• What is a British boarding school?

  • How and when to apply

  • How to choose the right boarding school for your child

  • Requirements for international students

  • School Life

  • Assessment

  • Fees

What is a British Boarding School?

A boarding school is a residential school where pupils live and study during the school year. There are approximately 500 boarding schools in the UK, the majority are private or fee-paying. There are some state boarding schools with reduced fees for tuition only.

Many UK boarding schools combine grand historical buildings and spacious grounds with modern technology and excellent teaching. Modern boarding provides pupils with comfortable accommodation, a high standard of extra-curricular facilities and strong pastoral care.

Pupils can start boarding as young as 7 or 8. Most pupils start boarding at the age or 11 or 13, however. Boarding in the UK for Sixth Form (ages 16-18) is very popular with international students.

How and when to apply

The UK boarding school system is split into three main points of entry:

Year 3 (7+) – If you want your child to board from the age of seven you must apply to a prep boarding school. Many prep boarding schools are non-selective but for some, your child may need to sit an exam and will be interviewed.

For UK senior boarding schools, the usual entry points are Year 7 (11+) or Year 9 or (13+). Entry is usually via the Common Entrance exam in Year 8 and many schools now use the ISEB Pre-Test which is taken in Years 5 or 6. If your child already attends a UK prep school, the school will prepare them for these exams. If your child is entering the UK schools system at 11+ or 13+ from their home country, they may need tuition to prepare them for these exams.

Year 12 and 13 is called Sixth Form and is for students aged 16 to 18.  Most UK boarding schools carry out some form of assessment for Sixth Form entry. This can include: their own set papers, references from previous school, grades achieved at GCSE or similiar and computer-based assessment.

How to choose the right boarding school for your child

  • Think about the sort of boarding school you want. Single sex or co-ed?
  • All-through or separate prep and senior?
  • Do you want full or flexi boarding? Full boarding means all the pupils stay at school at the weekend, weekly or flexi means many local pupils may go home at the weekend leaving international students alone in their boarding houses.
  • Town or country? Think about whether you want your child educated in a town with the social and cultural opportunities or out in the countryside with all the space and sport this can provide.
  • Check that there is a good mix of nationalities at the school. That the different nationalities are spread well between the boarding houses. It is helpful if there are other children from your home country but too many may prevent your child from speaking English.

Think about practical issues such as class size, teacher numbers, sport and music facilities and proximity to railway stations and airports. Visit the schools. Get a feel for them. Do the children look happy, relaxed, engaged? How do the adults interact with their pupils etc.

  • What are the exam results like? Study their ISI or OFSTED report.
  • Will the school fit your child’s academic abilities?
  • How does the school help with Special Educational Needs? If your child has SEN, check there is a SENCO and ask for their policies.

Above all, will you child be happy and well looked after. Be sure you are happy with the level of pastoral care the school provides.

Requirements for international students

Most international students need a visa to study in the UK unless they are from the European Economic Area.

You can apply for a Tier 4 (child) visa if you’re aged between 4 and 17 and you want to study at an independent school in the UK.

All pupils who are resident outside of the UK whose parents live abroad are required to have a guardian. Guardians are required in case of emergency and also for general care of a child whose parents are overseas. It is advisable that the guardian leaves within easy reach of the school (no more than 1 hour’s drive).

School Life

Most UK boarding schools teach a mix of international pupils and local UK pupils. ‘Boarders’ are pupils who live at the school. ‘Day pupils’ live with their families and return home at the end of the school day. This mix helps to create a good social atmosphere.

Boarding schools usually close for the long summer and Christmas holidays and pupils return home to their parents or guardians. Some schools do, however, run language courses during this period.

Boardings schools tend to have strong extra-curricular activities with a weekday afternoon and Saturday mornings often devoted to sport.


At prep boarding school, students will be prepared for the Common Entrance at 11+ or 13+.

In Year 10 and Year 11 at senior school, most pupils study for GCSEs. Alternatives include Standard grades and Intermediates in Scotland, or the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.

At Sixth Form level, most pupils take A-levels. Alternative qualifications include Standard Grades and Highers in Scotland, or the IB.

Many boarding schools also offer the Extended Project Qualification in the Sixth Form.


The fees for boarding schools range from approx £15,000 per annum for a prep school to a max of £40,000 per annum for full boarding at a senior school.