Boarding schools in England – what to know

Boarding schools in the UK  

And the best boarding schools in England too

Today it is generally thought that British boarding schools have taken the art of boarding to a complete perfection. These days students live in boarding houses in a home from home environment; they learn English language to a native strandard; they have a huge variety of sports to take part in; there are numerous clubs and societies that allow to develop different interests; they make friends with children from all over the world. 

To choose a right school for a child is one of the most important decisions in the live of parents and children, especially so when it comes to select a boarding school where there is no daily eye-to-eye contact between them. It is not only education that parents are looking into when choosing a boarding school in the UK – they are also in need of a place, which they can trust to with their child’s happiness and wellbeing. So, what is important to know when it comes to select one out of a rather large number of British boarding schools?  

British education system

Education in England as well as in Wales is compulsory for children from the age of 5 to 18 лет, from 5 to 16 in Scotland and from 4 to 16 in Northern Ireland. After turning 18, the British children may choose to continue their studies in university. Compulsory school education is free in the Great Britain. However, parents may opt for private education, which is also called independent or public, where they have to pay a fee on an annual or termly basis. The majority of state schools (aside from academies) must follow the national curriculum. Private schools may choose what exactly they want to teach their students. 

Advantages of private education in the UK

British independent (private) boarding schools as well as independent day schools have better academic record preparing their students to successfully pass British exams such as GCSE and A level. Over half of school students in private schools achieve grades А and А* for their A-levels whereas the national average is 25%. More than 90% students leaving 6th form in private sector go to higher education. That figure is almost twice to the national data.

Apart from quality school education parents paying for boarding schools will find there great facilities with state of art science premises, art-galeries, music centres, IT laboratories, spacious sports halls and open air sports fields. Boarding schools constantly continue to invest in their facilities.

Students to teacher ratio is another factor where paid education is far superior to its free form. An average ratio in public schools between a number of students per one teacher is 1 teacher for 8 students (in comparison with 17 students per one teacher in state education). Generally, in private sector there are 20 students in class in comparison with 30 in state schools.

Learning English language

British boarding schools have a lot of experience in helping their students to muster English to a native level standard. The type of English learning support depend on a school or college and also on a child’s age and academic curriculum a school follows.

Common boarding schools in the UK

Traditional boarding schools call teaching English to international students as English as an Additional Language (EAL) or English as a Second Language (ESL). Most of the schools expect their students use only English during their studies. Almost all boarding schools aid international students to learn English although the level of the support depends on a school. It is, therefore, very important to know as much as possible about what exactly the school does in terms of English language support and its cost before applying there. 

Some schools charge separately for EAL, however, most of them these days include it in the fees. When EAL is paid separately it affects not only the final cost but teachers’ qualification and experience. It is, therefore, worth investigating the matter further when choosing a boarding school.  

International study centres

International study centres specialise on preparing younger children and teenagers to boarding schools. Many of them will also successfully prepare for GCSE exams, which are important for studying for A-levels and IB. Study centres are expensive, for they provide intensive language support, usually 10-18 hours a week. Highly experienced teachers give lessons to children in a class of 6-8 students and often can support though individual lessons when necessary too. A lot of centres prepare such exams as Cambridge ESOL or its equivalent.

Application process to British boarding schools

When a choice is made it is time to begin application process 

Application process has a few steps and sometimes might take about two years or more. Time frames may differ a lot though and it may take much less time too. In short, no need to be upset if the process is started too early. Competition for places is very high in some schools and the most popular schools tend to close the registration process at least one year before the studies start. However, there are schools where registration process is more flexible, especially for future boarders, so it is worth checking with each school separately. 


All schools will ask for a filled-in registration form, which marks an official start of application process. Registration fee is to be paid at the same time and usually it is non-refundable. 

Preparing for entrance examinations

The main points of entering to the most academic selective day and boarding schools in the UK are at the age of 4+, 7+, 8+, 11+, 13+  16+ лет (which means the age of a child at the moment of sitting the exntrance exams). The time it takes between the registration and the actual exams may differ from school to schools as well as personal circumstances of each applicants.

Entrance exams and interviews

All candidates must meet school’s requirements, which is why all of them must pass the exams and possibly an interview too. If international students can’t pass the exams in the UK, the exams can be sat in special centres in the place of the child’s residence, for example, in the offices of British council.  

