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Warning over state boarding schools

The future of state boarding schools is being put at risk by a lack of Government support, a leading headmaster has warned.

Many are dealing with crumbling buildings - some of which date back centuries - and are in "dire need" of financial help, according to Roy Page of the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, and chairman of the State Boarding Schools Association (SBSA).

He condemned the Government's lack of "imagination and vision" for supporting these schools and warned that many experienced school leaders are "desperately anxious" about the survival of their boarding houses.

Without government support, schools could be forced to close down their boarding facilities, Mr Page said, suggesting that some may begin questioning why they bother with boarding if the state is not interested in it.

In his speech to the SBSA's annual conference at Wymondham College in Norfolk today, Mr Page says that the Department for Education has recognised the importance of training boarding staff, and the cost to SBSA schools of funding cover for those attending these courses.

But he adds: " The trouble is the Government's lack of imagination or vision for how it can support the schools themselves - the literal, physical, bricks and mortar, the bedrooms and the dining rooms of boarding schools - some of which date back to the 15th century. We may end up with wonderfully trained staff in buildings collapsing around them, with boarders running for cover, and prospective parents - and Ofsted inspectors - frankly horrified."

He argued that the association had been seeking clarity from the Government on funding for buildings and facilities for two years, saying state boarding schools " are in dire need of it."

But despite being praised by Schools Minister Lord Nash in the summer, state boarding schools have not been given the means to secure their future, Mr Page said.

"Some of our longest established schools, run by experienced heads, are desperately anxious about the survival of their boarding houses. Large and successful schools with small boarding houses, and possibly dwindling numbers of boarders, may well wonder why they bother.

"A boarding house might look more useful if converted into a sixth-form centre. And if the state itself does not wish to sustain a state boarding school, why should the governors or headteacher care less? This is not because the schools are badly managed, it's because they have no capital with which to maintain their buildings or improve their facilities. State boarding schools are not allowed to make a profit, neither are they allowed to borrow.

"To survive, they need state support."

Mr Page said the the association was grateful to the David Ross Education Trust for its financial support of state boarding, but added he thought it was "sad" that the sector would need to look to philanthropists rather than the Government for survival.

"If the Government wants us to go cap in hand to individual sponsors, to behave like entrepreneurs, I would ask it to just tell us that we can. At the moment, we are forbidden.

"I believe that Lord Nash is listening to us but to be honest we are confused. A grant for training - excellent - but if we lose our boarding houses that investment will be in vain.

"I must ask the Government: Do you want us to survive, even progress, over the next 10 years? If you do, we need commitment now."

He said without this commitment other schools will have to follow the lead of those such as Charnwood, St Brigid's and Westgate and close their boarding facilities.

Mr Page urged the Government not to make state boarding impossible, insisting that these schools are a "vital part of this country's educational system".

The SBSA represents 38 state boarding schools, which collectively have around 5,000 boarders.

The education at a state boarding schools is free, but boarding is paid for, usually costing under £10,000 a year.

(Embargoed until 00:01 on 24/11/2013)

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "There is nothing to stop any school from accepting philanthropic donations. We know that state boarding schools make a valuable contribution to the education system and can change the lives of vulnerable young people.

"We are spending £18 billion on school buildings in this parliament - more than the previous government spent in its first two terms combined. By next summer we will have collected up to date and reliable condition information for the entire schools estate to enable us to target this funding where it is most needed - including state boarding schools."


From Belfast Telegraph