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It's boom time as academies prepare to take boarders

The school system is set to experience a major expansion of state-funded boarding, with eight academies finalising plans to offer residential accommodation by the end of the year.

The surge comes after three academies confirmed their residential blocks will open next September and four existing state boarding schools applied to become academies this year.

An all-boarding state school - the Duke of York's Royal Military School in Dover - will also open its doors to general admissions after it secured academy status this month.

It will now come under the control of the Department for Education rather than the Ministry of Defence, and its 450 boarding places will no longer be exclusive to the pupils of forces children (see panel). In the next five years, it also hopes to expand its provision to 750 places if finances hold up.

No expense is being spared on the latest wave of new boarding facilities. At Wellington Academy in Tidworth, Wiltshire, which is sponsored by the private Wellington College, #163;5.5 million is being spent creating 100 boarding places, largely for children from the nearby garrison.

The Priory Academy in Lincoln is building 60 private en suite study bedrooms to encourage sixth-formers to stay on at the school.

And 50 places will also be made available at Harefield Academy in Uxbridge, Middlesex, with the boarding house due to open in September 2011. Information for interested parents is expected to be sent out this week.

There are currently 35 state boarding schools, at which parents pay around #163;7,000 for their children to board, but tuition is free.

Hilary Moriarty, national director of the Boarding Schools' Association, said the boom showed schools recognised there was a "modern need for modern boarding".

"These academies have identified specific needs and gone ahead for very different reasons and they have the freedom to do it," she said.

However, she warned that the current financial climate would mean little funding for further projects for some time.

Andy Schofield, head of Wellington Academy, said he hoped the school could accommodate vulnerable children through its #163;2 million endowment fund provided by its sponsor. But it will cater predominantly for children from military families.

He added: "Having boarding will change everything. We want them to have a home from home. It will also strengthen the all-round care we give to pupils in the school."

Despite this aspiration, the facilities being built are not largely expected to cater for particularly disadvantaged or at-risk children.

Havelock Academy in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, has expressed a desire to build accommodation for vulnerable pupils, although its head Nicholas O'Sullivan says it is "several years away" from offering on-site accommodation.

The two-year boarding pathfinder for vulnerable children programme, which encourages local authorities to put children facing care into boarding schools, could easily become a victim of government cuts.

Backed by the then schools minister Lord Adonis, who was a boarding school pupil while in care in the late 1970s, it has only managed to place a handful of pupils, despite interest from 80 boarding schools.

Under the scheme, ten authorities considered 76 pupils for placements, but only 22 had gone by February last year.

Education Secretary Michael Gove has expressed his enthusiasm for the idea, although the Department for Education told The TES that no decision had been made on whether to continue funding the project.

Boarding for at-risk children has been criticised in the past as having the potential to create "children's homes in the countryside".

Academies taking boarders 2011

Wellington, Tidworth, Wiltshire - 100

The Priory, Lincoln - 60

Harefield, Uxbridge, Middlesex - 50

State boarding schools which have applied for academy status

Hockerill Anglo-European College, Bishop's Stortford, Herts - 240

Lancaster Royal Grammar, Lancashire - 200

Dallam School, Milnthorpe, Cumbria - 120

Reading School, Reading, Berkshire - 70

State boarding schools already given academy status this year

The Duke of York's Royal Military School, Dover - 450

Royal military school

State facilities at the double

The principal of the Duke of York's Royal Military School in Dover, Charles Johnson, said he would not let the move to academy status threaten the "military ethos" of the school, and pupils will continue to march around the school's parade in special uniforms three times a week.

Pupils wear the regimental badge of their parents over their hearts.

Following the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme and membership of the Combined Cadet Force are "non-negotiable".

"The emphasis is on leadership, self-reliance, adventurous training and teamwork," Mr Johnson said.

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