Call for an end to 'Tom Brown' prejudice

16th January 2009 at 00:00
Councils' outmoded views are denying at-risk children a boarding school education, says head

Vulnerable children are being denied care in boarding schools because of outdated views in too many local authorities, a leading headteacher has warned.

Councils have an old-fashioned image of boarding schools formed by Tom Brown's Schooldays rather than institutions with a record of success in helping at-risk pupils, said Malcolm Lloyd, chairman of the State Boarding Schools Association and head of Brymore School in Somerset.

"The idea that kids are sent away to lonely boarding schools against their will is old hat," said Mr Lloyd.

"A boarding education can and frequently does help children with desperate circumstances at home. Students opt in to boarding because of the calm and supportive atmosphere on offer."

There has been resistance from some authorities to putting children at risk of going into care in boarding, despite schools being willing to house them. Mr Lloyd said councils needed to be more creative to make sure vulnerable pupils received the best support.

"The success stories are there to be seen," he said. "Local authorities need to recognise that state boarding in particular is exceptionally effective and good value for money."

His comments come ahead of a delayed report into a Government pathfinder project to place vulnerable pupils in boarding schools and at a time when child protection services are under close scrutiny.

The report is expected to say councils lack the expertise needed to make best use of boarding facilities and that their systems need to be overhauled to ensure children benefit from the education and pastoral support on offer.

More than 50 private and state schools signed up to the pathfinder, with the aim of placing 40 children by September 2007. By June 2008 only 15 had been placed.

Mr Lloyd, who will host the State Boarding Schools Association's annual conference at Brymore School from Sunday, said local authorities needed to think outside of a "tick box" culture.

The Government has committed Pounds 18 million over the past year to improve and expand boarding places at state boarding schools, where parents pay boarding fees but education is free.

But as the recession bites, it is vital that ministers ensure that charities which contribute to the fees of vulnerable children at boarding schools are in good health, Mr Lloyd said.

"All charities will struggle over the next year, but that can't be allowed to affect the education of these vulnerable children," he said.

Mr Lloyd also said that it was possible that competition for places in the 34 state boarding schools in England and the one in Wales could intensify as the recession results in parents not being able to afford private school boarding fees, which are typically three times the cost.

NO MORE GRIM TALES

Boarding schools are not as austere as they used to be, according to a survey commissioned by the Boarding Schools' Association, which shows pupils now come from more diverse backgrounds and almost half see their parents every week.

The poll concluded that 45 per cent of parents whose children board children did not go to boarding schools themselves, and 70 per cent of pupils were involved in the decision to board.

Hilary Moriarty, national director of the BSA, said: "Modern boarding is a world away from how things used to be. No more are children packed off to school, only to be seen again at the end of the term."

There are 70,794 boarders in independent and state schools in the UK. The survey attracted responses from 1,400 parents who have children at boarding schools.

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