Pre-prep school

Pre-prep school children (age of 5–6+ years in Years 1 and 2) usually don’t board. Although there are a small number of schools in the UK where boarding is possible from the age of 5. 

Preparatory school

In order to board in a preparatory school (age 7–10+ years, in school Years 3–6) children, as a rule, must pass exams for maths, English language, verbal and/or non-verbal reasoning. The main age when children move from primary to secondary education in England is 11+ and 13+ years. In Scotland schools are more flexible in terms of entering a school but the majority of children will enter secondary education at the age of 12+ or 13+ years.

Eleven plus exams: Year 6

Almost all private schools for children aged 11-18 will have entrance exams, which are called Eleven plus or 11+. They are sat in Year 6. Preparations for the exams start in Year 4/5, when parents start thinking of which schools their children may move to after the finish primary. The type of the entrance exams may vary but usually the subjects tested are maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. Most of the schools will also hold an interview with potential candidates. 

Secondary school

Pre-Tests – these are computerised test sat in Year 6 or 7 for the children who later on will have to pass Common Entrance Examinations. Common Entrance (CE) Exam is held in Year 8 with the idea of going to a private secondary schools at the age of 13. Pre-tests usually verbal reasoning, non-verbal reasoning, English language and maths. In average, it lasts 3 hours.

Exams for 13-year-olds in Year 8. Common Entrance (CE) exams are sat at the age of 13. Usually in June in Year 8. Subjects covered are English language, maths, sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), history, geography, religious studies, Latin. For the majority of schools the exam queations are prepared by Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB), although some of the schools may have their own exam questions. The exams are normally sat in the current school. 

Sixth form

The success of a child at the age of 16 entering boarding schools in the UK on sixth form (Years 12 и 13) or sixth-form colleges normally depends on passing 5 or 6 GCSE exams with grades minimum C or above (in Scotland grade 3 or above). Some schools hold their own exams for those wishing to study on sixth form.

Documents for studying in the UK

UK entry clearance

Rules to enter the UK are simple – each student must have a premission to enter and study. This applies to all international students save from European Union, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway and Lichtenstein. This permission takes form of a student visa.

The main type of student visa for the UK boarding schools at the age from 4 to 17 is Tier 4 (Child) Student ( In order to get this type of visa a child must meet immigration requirements and get altogether 40 points. 30 points are given for presenting a confirmation from school about beginning studies there, which is called ‘Tier 4 sponsor’ with the status ‘Highly Trusted Sponsor status’. 10 points are given for presenting evidence of financial means required to cover the cost of studies and boarding, which are called ‘maintenance’ or ‘funds’.

An important part of visa application process is CAS – an electronic document with a registration number, issued to a potential student by a licensed Tier 4 sponsor. Tier 4 sponsor is an organisation, approved by the UK government for teaching students coming to the UK from other countries (currently, they don’t include those from EU). The list of the Tier 4 sponsors can be found here


CAS shows that a child has an offer issued by a school to start studies there. Apart from unique reference number each CAS must show information used by school in order to test a child’s abilities and his or her potential to fit in in the school life. All of those documents are necessary for getting a visa. 

In order to be valid CAS must have the same personal information as in the child’s passport, which should be issued not earlier than 6 months from the day of applying for a visa and can’t be recalled back or cancelled by a school or British Home Office. Each CAS ceases to be valid in 6 months after the issue date. If CAS becomes outdated, it can not be used for getting a student visa and will have to be reapplied for. CAS is an important part of visa application process but can’t be used instead of a visa. 

In addition to CAS school also sends the CAS statement in a paper with the all the necessary school’s details.

School also will consult on all the documents necessary for proving a child’s abilities to cope with studies as well as documents that prove the financial eligibility. 

Visa for entering the UK to study

With CAS received it is time for the final stage of the visa application, which is filling in the online form for visa on the British immigration Visa4UK website ( The documents needed are

• CAS and supporting CAS documents

• written permission from parents to go to study in the UK 

• child’s passport

• visa fee

• child’s biometrics

• two photos (must meet the UK immigration requirements)

• proof of financial means


The majority of British boarding school will insist on their students having a guardian living in the UK in case if child’s parents live abroad. Normally, this is a person over 25 years old (although there are schools that may insist on a guardian being older than that) and permanently living in the UK.

How to find a guardian

Schools usually direct parents to AEGIS (, which is a company on whose website a full list of the registered guardians and companies, supplying them, is found. Sometimes, parents choose to have a relative or friends appointed to be their child’s guardian.