What is the right age to consider a UK boarding school for your child?
A generation or two ago, children went to boarding school at the age of seven or eight.
However, this appears to no longer be the case. So, what is the right age today for children to consider an independent school application and attend boarding school?
Boarding schools today offer much greater flexibility over both the point of entry and the style of boarding (full-time, weekly, part-time or flexi-boarding). This is a good thing for children, but as is so often the case in education, it gives parents a difficult decision to make.
The only right answer is what’s right for your child in the circumstances. So, how do you make the decision?
4 factors to consider in deciding when to send your child to boarding school:
1. Your child’s wellbeing
This should certainly be your first concern. Bear in mind however that boarding can actually have a positive impact on your child’s mental health and overall wellbeing.
If you are so busy that you cannot spend quality time with your child during the week, they may well relish the stability that boarding offers. If you live in a busy city, think of how your child might benefit from spending time in a rural environment with plenty of space to play and grow.
2. Your child’s own thoughts on the matter
It’s essential that your child is involved in the decision-making process. In my experience children who feel they have played a part in choosing their school are much more likely to thrive there.
It is often best to introduce a child to the idea of boarding without putting any sense of time on the decision, even if there are independent school application deadlines to consider. If you can, find a couple of schools that you like, and take your child to see them on the basis that they might go there one day, rather than in a specific timeframe.
You can do this when they are quite young; at nine or ten, most children will give you a clear indication of whether boarding is something they might be happy doing now or later. Your child will soon tell you if they like the school.
3. How your child feels after a taster day/overnight stay
If your child likes the look of the schools you take them to visit, ask about doing a taster day first before trying an overnight visit (unless your child is keen to go straight to an overnight stay - if that happens, they are probably going to be fine boarding).
Most prep schools will be happy to offer this service, and by the time you have done it you will know for certain whether you have found the right school.
This is not to say that your child will not find things difficult at some point once they start, but if the school is right, you will know that the staff will help your child when they are finding things hard.
4. The advice of your chosen school placements agency.
If you are unable to visit schools yourself, this is when the services of a schools placement agency can be invaluable. A good one will take the time to get to know you and your child and will be able to advise you knowledgeably on the right school for you.
You should listen to their advice with an open mind. They know the schools intimately and they know which ones will get the best from your child. It is in their interest to help you find a school where your child will be happy and successful.
Once the agency has made the introductions, the school may well be able to help find ways for your child to get to know them before starting.
The next steps to take
Once you, your child and your school placements agency have found a boarding school that you all agree on, your child might be offered a summer term start, rather than in September. If so, it is well worth considering.
The lighter evenings and warmer weather of a British summer are fantastic for children, and there is always plenty to look forward to in the summer term.
Many families in my own school find a summer term start to be an excellent way of settling in, especially for younger boarders. If we can possibly accommodate them, we do.
To summarise, if boarding is going to be a possibility it is a good idea to consider it seriously at a reasonably early age.
Nine or ten is not too early, and some do it at eight. You and your child may not actually choose the boarding option at that point, but early exposure to the opportunities offered by boarding will allow you to make an informed decision together. It will also make the transition very much easier when the right moment comes.
Are you looking for independent school application and boarding school advice for your child?
William Clarence Education is the leading education advisory and consultancy service in the UK. With an unrivalled reach into the UK Schooling and University network, William Clarence offers unbiased advice to students and parents from around the world, at every stage of their academic journey.
As such, we would be glad to discuss you and your child’s requirements as part of a free consultation. Simply contact our team today to arrange yours.
About the Education Consultant
William Dunlop is Head of Prep School at Clayesmore, an inclusive and friendly school in Dorset for children aged two to 18. He has a child with dyslexia, and is regular contributor on SEN learning for William Clarence Education.