Independents' website sets out to bring in the boarders
Scottish boarding schools may conjure visions of old-fashioned, remote buildings, with a chill wind blowing through the dorms. But the Scottish Council for Independent Schools (SCIS) is set to turn those ideas on their head by instead promoting the benefits of boarding with a new, tourism-style website as part of a marketing pitch to drive up student interest.
Its site introduces each of the 18 independent schools that offer boarding in Scotland. It also provides a tool with which prospective students and their families can calculate the distance from their homes to each school.
"A lot of the misconceptions are about transport and distance," said John Edward, director of SCIS. "The aim is to demystify a bit. There is an impression in some places that it takes a long time to get here. So part of it is to show that they are, in fact, quite easy to get to." None of the schools was further than half an hour from a major airport, he added.
But the schools also want to show the world that they have little in common with the Victorian institutions that many envisage, where pupils have limited means of contacting home and stay in large, dark dorms with little privacy, following outdated rules and traditions.
While some schools still held their traditions dear, others were now "quite informal", Mr Edward said. Boarding schools in Scotland are modern institutions, with "21st-century accommodation", where most students stay in single or double rooms with all the mod-cons, including wi-fi, he added.
Some 3,500 students now board at Scotland's 18 independent boarding schools - a number that has remained relatively constant in recent years, although it dropped by 2.2 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, and by the same amount from 2011-12 to 2012-13, when the total number of boarders stood at 3,496.
The number of international boarders, however, has risen steadily since 2008-09, from 732 to 901 in 2012-13. This means that they now make up more than a quarter of all boarding students. The largest number come from Germany, China and Russia.
In addition to a range of qualifications offered at the schools, from Highers to A levels and baccalaureates, there is also a great sense of community, and "what happens outside the classroom is as important as what happens inside", Mr Edward said. This includes activities such as the Gordonstoun Fire Service and Mountain Rescue.
For the schools, the new website offers a chance to show that they are a valuable part of the Scottish education system and introduce themselves to prospective students in the UK and abroad, Mr Edward said.