Boarding school

A boarding school is a self-contained educational total institution where students not only study but where some or all students may live.

Boarding school involves the combination of the residing of pupils at an institution away from their family and home, and the instruction and endowment of education to students at the same place.


Boarding school description

Main characteristics

The term boarding school fundamentally refers to classic British boarding schools, and most boarding schools around the world are modeled on the classic British boarding school. Boarding schools have specified rooms or allotted areas for different activities that occur throughout the day as defined by the boarding school administrators. These activities have a predefined structure and time set by the institution. These predefined schedules and norms are to be strictly followed, the failure of which could earn punishment. These rooms include the dormitory, where pupils share sleeping quarters, particularly on bunk beds, the refectory, where pupils take meals at fixed schedules, and the study hall, where pupils do their academic work. It also has facilities for bath and washing, and a storehouse for the storage of residents' belongings. Boarding schools also provide a playground for games and activities for the students.

The term boarding school is derived from the usage to board in school, which means to stay or reside in the school. Many public schools ("private school" in American English) are boarding schools. They involve long-term separation from one's parents and culture, and thus give rise to a phenomenon known as the TCK or third culture kid. Pupils may be sent to boarding schools between the ages of two and eighteen; they can be sent to any number of specific types of boarding schools, from nursery boarding schools (or Kindergarten boarding schools) to senior preparatory boarding schools. The amount of time one spends in boarding school also varies considerably, from a brief period of 1 year to more than 12 years in boarding school.

Types of boarding schools

Boarding schools are a form of residential school system; however, not all residential schools are "classic" boarding schools. Other forms of residential schools include resident schools for disabled pupils (e.g. for students who are blind), special needs residential schools (e.g. for mentally challenged students), and the Israeli kibbutzim, where children stay and get educated in a commune, but also have everyday contact with their parents at specified hours.

Some schools are semi-boarding schools (part day school and part boarding school). These schools take in some students as boarders and other students as semi-boarders, who would only attend school hours in the day alongside boarders and then return to their homes. These schools might also admit some students as day-boarders. These pupils would have meals at school along with attending classes, but they live off-campus. There are also quasi-boarders, who stay in boarding school but return to their families at mid-week and at weekends. Semi-boarders and day-boarders (collectively called as boarding-day scholars) have a distinct view of day school system, as compared to most other children who attend complete day schools without any boarding facilities. These students relate to a boarding school life, even though they do not totally reside in school; however, they do not completely become part of the boarding school experience. On the other hand, quasi-boarders have a different view of boarding schools as compared to most usual boarders (full term boarders), who would only go back to their homes either at the end of a term or by the end of an academic year.

Basic guidelines and essential regulations

The Department for Education and Skills of the United Kingdom has prescribed guidelines for boarding schools, some of which include regulations for the minimum perimeter (living space) required for each student and other aspects of basic necessities.

A minimum floor area for each pupil with regarding to his/her dormitories, cubicles and bedrooms, is prescribed. This is attained by multiplying the number of students sleeping in the dormitory by 4.2 m², and then adding 1.6 m² to the resultant. A distance of minimum 0.9 meters should also be maintained between any two beds in a dormitory, bedrooms and cubicles. In case students are provided with a cubicle, then each student must be provided with a window and a floor area of 5.0 m² at the least. A bedroom for a single student should be at least of floor area of 6.0 m². Boarding schools must provide a total floor area of 2.3 m² living accommodation for every boarder, at the minimum. This should also be incorporated with at least one bathtub or shower for every 10 students. These are some of the few guidelines set by the department amongst many others. It could probably be observed that not all boarding schools around the world meet these minimum basic standards, despite their apparent appeal.

Boarding schools across societies

In the United States of America, boarding schools for students below the age of 13 are called junior boarding schools, and are not as common and not as encouraged as in the United Kingdom or India. The classic British boarding school became popular during the colonial expansion of the British Empire. It became the preferred system by which to deculturize the natives from the local culture and develop natives that would follow and help the British achieve their imperial goals.

It has been observed globally that a significantly larger number of boys are sent to boarding schools than girls and for a longer span of time. Most societies decline to take boarding schools as the preferred option for the upbringing of their children, except in British societies or in its former colonies; in England, India, and former African colonies of Great Britain, for example, boarding schools are one of the preferred modes of education. In 1998 there were 772 private-sector boarding schools in England, and 100,000 children attending boarding schools all over the United Kingdom.

Switzerland has long been recognized as having one of the world's best education systems. The government developed a strategy to foster private boarding schools for foreign students as a business integral to the country's economy. Their boarding schools offer instruction in several major languages and have a large number of quality facilities organized through the Swiss Federation of Private Schools.

Emerging perspectives

Modern philosophies of education like constructivism and new methods of music training for kids including Orff Schulwerk and the Suzuki method make the everyday interaction of the child and parent an integral part of training and education. The European Union-Canada project "Child Welfare Across Borders", an important international venture on child development, considers boarding schools as one form of permanent displacement of the child. This view reflects the new outlook towards education and child growth in the wake of more scientific understanding of the human brain and child development.

Concrete numbers have yet to be tabulated regarding the statistical data for the ratio of the boys that are send to boarding schools to the ratio of girls, the total number of children in a given population in boarding schools by country, the average age across populations when children are send to boarding schools, and the average length of education (in years) for boarding school students. Modern ideas of training and child development stand in stark contrast to the old institution of boarding school.

Selected bibliography

  • Brewin, C.R., Furnham, A. & Howes, M. (1989). Demographic and psychological determinants of homesickness and confiding among students. British Journal of Psychology, 80, 467-477.
  • Fisher, S., Frazer, N. & Murray, K (1986). Homesickness and health in boarding school children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 6, 35-47.
  • Fisher, S. & Hood, B. (1987). The stress of the transition to university: a longitudinal study of psychological disturbance, absent-mindedness and vulnerability to homesickness. British Journal of Psychology, 78, 425-441
  • Peter W. Cookson, Jr. and Caroline Hodges Persell, Preparing for Power. America's Elite Boarding Schools. (New York: Basic Books, 1985)
  • Goffman, Erving (1961) Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. (New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1961); (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968)
  • Thurber A. Christopher (1999) The phenomenology of homesickness in boys, Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
  • Bamford T.W. (1967) Rise of the public schools: a study of boys public boarding schools in England and wales from 1837 to the present day. London : Nelson, 1967.
  • Department of Education and Skills of the United Kingdom, Boarding School guidelines (
  • Statistics and information on U.S. boarding schools (

List of some boarding schools

Some of the world's best known boarding schools offering a curriculum in English and other languages are:

Boarding schools in fiction

Boarding schools and their surrounding settings and situations have become almost a genre in (mostly) British literature with its own identifiable conventions. Notable examples include:

There is also a huge boarding-school genre literature, mostly uncollected, in British comics and serials from the 1900s to the 1980s.

The setting has also featured in notable North American novels such as J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye; John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany; and John Knowles's A Separate Peace.

Boarding schools in films

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