Former Eton College head in plea for affordable boarding school options
The large fees of many top boarding schools are putting parents off, and the sector would benefit from having more affordable options to suit different budgets, the former head of Eton College has said.
Tony Little, who is president of the Boarding Schools' Association (BSA), said cost is a "huge issue" for families, and he would like to see more dialogue between the state boarding school sector - where fees are typically around £11,000 - and the independent sector, where it costs up to £35,000 a year to board.
He said one of the main problems was "all boarding schools seeking to aspire to be the kind of schools which have two dozen sports and nine modern languages and all the rest of it".
"There is a place for a more affordable option, offering a really good quality boarding experience but with perhaps less of a range of things on offer," he told reporters at the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference (HMC) in St Andrews.
"The costs are being driven ever upwards and it is an issue for the boarding sector as a whole to face.
"What we need are more levels in between and I think that is something for the boarding system to address," he added.
Mr Little said he would like to see an expansion of state boarding schools, which he described as an "unvalued gem" that many people do not even realise exist.
He said he believed there are around 35 or 36 state boarding schools.
"There is a very strong and special tradition in British boarding," he told reporters.
"We do have something quite remarkable, I believe, in this country and it's mirrored in the state boarding school sector as well, which I think is why the two sectors need to come together.
"It is a particularly British approach, which is why British-style boarding has been mimicked in other countries to greater and lesser effect."
Mr Little, who was head of Eton from 2002 to 2015, also suggested that placing children from disadvantaged backgrounds in state boarding schools could be financially beneficial to the Government.
"They (the schools) are wonderful opportunities, I think here, to help some of the children who come from the most difficult situations to have an unbelievably good education, but we don't have enough provision," he said.
Figures from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) show that boarding schools are particularly flourishing in the overseas market.
There were more than 27,000 non-British pupils whose parents live overseas in ISC schools in 2015 - representing just over 5% of the total ISC pupil population.
Children mainly come from China, Hong Kong and Russia, with the contribution of overseas pupils to the UK economy estimated to be £750 million a year.
Boarding numbers overall have remained relatively flat over the past 15 years, with around 70,000 boarding pupils in ISC schools, representing 14% of pupils.