There is a great range on offer − from schools which pupils attend 8.30am−4pm on weekdays, through to schools where almost everyone boards with few weekends away. In between there are schools that offer childcare or activities both before and after school (which helps working parents); those that require day pupils to attend on Saturdays; day schools with a small handful of boarders; and schools that offer flexi- or weekly boarding. What suits you will depend on where you live, your family circumstances and whether your child is a home-bird or would thrive at a boarding school.
If you are considering day schools, travelling time is a critical consideration. Do not assume that, because you can drive to a school in 20 minutes, your child can match this on public transport – especially if it involves several changes. What time do pupils leave at the end of the day? What is transport like when after-school activities finish? Are pupils expected to be there at weekends? Can you drop your child at school early?
One advantage of a boarding school is that there is much more time at school for outdoor, sporting, cultural and community activities than at a day school. Good boarding schools capitalise on this; their day pupils will be there late and at weekends. Inefficient schools leave teenagers at a loose end for much of their spare time. Look for a good boarding environment (lots of weekend activities etc), not just lots of boarders. Most parents choose a boarding school within about 1½ hours’ travelling time from home (easy to stay in touch, support teams etc); otherwise look for one close to grandparents, friends, relations.
To parents, boarding makes very good sense when local day schools are unsuitable, you live abroad, you plan to move at critical periods in a child’s school career or when the work/life balance makes day school difficult to manage. But listen to your children’s point-of-view; check that they are happy with the idea, particularly if there are problems at home. Some children are very independent and will flourish at boarding school; others may be homesick, feel rejected and become demotivated. A taster boarding experience is sometimes offered for the undecided.
Many schools offer weekly boarding (weekends at home) or flexi-boarding (occasional stays at school). Some schools have very extended days, where boarding predominates, and day pupils may be expected to play a full part; day-boarders often do not leave school until about 9pm.