Schools and other bodies with “innovative and imaginative” approaches to expanding state boarding provision are being encouraged to contact the Department for Education (DfE).
Schools minister Lord Nash has said that while funding is tight, the DfE wants to expand and create state boarding provision. Local authorities are also being encouraged to work much more closely with the boarding sector to find places for disadvantaged children.
Speaking at a symposium hosted by the State Boarding Schools’ Association (SBSA) last week, Lord Nash said that state boarding schools are a “key part of the school system” and have a role in supporting disadvantaged children.
There are 38 state schools in the UK that have boarding accommodation with almost 5,000 pupils boarding at these schools. The education is free while boarding is paid for at generally less than half the cost of independent schools – usually between £7,500 and £12,000 a year.
However, currently no state boarding school or academy may charge more for boarding than it actually costs to provide, meaning sourcing capital funding for refurbishment, maintenance or expansion is often a challenge. In fact, SecEd understands that three schools are to close their boarding provision this summer because of a lack of capital investment which has led to falling numbers.
However, while Lord Nash said the government is keen to support the expansion and creation of state boarding provision, he warned the SBSA that the DfE’s cupboard was “decidedly bare of funds”.
He said: “Boarding is clearly, not right for every child, vulnerable or otherwise. But where a state boarding school can meet a vulnerable child’s needs by providing stability, strong pastoral care and an environment rich in academic and extra-curricular opportunities, the results can be life-changing.
“It’s difficult to overstate what these kinds of opportunities mean to these young men and their families – opportunities that should, hopefully, become more widely available as local authorities begin to take boarding more seriously as a viable option for disadvantaged children in their care.”
Last year, 78 per cent of year 11 boarders supported by the charity Buttle UK reached the five A* to C GCSE benchmark and Lord Nash praised the work of its Assisted Boarding Network to support poorer children. Since launching the network a year ago with the Royal National Children’s Foundation, Buttle UK has received 94 enquires from local authorities.
Lord Nash added: “I want to encourage this interest, get local authorities working much more closely with the boarding sector to find suitable placements for disadvantaged children.”
A key challenge to this will be the fact that someone other than parents will probably have to foot the bill for boarding if more places are to be provided for disadvantaged children – this might be local authorities, charities or other benefactors. The DfE is currently compiling a guidance pack for schools interested in expanding or creating boarding provision.
Lord Nash added: “Capital funding is very tight, but my department is keen to support innovative approaches that boost children’s outcomes. We would encourage schools and education leaders with something imaginative to offer … to get in touch.” CAPTION: Old Swinford Hospital in Stourbridge, West Midlands, a state-maintained boardingschool for boys aged 11-18.