Boarding school and state school collaboration in the UK

“Private and state schools cater to different markets…so, if it is handled sensitively, long term relationships can be successful”


The UK boarding school sector, home to approximately 29,000 international pupils requiring a Tier 4 Visa to study in the UK  is criticised in some quarters for the perceived lack of ‘sharing’ of resources & expertise with pupils attending state-run schools in the UK.

This builds domestic political pressure on the sector as only 7% of children in the UK attend private/boarding schools. But what is the reality?

One scheme worthy of note is the Boarding School Partnerships (BSP) programme that advises local authorities on how, when and where to place vulnerable young people in boarding schools. Some pupils are already in the care system, having been removed from their families, whilst others may be close to the edge of care.

According to Colin Morrison, founding Chair of the Department for Education’s three-year-old boarding School Partnerships (BSP), there are approximately 750 young people currently being supported in state and independent boarding schools by specialist charities and an additional 1,500 by local authorities.

“We believe there is scope (and current capacity) for this Local Authority number to rise to 5,000. Almost 100 independent boarding schools are committed to offering long term 40% bursaries to local authority-supported young people”. Morrison himself was a former boarding school student funded by Essex County Council.

A recent review of 129 young people who had attended a group of private Boarding schools over a 5 year period, showed very positive outcomes: 67% of all placements were said to have derived ‘substantial benefit’ from attendance at boarding school and 95% of all placements went onto further education.

In addition to the almost 100 private boarding schools that have signed up to the boarding School Partnership Programme, another 40+ state boarding schools also support the programme.

However, as the BSP notes in its most recent review, “ultimately, boarding school may simply not be ‘right’ for every young person, including those with significant long-term behaviour difficulties that may be beyond the capability of a mainstream school to manage.” Also, there is clearly a limit to how many places schools can offer via schemes like BSP.

So how else can boarding schools collaborate, at scale, with state schools?

At Moreton Hall in Shropshire, various initiatives have been set up over a long period of time. For example, now in its 5th year, GCSE science teaching is offered to top set students from a local state school.

At both Moreton Hall and Malvern St James, science days are hosted for local primary schools.

Also, Eton has just offered some of its online courses via its online platform, EtonX free to state school pupils.

However, a clear challenge is how to make an appropriate approach to state schools? State schools are understandably sensitive to accepting support from private schools, so how can this reticence be overcome?

Showing a long term commitment to the well-being of a local school is important. Private and state schools cater to different markets and in many ways are not competing with each other so, if it is handled sensitively, long term relationships can be successful.

As Victoria Eastman, Director of International at Moreton House says, “at the root of the initiatives we now have in place with our partner state schools was the decision by our previous head to become a governor at one of our local schools and this helped establish the really good links we have today.”

How else can schools show this commitment?

“Developing partnerships, rather than seeking a one-way relationship, is key to long-term success,” says Claire Bolton (Head of Community Outreach) from St Mary’s Calne.

St Mary’s Calne works closely with a neighbouring special school, Springfields Academy, and a number of pupils in the Sixth Form offer weekly classroom assistance support at Springfields, with a few girls offering 1:1 music tuition as well.

“Developing partnerships, rather than seeking a one-way relationship, is key to long-term success”

A further example of genuine collaboration and partnership is the shared use of Springfield’s workshop. St Mary’s Calne, which does not have such a facility, purchased a kit car which is now being put together by pupils from both schools, supervised by Springfield teachers who have the expertise in this field.

Examples of genuine collaboration such as this will help develop long-term relationships which benefit both state and independent schools alike.

As Claire Bolton says; “ Our pupils gain a great deal from the opportunities to get involved in projects in the community (some of which may be somewhat out of their comfort zone); this collaboration is helping to broaden their understanding of the wider world and develop important life skills, from which both parties benefit equally”.

So building long term, local collaborative relationships may well be the way for the Boarding school sector and the state sector to benefit many pupils from both sides.

About the author:  Pat Moores is director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.