Local authority children's services directors will be in Westminster this week (Wednesday, 20 June) to discuss how vulnerable young people might be saved from eventually needing to be taken into care by going instead to boarding school. The officials will be addressed by Children & Families Minister Tim Loughton and his Labour predecessor Lord Adonis.
The conference marks the launch of the Assisted Boarding Network which seeks to give hundreds of vulnerable children the opportunity of a boarding school education. It is being organised jointly by two national charities, the Royal National Children's Foundation and Buttle UK which together are responsible for the long-term support of more than 300 disadvantaged young people in 100 independent and state boarding schools throughout the UK. The charities' target is dramatically to expand the level of Assisted Boarding with the support of boarding schools, local authorities, charities and grant-making organisations. It is believed that up to 3,000 places for vulnerable young people could be available in existing boarding schools, funds permitting.
The Assisted Boarding Network is being launched at a time when Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has called for troubled youngsters to be "sent" to boarding school and when politicians on all sides support so-called "Assisted Boarding" as an option for young people whose capacity for ordinary development has been compromised by particularly adverse home or family circumstances. It also chimes with Charity Commission demands that independent schools justify their charitable status by opening up to the needy and disadvantaged.
It sounds like an idea whose time has come. But, in fact, until the 1980s, tens of thousands more vulnerable young people were funded at boarding schools across the country. A subsequent shift in council preferences and in support for boarding schools led, among other things, to a dramatic decline in boarding education. Where boarding once comprised the majority of places in independent schools, today it accounts for less than 10%. There were once hundreds of thousands of boarders in Britain, today there are just 73,000. Even in the last 20 years, boarding school places have declined by almost 30%.
Nobody is advocating that all (or even most) young people would be suitable for boarding school, whether vulnerable or not. But the Royal National Children's Foundation has carried out research that makes two powerful points:
1. Assisted Boarders frequently outperform their new boarding school peers across a range of social and academic criteria, not least because they know how fortunate they are and tend to grasp their golden opportunity with both hands.
2. Many of these Assisted Boarders once seemed destined to be taken into local authority care. These boarding schools not only help transform the lives and prospects of Assisted Boarders but also can help keep together many a troubled single parent family. It can help to take the pressure off a pressured parent and other siblings.
Two of the speakers at this week's Assisted Boarding Network conference will talk with particular passion about the benefits of boarding school for the vulnerable young. One is Lord Adonis and another is.... me. Andrew Adonis was funded by Camden council to board at Kingham Hill in the Oxfordshire countryside. Essex County Council paid for me to attend the Royal Wanstead School, in Snaresbrook. We and thousands of other more recent Assisted Boarders know what we owe to the security, structure, pastoral care and individual attention that is a hallmark of so many of the country's boarding schools. This truly is a crusade whose time has come. Will you support us?
Colin Morrison is Chairman of the Royal National Children's Foundation
Transforming young lives