The future of boarding

As the BSA celebrates its Golden Jubilee, honorary president Tony Little talks to Independent Education Today

Congratulations on reaching your Golden Jubilee. How has boarding changed, in a nutshell, in the last 50 years?

Thank you! We are very proud of the boarding sector as it is today; the landscape of boarding and indeed education has changed considerably for the better during the last 50 years. Child protection, safeguarding and pastoral care has improved drastically through legislation, training and investment. Boarding is now considered an extension of family life and is no longer synonymous with “being sent away”. Our staff and schools work with parents to ensure their care fits with family life and it is now commonplace for pupils to board on a weekly or flexible basis as determined by family needs. Boarding houses are no longer sparse, cold dorms but are instead a collection of shared bedrooms and private study rooms with the comforts one would expect at home. 

Access to boarding schools has also improved and our schools have invested greatly in scholarship funds, as well as facilities, in order to widen access to their educational experience. 

While we have come a long way in 50 years, the sector must not and will not rest of its laurels, there is still much work to be done. We will continue to improve our approach to safeguarding and child protection and in this global, digital community I have no doubt that family needs and the boarding offering will continue to evolve. 

What is a typical day like in your role?

As BSA honorary president, my role has been to work with Robin Fletcher, BSA chief executive and the board in order to examine, shape and question the future of boarding in order to secure a strong and lasting future for the sector. We have worked hard to develop a safeguarding and child protection strategy that is robust and goes beyond the requirements of the laws and guidance of the countries our members are based in. 

I have also been speaking at many events to extol the benefits of a good boarding education and have helped the BSA team to drive our Golden Jubilee celebrations and organise the Annual Conference for Heads in Manchester this May.

For the right child, regardless of background, boarding can be a life-changing experience

How can boarding schools ensure they move with the times?

Our boarding schools are global communities and one of the major advantages of this is the global outlook they have developed. Our schools are continually evolving and moving with the times to ensure they are world leaders in education. Our oldest schools have stood the test of time and are still thriving today – and the rest of the world continues to follow our education and boarding models.

The BSA also represents a number of state boarding schools. Are we likely to see more of these in the next 50 years? How do they benefit the state sector?

Personally I would welcome more state boarding schools. There is a great need for this facility not only in terms of affordable boarding solutions but also as a means of supporting vulnerable children on the edge of care. BSA are working closely with Lord Nash on his ‘Boarding for vulnerable children’ project, which aims to provide a safe and stable learning and living environment for these children.

Apart from the support of Lord Nash, many politicians have distanced themselves from supporting the boarding world for fear of being labelled ‘posh’. The reality is that for the right child, regardless of background, boarding can be a life-changing experience. Why should this be a privilege reserved for only those who can afford it? Perhaps with the recent government announcement that all schools are to be academies, more investment will be made into state boarding. 

What does the future look like for the independent sector in general?

Our schools are well placed. Changes in the workplace demand the skills only a truly holistic education can bring: changes in family life make boarding a more relevant option than ever before. The future for the independent sector and boarding in particular is strong. 

Tony Little is this year’s honorary president of the Boarding Schools’ Association and former head of Eton College W: 

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