Day School Versus Boarding School – Which Should I Choose?

Image shows a pile of old-fashioned suitcases, including one small blue one in the foreground.

It’s rarely easy to decide on the right educational path for your child, and for many parents there are few decisions bigger than whether to choose a day school or a boarding school.

You should also read…

If you’re in the throes of making this decision yourself, you’ll probably find that your instincts ultimately make the decision for you. But you can make a more informed choice by weighing up the pros and cons of both types of school and seeing which comes out on top. This article introduces you to the advantages and disadvantages of both boarding and day schools; you may wish to add your own pros and cons to these lists, as a lot will depend on your own family’s circumstances.

Boarding school pros

Let’s start by looking at the advantages of sending your child to boarding school.

Round-the-clock education and development

Image shows pens and paper on a desk.
The school will ensure your child does all the work they’re assigned.

A major advantage of the boarding school experience is the fact that the learning never stops. Your child is immersed in an educational environment, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and even when they’re outside the classroom, they’re still learning important life skills that they wouldn’t learn through sitting at home in the evenings and at weekends. Most boarding schools are very strict about homework, so you can be confident that your child is getting it done in a distraction-free environment – often in designated time slots, so your child has no choice but to do it.

Boarding school offers superb extra-curricular opportunities

There’s no doubt about it: the extra-curricular activities on offer at boarding schools are almost certainly going to be far more extensive than those on offer at a day school. Boarding schools have a responsibility to keep children busy in their downtime, and most of them really go to town on the activities they offer. This means that your children will have numerous opportunities to get involved in new hobbies, thereby developing non-academic skills that will be valuable for the real world. What’s more, they can take part in these new hobbies in the evenings and weekends without inconveniencing anybody, because they take place on site; and you can rest assured that they’re being kept busy and out of trouble.

Boarding school comes with a built-in social life

Image shows two teenage girls laughing together.
Your child won’t lack friends at boarding school.

Boarding school comes with a built-in social life, which means that your children will be living with their friends – a recipe for good fun! Many children want to go to boarding school for this very reason (after all, they’ve probably all read Harry Potter and love the idea of roaming around school at all hours, having adventures with their friends). It’s also a good option for only children, who don’t have siblings to play with back home. This lifestyle isn’t just fun, though. It develops your child’s confidence because they’re forced to interact with other children constantly, and they’ll be learning to get on with lots of different personalities, which is a useful skill for life.

Boarding school can improve family relationships

Image shows a teenager standing in the doorway of an incredibly messy room.
You won’t have to deal with arguments over messy bedrooms.

Contrary to what you might expect, many families find that the quality of their family relationship actually improves when a child goes to boarding school. This is because nobody gets under each other’s feet, and because you see each other less often, the time you do spend together is of a higher quality. What’s more, your child is away from any family tension or stress that may be happening at home, and you miss the teenage angst during term-time, too. You stop being the one nagging your child to do their homework or telling them what they should and shouldn’t do – that’s up to someone else, so they associate time with you with more positive things.

Boarding school fosters independence

Going to boarding school cultivates self-reliance, getting your child used to the idea of being away from home. This makes it easier for them to make the transition from school to life at university, as well as equipping them with the independence they need to succeed when they leave the education system altogether and go out to work.

There’s no school run – which frees up more time for everyone

Image shows a horrendous traffic jam.
This will become a twice-termly experience, rather than a twice-daily one.

The time spent travelling between home and school eats significantly into your child’s day (not to mention yours), and another big advantage of boarding school is that the daily school run is a thing of the past. Without this travel time, children are free to do much more with their day, such as sports or music practice, or extra study. For you, it means that you’re not having to rush about driving your child to and from school.

Boarding school is the perfect solution for busy parents

It’s not just the school run that eats into your day when your children aren’t at boarding school. You’re called upon to make all their meals, supervise homework and ferry them to and from extra-curricular activities. If you both work, there will reach a point when it’s not feasible to do all this. Boarding school provides the ideal solution for career-focused parents who are anxious that their children are adequately supervised at all times and encouraged to participate in a variety of out-of-school activities. It allows you to maintain your career at the same time as ensuring that your children get the best possible start in life.

Boarding school cons

As with any sort of education, the boarding school experience is not without its disadvantages – even in the modern boarding school, which places huge emphasis on the wellbeing of its pupils. The harsh discipline and lack of home comforts associated with boarding school in days gone by are, thankfully, very much a thing of the past, but there are still one or two drawbacks with this style of education. Let’s see what they are.

Parents feel much less involved in their child’s upbringing

Image shows a family walking together on the beach.
There will be normal family experiences that you won’t get to have – or at least, not as often.

