Boarding school education

IT’S OFTEN called the British education system’s “best kept secret”, although why it remains a secret when it offers such excellent value for money is one of life’s mysteries. It is, of course, state boarding.

There are 32 state boarding schools in the UK and, in each of them, tuition is free and parents pay only the boarding fee. As a rough guide, this is about a third of the cost of an independent school education.

The 32 schools cover a wide range of types of school. There are 11–18 mixed comprehensives; sixth form colleges; single sex; some with church affiliation; grammar schools, both mixed and single sex; some with a single boarding house of around 50 students while others cater for more than 500 boarders. What they all have in common is the provision of excellent boarding accommodation and high academic standards. The league tables regularly show the state boarding schools among the top performing schools in the country.

A group of senior staff from one of these schools is visiting the Algarve, at the suggestion of some of its parents, to provide an insight into how the state boarding sector works and how it could be of interest to parents, who live and work abroad, but would prefer a British education for their children.

Cranbrook School in Kent is a very old school, soon to celebrate its 500th birthday. It has been in the state sector since the 1940s and a mixed grammar school since 1972. It has around 740 students of whom 240 are boarders. As a grammar school, it requires its pupils to take an entrance test and admits from the age of 13 rather than 11.

The boarders are housed in six separate houses all of which have been refurbished to a very high standard in recent years. The school is well equipped with outstanding sports, drama and music facilities, and offers a full activities programme for all its students, but especially the boarders.

You may wonder who is entitled to take advantage of state boarding. Well, it is open to any child who holds a British passport and also to those who hold an EU passport. Cranbrook regularly takes a number of EU nationals, who wish to experience the British education system at its very best and to improve their English.

If you would like to know more about state boarding, you can visit its website at Cranbrook’s website is at Also, do come along to the Pinus Ria Park Hotel (situated between Quinta do Lago and Vale de Lobo) at 7.30pm on Monday, October 24, to hear more about the sector and Cranbrook in particular. This will be an informal occasion with opportunities to ask questions and meet staff over a glass of wine and light refreshments. Contributed