Speaking at a conference on boarding at Bedales School in Hampshire last month, Robin Fletcher said that while independent schools invest heavily in impressive new facilities each year this may become “self-defeating” if the fees are beyond the reach of middle class families.
“It is time perhaps to rethink the ambitious and laudable development programmes at private schools across the UK, so that perhaps the next new drama school or music block is not quite so large or not quite so state-of-the-art or opulent,” he said. “If 20p of every pound invested in new projects at boarding schools was instead set aside to support genuine, meaningful scholarships not just for the financially disadvantaged but middle-income families for whom boarding fees are now beyond reach, then the effect would be enormous.
“And the label of exclusivity and elitism, perhaps unfair at times, would begin to change, maybe not overnight, but over time through progressive, positive action.”
Mr Fletcher added that fees at many senior boarding schools average out at around £150 a day, a figure that covers everything from teaching and board to access to 24-hour medical care.
“That’s great value for £150,” he said. “That value is enhanced even further by the all-round education and beyond the blackboard opportunities offered by boarding, all of which help students in a very practical way when it comes to supporting their university applications.
“However, senior boarding is charged by the year, not the day. And £30,000 a year is a lot of money in any language for any family considering boarding as an option.”
Mr Fletcher emphasised that British boarding has a reputation for “quality and excellence” but admitted that social attitudes to boarding are “not universally positive”.
Referring to “a legacy of issues from the distant past, when boarding schools were largely unregulated and a vile minority exploited some of the children they were supposed to care for and protect”, he said that those who had suffered from their experiences “deserve our heartfelt sympathy and on-going support”.