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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
New era for boarding schools
By Jerry Sullivan
BBC News

Wymondham student Maya
Year 10 student Maya has been coming to Wymondham for 3 years

Standing on the plains looking at Wymondham College you would think it was just another ordinary secondary school.

But on closer inspection you would find what many parents already have - a state-run boarding school where there are no educational fees.

The Norfolk school has seen a 100% increase in interest in the last five years, an interest that is reflected in other state-run boarding schools like Ashby school in Leicester, where they could fill this September's intake twice over.

'Best-kept secret'

Schools like Wymondham have been operating in this way for more than 50 years.

Art teacher Neil Moulton
You can tell they are engaged...
Art teacher Neil Moulton

Wymondham principal Dominic Findlay believes the Department for Education and Skills - and hence parents - did not know much about such schools until a few years ago.

But he says this situation has now greatly improved, with his school now receiving further government funds for expansion.

There has also been more public exposure, with the Boarding Schools' Association trying to raise public awareness about "education's best-kept secret".

The association's Hilary Moriarty says she has seen parents who used to pay for au pairs now investing those funds in state boarding school fees.

How to board
There are currently 32 state boarding schools in the UK
Fees vary but on average parents might expect to pay about 7,500 per year
Individual schools dictate the ages they accept boarders
Anyone can apply to these schools, but must do so to each school individually
A list of schools can be found at the State Boarding School Association website

She has found that where parents felt they had little contact with their children, they now feel that they have quality time with them at the weekends and holidays, while still getting a good standard of education.

The idea of children going home to have regular contact with family is encouraged.

Softer tactics

Mr Findlay, who was a student at Wymondham before returning as principal, says he has seen a move towards a "softening" of boarding schools.

"Students can go home at the weekends, and if a student is not happy when they first join, we talk to the family and then they may spend one day a week at home before making the final transition," he says.

Wymondham acting principal Dominic Findlay
Principal Dominic Findlay finds the student ethos drives the school

Although there are the same challenges that you might find in any educational environment, the teachers feel they have the ability to know their students better through closer contact.

Teachers spend two nights a week boarding, to monitor the co-ed halls and also work on Saturday mornings.

Art teacher Neil Moulton describes working at the school as "intensive" but says it a good experience.

"You can see the kids are engaged and receptive and the discipline allows you to teach," he says.

Boarding abroad

Find out more about Maya's day

Maya Defoud is a Year 10 student, whose older brother also attended Wymondham.

She finds her life there is so full that she "hardly has time to miss mum and dad".

The school is meant to give the students an opportunity to become more independent, something Maya quite happily testifies to. "I am not as shy as I used to be," she says.

Time apart seems to be harder for the parents, as Maya's mother, Nina, explains. "Ideally I would have my children with me, but this is what Maya chose."

Maya's parents, when assessing the day school options, did not find one that they thought would be beneficial to their daughter, so they began looking at boarding schools.

"If she had wanted to go elsewhere we would have found the money; but Wymondham does make it easier financially," says Mrs Defoud.

Some parents are going one step further and sending their children to boarding school abroad.

They believe the education is of a higher standard and better value for money.

Prem Chadeesingh sent his daughter Roxanne to India where she could gain high academic standards and experience a different lifestyle.

Winds of change

worksite at Wymondham College
With additional funding the school can plan for expansion

There is also interest in turning the new academy schools into boarding environments and their co-operative way of teaching.

Some independent boarding schools, seeing the demand and the opportunity to have government money for teaching staff, are said to be considering turning away from the private sector.

Ms Moriarty is quick to say that this does not mean that all independent schools will be changing their ways.

But some apparently see there are different options available to them which will deliver more choices to parents.




SEE ALSO
State boarding schools for 'poor'
17 Nov 06 |  Education
More boarding at state schools
15 Nov 06 |  Education
Why the fuss over city academies?
17 Mar 05 |  Education
School could become rural academy
16 Dec 06 |  Wiltshire

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