Reach out

Charity work, university choices, international boarding and more at the BSA Annual Conference for Heads

‘Building Bridges, Changing Lives’ was the theme of the 2016 Boarding Schools’ Association Annual Conference for Heads, held on its jubilee year at the Midland hotel in Manchester.

The BSA has welcomed a flourishing sector this year, as numbers topped 75,000 for the second time. The rise, published in a survey by the Independent Schools’ Council on April 28, shows there are over 70,000 boarding pupils at UK private schools.There is also a strong demand for state school boarding, where there are over 5,000 pupils.

Our visit to the conference kicked off with the launch of new research in the boarding sector, which was due to be released in the coming weeks. The survey of over 4,600 parents revealed essential insight into preferred types of boarding, parent income and employment sector, and influences in choosing a school.

Schools’ minister Nick Gibb appeared via video link. That didn’t stop heads from asking tough questions about testing, religious studies and pupil wellbeing and, as well as assuaging their concerns, Gibb complemented the work of boarding schools, in particular the 43 state boarding schools. Gibb also announced a new boarding ‘partnerships’ scheme which will be part-funded by the DfE and place vulnerable children into boarding school.

The Midland hotel in Manchester, the conference venue

Pete Upham, Executive Director of the BSA’s US counterpart The Association of Boarding Schools (TABS), presented positive developments in international boarders in American schools. Over 100% of net boarding growth in TABs schools has been through international students, who make up 35% of the overall cohort. The most popular sources of students are China, Russia, Vietnam and Mexico.

The benefits of internationalisation are five-fold, Pete says: increased diversity, developing a cosmopolitan mindset amongst students, increased revenue, market potential and ‘hedging’ against changing domestic demand.

Mary Curnock Cook OBE, Chief Executive of UCAS, provided insight into university admissions from boarding schools. Boarding schools send 62% of their students to what UCAS call ‘higher tariff’ universities (including Russell Group and other institutions with high entrance requirements). More girls from boarding schools apply to university (57%) compared to 44% from non-boarding schools.

Five per cent of available courses on UCAS hold half of the total independent intake, dominating more conservative subjects such as medicine, politics, history, law, economics and management. Mary suggested that, over time, the growing ‘21st century mindset’ will result in more students applying for modern subjects with transferable skills, such as computer science.

Students can also be bolder in their choices, she said. Thanks to the abolition of a cap on student numbers, a market has been created and universities are far more likely to accept a student’s ‘firm’ offer, so they can be even more ambitious in their choices.

Robin Fletcher, BSA Chief Executive, summarised the key messages for heads at this year’s conference.

“There’s never been a better time or a more important time to be concentrating on providing a first-class service to parents and children,” he said. “Modern, British-style boarding is already the best in the world, but there is competition from other countries. There is never any room for complacency. The standard is much higher than it was 20-40 years ago, so the real challenge is, how do we then make the same amount of improvement over the next 20-40 years? Some of them might be physical improvements in terms of facilities, making sure that the overall standard of facilities is fantastic, training for boarding staff and pastoral care –  running a very ‘enriched’ boarding experience.

“Through that, more parents will realise that boarding can have a positive impact on children and maybe, for children from difficult circumstances, the continued investment in bursaries will give children who might otherwise be in foster care the chance to do boarding. There’s something about the boarding sector that is already beginning to bring down the barriers of its rivalries and understand the value of working together, we are stronger as a whole when we do that, but also what are boarding schools doing, not just to run themselves as successful schools, but be hubs in their communities.”

The BSA has recently introduced a Boarders for Barnardo’s scheme. At the conference, Barnardo’s aimed to sign up at least 50 schools to pledge a £1,500 donation each. “Barnardo’s does amazing work. We’ve got the opportunity for every boarding school to do something for Barnardo’s – that’s an example of reaching out, working together,” Robin continues.

“Overall, the messages for heads are around quality, ensuring we have a positive impact for as many children as possible, working together with our communities, giving back and doing good.”

Independent Education Today (IET) has teamed up with the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) to celebrate National Boarding Week from 20-24 June. We want to hear your views on boarding life – whether it’s the challenges of homesickness, the joys of midnight feasts or the difference you’re making to students’ education.

Tweet to @ie_today using #BoardingBecause and, if 140 characters aren’t enough, send in your blogs (including images) by 1 June to be featured on the IET website during National Boarding Week. We’ll also choose a blog to be featured in the July/August bumper issue of IET magazine.


Send your blogs and photos to: [email protected]

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