Boarding schools range from day schools with a handful of boarders to boarding schools with the occasional day pupil. A large number now offer weekly boarding as a half-way house or flexi-boarding, which enables pupils to stay at school on an occasional basis to fit in with their activities or their parents’ diaries.
What is on offer varies considerably. Quite obviously there is very much more time to present a full educational programme of outdoor, sporting, cultural and community activities, than there is at a day school. Good boarding schools capitalise on this; inefficient ones, or those with few boarders, may ignore the weekends and evenings, leaving teenagers twiddling their thumbs.
Where there are small numbers of boarders, they will all live in one or two houses, regardless of age. If there are many boarders, they will be in several houses which may be divided by age group or to match the competitive house system. Some are a mixture (a special house for younger boarders, maybe also for the sixth form, and competitive houses between the ages of, say, 13−16). Increasingly there are special arrangements for the upper sixth, to give them more freedom and independence in preparation for university life.
Schools often have a certain number of exeats a term (that is time when pupils can or must leave the school. This can vary from, say, three designated weekends a term (when almost everybody leaves) to exeats any weekend. You will have to decide which is the most appropriate for your family: if you live abroad, your child may be happier at a school that does not empty at weekends, whereas if you live within easy travelling distance of the school, weekly boarding may be attractive.