding for all students and language skills and confidence for the internationals,” she adds.
It is also now common for schools to provide a range of accommodation options to cater for different tastes. Debora Brand at d’Overbroeck’s in Oxford, says the school has a boarding house with double rooms and en suite facilities, another with single rooms and shared facilities and a house for girls with doubles, singles and shared facilities. A range of family accommodation options are also on offer, she adds, enthusing, “The boarding houses accommodate 18, 20 and seven students so they are not overcrowded and work as a little community rather than a space where they sleep and eat.”
Creating a small, family-type atmosphere within a boarding situation is key to ensuring a happy environment for international students to work and socialise. Arrangements for pastoral care, therefore, are as equally important. Clare Sender, at Bethany School in Kent, says, “All students are supported by the housemaster, assistant housemaster, housekeeper and older prefects. All washing, ironing and sewing is done by the housekeeper until the students reach the sixth form when they are taught to do it themselves. We see Bethany as an extension of the home a caring and supportive community.”
Many schools have well-developed activity programmes for all boarders to enjoy. Mary King at Royal Russell School in Croydon, Surrey says students can meet each other in the evenings in the sixth form café, adding, “At weekends there is a wide range of regular organised activities and outings for all our boarders. Royal Russell also builds a variety of social activities into the school calendar, such as our Christmas snow ball for boarders of all ages.”
Fostering relationships between students and staff within boarding facilities is also important to schools. Rachel Hill at Hethersett Old Hall School in Norwich says they have three members of boarding staff to cater for pastoral care, as well as two international gap years students and an international teacher. “We have a very small close-knit community, with 25 boarders aged between nine-and-18 years. The girls mix very well and have sisterly relationships, looking out for each other.”
Often for parents, personal relationships, as well as facilities, are key factors in deciding between schools. “Parents often look for a boarding school which feels safe and friendly and for boarding staff who will help their daughters make the most of their time in England,” says Sarah Atkinson at Princess Helena College in Hitchin, Hertfordshire.
What the agents say
“Accommodation is a very important consideration. More so than for English language students. Parents are more choosey. They want a single room, en suite facilities, nice furniture etc. If it is a very academic school and the students wants to get in, then accommodation facilities are less critical. Parents and students absolutely demand Wi Fi and computer access. But they also like schools to be strict about chat rooms and requiring computers to be switched off at a certain time in the evening. Students complain about the food but not much else. Homestay is not really requested very much. Parents of younger children don’t mind dormitories as long as they are no larger than six beds.”
Alexandra von Bulow-Steinbeis, Alexandra von Bulow and Partners, Germany
“A high standard of accommodation is very important for students and parents chosing a school in the UK. Students generally prefer boarding houses, preferably single or twin bedrooms but not dormitories and sometimes they want their own bathroom. The most common complaints from students are rooms that are too small and boarding houses are sometimes too cold in winter.”
Assiya Zemlekhanova, Euroschool Agency, Kazakhstan