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Boarding offers a place of refuge

Vulnerable flourish in an atmosphere a world away from troubled home lives

There cannot be many children who would describe going to boarding school aged 11 as a relief.

When he arrived at Christ's hospital in Horsham, West Sussex, Christian Collins was living as an only child with his mother who was brain-damaged and partially disabled after a car crash. His father had returned to his native Mexico.

"Being at boarding school allowed me to concentrate on my work," Christian, now 18, said. "For me, spending two-thirds of my time here and the rest at home has been a really good balance."

Christian is an example of the kind of child who might be considered for a "pathfinder" scheme, that could result in local authorities funding boarding places for up to 2,000 vulnerable children.

He is not the only student from a difficult background at Christ's hospital, where 97 per cent of the school's 805 boys and girls are on bursaries. "It is comforting to know that others are in the same situation - some worse than me," Christian, who is on a full bursary, said. "We try and avoid mentioning it, because there is so much else to talk about. We want to stay positive."

He said he could discuss emotional problems with tutor, Jonathan Callas, head of biology.

Christian has achieved 11 GCSEs, all but one at A grade, and played for the first rugby and cricket teams. After A-levels this summer in biology, chemistry and geography, he hopes to study neuro-science at St Andrew's university.

King Edward's school in Witley, Surrey, educates three children in care.

Two are funded by the London borough of Westminster, one by Kensington and Chelsea. A further eight children are 50 per cent funded by local councils, including Tower Hamlets, West Sussex, Berkshire and Surrey.

Tim Copeman, 17, is 50 per cent funded by Surrey. The rest comes from a mixture of private charities and a school bursary. At the age of 11, when he arrived at King Edward's, he was being looked after by his grandmother.

"It was a bit daunting at first, but I fell in with the routine," he said.

"The main thing is that you've got friends to discuss things with.

"It is a lot easier to keep up with your work here," he said. "Having two hours prep in the evening stops me from messing around."

Tim said his housemaster, Ian Sharpe, had been a father figure. With 10 GCSEs behind him, including four B grades, he is taking AS-levels in art, design and technology, business studies and PE. He is also a keen cricketer, and a member of the first XI.

Meanwhile Christian, with only six weeks left at Christ's hospital, said the biggest challenge facing him now was how to cope with leaving. "It's so friendly here, and I've always felt welcome."


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