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Any activity but the television

Boarding fees of more than pound;4,000 a term ensure pupils are more likely to be making a didgeridoo than watching a soap. Biddy Passmore reports

CHILDREN at modern boarding schools are far more likely to have their hands on a racquet or violin than a remote control, according to a study from the Boarding Education Alliance. At eight o'clock, boarders are more likely to turn to their prep than The Bill.

Official statistics reveal that four to 15-year-olds watch an average of 18 hours' television per week, says the alliance. But its survey found that most schools allowed pupils to watch for only an hour a night.

But this tempting vision of children creatively employed throughout their waking hours cannot be cheaply realised. Full boarding costs from pound;3,000 to pound;4,500 a term, pound;25 a day more than day fees, although occasional boarding can cost as little as pound;10 a night.

But the alliance, which has 180 members, points out that there are considerable savings to the family to set against the extra cost of boarding. Parents with two teenagers would save up to pound;200 a month on transport and groceries, it says, and that's before taking the cost of nannies, sports clubs and telephone bills into account.

In a recent alliance survey of parents, many said it would be only "a little cheaper" if their children did not board. Three out of four said:

"In general, we get what we pay for: high fees but good value for money."

After a recent building spree, many boarding schools now have facilities that would not disgrace a luxury sports club. One, for instance, has 28 tennis courts, 12 hockey, nine cricket and eight rugby pitches, four squash courts, a multi-gym, an indoor pool, a sports hall and floodlights. Pupils in alliance schools have an average of a quarter of an acre open space each.

A school in the South-east offers as part of its basic fee activities ranging from the conventional - sports and arts - to the unusual: animation workshop, boat-building and didgeridoo-making.

It is no surprise that the main reason parents chose boarding according to the survey, was: "The full use of the working day ... (formal prep time in the evening, supervised hobbies after normal school hours, no dead time)."

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