Page last updated at 05:01 GMT, Friday, 12 September 2008 06:01 UK

Board option for children at risk

By Angela Harrison
BBC News education reporter

Royal Alexandra & Albert School
The structure and security of school can help

More children in danger of going off the rails or being taken into care could be offered places at boarding schools funded by the state.

Ministers have pledged at least 10 million over the next three years to help expand the state boarding system.

Schools minister Andrew Adonis said boarding facilities could "transform the life of a vulnerable child" by offering stability and opportunities.

Critics warn that a large institution might be harmful to a vulnerable child.

Lord Adonis was himself sent to boarding school in Oxfordshire, funded by Camden Borough Council in London.

"State boarding places are something we want to see expand over the next few years," he said.

"There's certainly demand for them and they can, where appropriate, be a fantastic opportunity for vulnerable children."

Three schools have already been successful in applications for money from the expansion fund and will receive a combined total of 4 million.

The money will be spent increasing accommodation.

Some charities have for decades been helping deprived children get into boarding schools and say many go on to be "star performers".

Rowan is now head girl

A charity-funded place at boarding school for Rowan Slaney changed her life, she says.

Before she arrived at boarding school from an inner city estate, she was in danger going off the rails, she says, often playing truant and getting into trouble.

Four years on, she is head girl, and describes herself as "a different person".

"I would not have achieved anything. I probably would not have done my GCSEs," she said.

Rowan believes the order boarding school gave her life helped her and could help others.

"For many people it could change their life. It changed mine and it could help a load of people who were in my situation or worse," she said.

"Just to take them out of that situation and put them into a structured life.

"It is not just the children it could help; it could help the parents because they are given that freedom just to breath for a bit."

Policy critics

But there are critics of the policy who say taking a child away from his or her family is not always best for them or their family.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education committee, says he is worried that putting vulnerable children into large institutional settings might be harmful.

He told BBC News he wanted to see the detail of the plans. His committee is holding an inquiry into "looked-after children" and will be looking at the evidence.

A separate pilot programme has been running in England, also funded by the government, since late 2006. Fifteen vulnerable children have been placed in boarding schools in 10 areas.

The costs are met by local authorities, boarding school bursaries and the education charities that are supporting the scheme.

Local authorities can claim the Dedicated Schools Grant from DCSF for the education costs of placements in independent boarding schools.

The programme is being evaluated and a report is expected in the autumn.

Family breakdown

A spokeswoman for the DCSF said: "The boarding pathfinder is a ground-breaking project designed to help children with very specific needs - those who need additional support to prevent family breakdown or moving into the care system.

"Therefore it's important that only carefully identified children are involved in the early stages."

Paul Spencer-Ellis is head teacher of the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, in Reigate, Surrey - a state boarding school, which like many others is increasingly taking pupils from poor as well as wealthy backgrounds.

He says a move to boarding school can give vulnerable children the order and secure environment they need.

Lord Adonis at school
Lord Adonis was funded at boarding school by social services

"Day school has a child for about six hours a day whereas we have them 24 hours a day. There is a positive environment here where people get on with lots of activities and they work.

"And to be able to guarantee that peer environment is a huge advantage to young people who might lack that if they were at home."

At state boarding schools, pupils do not pay for tuition but do pay a fee to board.

The founders of some of the new government-funded academies being created in England are interested in having facilities for boarders.

The Boarding Schools Association says it is advising several academies.

Chairman of the state boarding school association, Malcolm Lloyd, said: "Numbers of pupils in state boarding schools rose by 5% in 2008.

"As demand for state boarding grows, it is hugely encouraging to see the government's support for state boarding schools taking such a tangible form and reflecting understandable confidence in a thriving market."

'Star performers'

Lord Adonis has spoken of the great debt he owes to the school he was sent to - Kingham Hill - and those who supported him when he was there.

"The benefit to society could be huge if this leads to a successful outcome for a child who might have gone off the rails," he said.

"There are many cases. I saw them myself when I was at school."

A report last November from the Royal Wanstead Children's Foundation into the progress of 97 children from deprived homes sent to state and private boarding schools found that 39% of those who had been there for three years became "star performers" in terms of social, emotional and academic criteria within that time.

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