There’s no escaping the fact that when you send your child to boarding school, you’re handing over a major chunk of their upbringing to someone else. When your child goes to boarding school, you’re relinquishing a lot of the decisions you’d normally make about what your child is and isn’t allowed to do, and the responsibility for their upbringing falls temporarily on someone else’s shoulders. They will probably be going to someone else – a school-appointed pastoral carer – with their problems, which may make you feel redundant. Many parents find this idea hard to cope with, and feel a great sense of loss when their children go off to boarding school. You won’t be there to chat to them over breakfast or say goodnight to them when they go to bed, and in these vital years of your child’s life, when they’re growing fast, you’ll inevitably miss out on a lot of their childhood.

Homesickness will strike at some point

Homesickness is likely to rear its ugly head at some point or another, at least in the beginning. Your child will be away from home for the first time, in an unfamiliar environment away from their family and home, and their new way of life will take some getting used to. They will almost certainly get used to it sooner or later – but both you and they might find it difficult when they’re grappling with feelings of homesickness, and it will probably make you wonder whether you’ve done the right thing.

Boarding school costs significantly more

Image shows the exterior of an HSBC bank.
Boarding school is undeniably expensive.

The other disadvantage of boarding school is that it costs significantly more than day school – you can expect to pay over £30,000 a year at the top boarding schools. There are state boarding schools for those for whom these sorts of costs are unfeasible, but you’re still looking at £10,000 or so a year even for that; only the tuition is paid for by the Government, so you still need to stump up the cash for the boarding costs.

Day school pros

Now let’s turn our attention to day schools. There’s not so much to say on the pros and cons of these, as day school is a much more standard educational model about which few people have strong opinions either way; so although this section will be somewhat shorter than the space we’ve devoted to boarding schools, this doesn’t mean we’re advocating one over the other.

You get to see your children every night

Image shows a girl standing against a height chart.
Having seen the start of your children growing up, you might not want to risk missing out the next stage.

The primary reason for choosing a day school over a boarding school is that you get to see your children every morning when they wake up and every afternoon when they come home from school. You get to put them to bed at night, make their meals, take responsibility for their homework and generally retain much more control over what happens to them. Any concerns they have can be discussed with you, rather than a school-appointed carer, and you can raise any concerns you have with them and ensure that they’re exposed to your own values (obviously if you did send them to boarding school, you’d pick a school you felt would instil the right values – but it’s still not the same as them learning directly from you).

Day school is much cheaper than boarding school

Another major argument in favour of sending your children to day school rather than boarding school is that it’s considerably cheaper. You’ll have to spend more on food when they’re at home, of course, and you’ll have to spend more on driving them to school and extra-curricular activities. But you’d still save a massive amount of money by having them home each night.

Day school cons

There are very few disadvantages associated with day school, as a good one will give your child the same level of academic education and they’ll have ample opportunities to make friends. The only real disadvantage we could think of is discussed below.

Day school is demanding on your time

Image shows someone in a high-viz jacket reading "Royal Air Force", standing by a plane.
If you have a demanding job, you might find boarding school a preferable option, particularly if you travel a lot.

Day school generally places many more demands on your time, so it may not be ideal if you have a busy career that makes it difficult for you to devote the necessary time to taking your children to places, cooking meals or supervising homework. Unless the school is within walking distance, you may have to drive your children to school and pick them up every day, to say nothing of extra-curricular activities, which may not take place at school. Day schools also tend to expect more parental involvement in things like Parent Teacher Associations, which you may not have time to take part in.

So which should I choose?

If money isn’t an object for you, and you want your child to be totally immersed in an educational environment, and/or you have a busy career yourself, boarding school has much to offer and it’s worth seriously considering it. As we’ve seen, there are a great many benefits to a boarding school education that your child won’t receive from a conventional day school education.

Image shows a parent and a child having lunch together.
Discuss the options with your children.

If, on the other hand, you can’t bear the thought of handing over responsibility for your children to someone else, or not being there to say goodnight to your children each night, boarding school probably isn’t the right decision for you. You may feel that the benefits of a boarding school education don’t outweigh the sense of loss you’d feel on missing out on so much of their childhood. You can, of course, enjoy the best of both worlds: your child could be a day school pupil at a top boarding school and receive many of the benefits of a boarding school education, without the drawbacks outlined above.
Ultimately, however, nobody else can make the decision for you. It’s a personal decision, and one that depends very much on your family circumstances and on the personalities involved. Your child’s opinion matters, too, so it’s not a decision you should make without discussing it with them first. Careful consideration of the advantages and disadvantages of boarding school, along with open discussion as a family, will allow you to arrive at a decision you feel is right for everyone.

Image credits: banner; stationery; friends; mess; traffic; family; bank; growing up; RAF; lunch.