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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
State boarding is also booming
Hockerill says demand far exceeds places
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By Gary Eason
BBC News Online education staff

The fact that boarding has suddenly increased in popularity in the UK's independent schools comes as no surprise to a curious hybrid in the education system - the state boarding schools.

There are 35 of them in England and Wales, providing some 4,000 boarding places - out of a total of about 65,000 places if the independent sector is included.

They take day pupils whose tuition fees are paid by the education authority, just as in any other state-maintained school.

But they also have boarders, who pay fees purely for the boarding element of their attendance - described by one of the schools as "one of Britain's best kept secrets".

And in recent years they have seen a revival of interest in boarding running at the rate of several percentage points a year, according to the head of the State Boarding Schools Association, Bob Guthrie.

Busy parents

"I think it fits parents' lifestyles," said Dr Guthrie, principal of Hockerill Anglo-European College in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire.

We could fill our sixth form twice over with German students

School principal
"Often you have two professional people who have a very full day, perhaps in our case commuting into London.

"And I think boarding is more attractive because parents are realising it's not like it was in good old-fashioned days, a bit Spartan and primitive.

"Schools have realised you have to provide something more like hotel quality than dormitories."

As a result, Hockerill had seen demand grow "exponentially" in recent years.

Sixth form studies

Like an increasing number of secondary schools it is a specialist language college and - as its name suggests - has strong ties with the Continent, especially Germany. Its patron is the German ambassador.

study room
Facilities have improved considerably, schools say
At sixth form level it offers the International Baccalaureate rather than A-levels.

"We could fill our sixth form twice over with German students wanting to do the International Baccalaureate," Dr Guthrie said.

They can attend under European Union reciprocal arrangements that give anyone with a right of residence in one member country a right to education in any other.

The schools can admit students from outside the EU, but they must pay tuition fees.

Lower charges

Fees at the top of the range are 6,000 a year - or about one third of what they would be in the independent sector.

The reason is that the state is paying for the teaching.

This requires very strict accounting, because the rules are that the direct grant the school gets, like all maintained schools, must not be used for boarding - and vice versa.

Whatever the funding complications, it appears to be a popular mix.

"I have gone from just about being able to fill, to getting three or four applicants for places now," Dr Guthrie said.

So the school selects its boarders - on the basis of an interview, reports from their previous school and the "positive contribution" they are likely to make.

Other schools have their own criteria for admissions because they represent such a range of school types - selective and non-selective, single sex or mixed.

A parents' guide to maintained boarding schools is available from the Department for Education.

See also:

17 Nov 00 | Education
Boarding schools tout for US pupils
19 Feb 01 | Education
Germans opt for UK boarding schools
02 May 00 | Education
Rise in private schools 'babysitting'
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