Undeniably, the importance of great boarding school accommodation extends far beyond fittings and furnishings. If this is your child’s first foray into the independent world – whether they’re 7 or thirteen – you want it to be a good one, for it forms the foundation of adulthood.
From cooking and cleaning, to confidence and conversation, there are some things children learn best outside the classroom, and all of this is catered for just as well in boarding as it is at home.
Plus, choosing the boarding route means that by the time university is looming, your child will be well-versed and raring to go for a fun-filled fresher’s week, whilst still being able to feed themselves and retain some focus – the outcome of having done it all before.
Here are School House’s pick of the top four leading schools, which offer home comforts and boarding perks by the bucket load.
The One with All the Four-Legged Friends: Hanford School, Dorset
Nestled at the foot of Hambledon Hill in Dorset, Hanford is a countryside haven for any girl who can’t bear to be without her furry friends. There are currently 16 ponies living permanently at the school, and if a girl’s own steed comes up to scratch during an assessment, they are welcome to be stabled at Hanford too. Girls are often found grooming, plaiting and caring for the ponies at break and in their free time – obviously at home in they hay.
Even better, there are all sorts of dogs at school – from tiny Dachshunds to bouncy Labs and Lurchers – all of which are constantly on the look out for willing dog walkers.
The freedom continue indoors, with girls encouraged to make their dorm rooms – which are named after famous English literary figures such as John Donne and William Shakespeare – their own.
Needless to say they do so with a passion – plastering the walls with photographs and posters. Encouraging their individualism further, upon joining the school the girls take to the sewing machines on a mission to hand make their uniforms.
The One which is Totally Flexible: Beachborough School, Northamptonshire
Rivalling Hanford for their love of four-legged friends, Beachborough‘s boarding house, Kites, is home to House Dog Charlie and a hamster, as well as 43 flexi-boarders.
Flexible Boarding allows children to stay over at school on regular nights every week, making it easy for parents to schedule their busy lives around their children’s. Plus this means boarders can truly reap the benefits of the best of both worlds.
For parents with less regimented work routines, Occasional Boarding means children can stay whenever is necessary, and for any child who’s worried about the transition, Trial Boarding is often a sensible first step (especially since it’s free of charge).
By covering all bases, Beachborough’s boarding offering is second to none when it comes to convenience, whilst also scoring high on comfort. Kites House was recently re-designed and offers sleek dormitories for groups of friends to make their mark on.
Of course, Beachborough has a wealth of facilities, including a sports hall for dodge ball and computer and art rooms, which the boarders can take full advantage of. None of these more civilised pastimes have managed to beat ‘Man Hunt’ on the popularity stakes, though. It turns out that even Beachborough’s brand spanking new games room just doesn’t compare to frantically chasing each other around the manor house.
The One with Five-star Reviews: Roedean School, Brighton
Over the last five years, more than £11m has been spent on refurbishing Roedean‘s four main boarding Houses and the two Sixth Form Houses, Keswick and Lawrence. And the money has been spent very wisely, creating beautiful interiors that The Telegraph proclaimed are akin to a ’boutique hotel’.
Indeed many of these rooms have been lovingly kitted out with bespoke wooden fittings and are complete with much sought after sea views and the kind of original features that would drive property developers green with envy.
This isn’t a case of style over substance either and the fusion of heritage and contemporary design often has a purpose. The choice of modern ‘submarine’ lights is a clever example: a nod to when the School was evacuated during WWII and became a torpedo training base called HMS Vernon.
Plus nothing says boutique boarding accommodation more than their black and white tiled bathrooms and dorms colour-coded according to the school houses.
The One Under High Demand: The Pilgrim’s School, Winchester
The friendly, bustling, family atmosphere of The Pilgrim’s’ two boarding houses can’t keep up with the demand of their pupils’ parents. Capacity has already expanded twice recently, and another new dorm is again on the horizon.
It’s easy to see why. For one, the school facilities are exemplary, including, amongst other things, an outdoor pool, river, meadows, large playing fields with a medieval castle at its boundary and a wooden-beamed games room complete with pool, table top football and ping pong.
On top of this, the decor of the rooms is perfectly pitched according to each age group, with every one uniquely designed according to themes such as superheroes, Beano, Banksy, skatepark, world exploration and Dr Seuss.
Yet The Pilgrim’s doesn’t stop here. Having created the perfect ‘home from home’ for their boys, they make it easier and safer for them to get back to the real thing: one of the school’s most popular services is the Waterloo Express, which sees boys escorted on the train the whole way back to London for school holidays, exeat or any other occasion upon request.
The One Built for Relaxation: Port Regis, Dorset
Recently the senior girls’ boarding house, Grosvenor, at Port Regis school in Dorset has undergone a major re-refurbishment. As well as the sleeping accommodation being redecorated to create bright and comfortable dormitories, there is now a luxurious new recreation area where the girls can relax with their friends.
A huge sofa, which can hold the entire boarding house to much hilarity, is perfect for TV nights and at the heart of the boarding house a fully-equipped kitchen has been added so that the girls can cook or make snacks.
Design has not been overlooked either, with specially-made saddle bar stools making this breakfast bar a hit.
For this more into performing arts than ponies, there is now a piano, a juke box (which we’re reliably informed can play any song ever recorded) and a dance area complete with overhead sparkly lighting. Outside a mini caravan has been installed and this, with the new fun outdoor seating, is the perfect place for the girls to chat when the sun shines.
When it’s prep time, there are two new computer stations for the girls to study at, leading out on to a balcony which takes advantage of the stunning views across the school grounds.
September 2018 saw the introduction of Housemothers. As well as being the glue that holds the boarders lives together (they do wake ups, laundry and lost property), they are also there to offer a shoulder to cry on or sympathetic ear to any worries that crop up during term time.
With over seventy boarders in school (55% of the school), every weekend is great fun at Port Regis – and unlike most, they never close, even during exeats when there is demand. The new additions to their offering emphasise the careful balance of free time and planned activities help the children remain entertained and, more importantly, feel at home. Every weekend is worth staying in for with regular themed events, dances, games, competitions, outings and opportunities to do something different.
The One with An Eye for Interior Design: Farleigh, Hampshire
Farleigh School‘s Junior Boarding House was recently decorated in style, featuring stunning new curtains, painted beds and bunks and ingenious lighting hoisted in the alcoves.
The St Christopher’s boys’ dorms are now festooned with curtains made with Sarah Hardaker Big Star Denim fabric and edged with a Kate Forman red trim to compliment the walls, which are now painted a Farrow & Ball Drawing Room Blue on the bottom half and Shaded White on the top section.
The dorms were accessorised with strip lighting which double up as reading lights, colour co-ordinated noticeboards (which were the old boards cut down and re-covered – high style doesn’t have to cost the environment), bedside lamps from IKEA, and large drum shades covered with another Sarah Hardaker fabric.
In the girls’ dorm the designers deliberately avoided painting the walls pink, instead settling on Farrow & Ball’s Shaded White on the top section, as in the boys’ rooms, and Farrow & Ball Pigeon on the lower section. Some pink was then introduced on the fun wall, with open windows that separate the bunk beds.
For the fabrics, Sarah Hardaker large and small polka dot fabrics dominate – the curtains are in Duck Egg to tie in with the Pigeon -coloured walls and trimmed with Kate Forman pink fan-edge. The drum shades were made in Ballerina pink polka dot fabric. Pompom fairy lights, IKEA lamps and chairs, plus a felt elephant’s head from Ella James, finish off what has become a cosy dorm for girls to relax and unwind in.