Spend a night at Woldingham School in Surrey — with its wellness room, indoor tennis dome and a menu offering cod steak with prawns and tarragon, all just an hour’s drive from London — and you may feel like you’re on an upmarket mini-break. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the number of ‘flexi-boarders’ — pupils who stay the night at school just once or twice a week — has grown three-fold since it was introduced three years ago.
‘It’s the perfect solution for us,’ says Siobhan Burgess, who works for the Cabinet Office and whose 14-year-old daughter boards up to two nights a week at the school to fit around sports matches and activities. ‘Corporate life is becoming more flexible and I think Woldingham is very successfully mirroring the corporate world to give parents that flexibility. So, it suits working parents, but it also gives my daughter an element of independence. And I think parents are looking at flexible boarding when they may not have considered it before, when you only had the full boarding option.’
Woldingham is not alone; the 2019 Independent Schools Council (ISC) census shows that the proportion of weekly and flexi-boarders has increased for the third consecutive year, now making up 17.9 per cent of all boarders. Dominic Moon, senior education consultant at the UK Boarding Schools Guide says: ‘Schools have recognised that it’s silly to turn them away. It is absolute folly to try to think that they can fill every single space on full boarding, because parents don’t think that way any more.’ Just over 10 per cent of schools represented by the ISC offer only full boarding, with most of those taking some day pupils as well.
‘The rest are doing a variation on a theme,’ says Moon.