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A boarding school is a school where some or all people study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals. Some boarding schools also have day students who attend the institution by day and return off-campus to their families in the evenings.
Many independent (private) schools in the Commonwealth of Nations are boarding schools. Boarding school pupils (a.k.a. "boarders") normally return home during the school holidays and, often, weekends, but in some cultures may spend the majority of their childhood and adolescent life away from their families. In the United States, boarding schools comprise various grades, most commonly grades seven or nine through grade twelve - the high school years. Specialized military schools also feature military education and training. Some American boarding schools offer a post-graduate year of study in order to help students prepare for college entrance, most commonly to assimilate foreign students to American culture and academics before college.
In the former Soviet Union similar schools were introduced; these sometimes are known as Internat-schools (Russian: Школа-интернат) (from Latin: internus). They varied in their organization. Some schools were a type of specialized school with a specific focus in a particular field or fields such as mathematics, physics, language, science, sports, etc. Other schools were associated with orphanages after which all children enrolled in Internat-school automatically. Also, separate boarding schools were established for children with special needs (schools for blind, for deaf and other). General schools offered "extended stay" programs (Russian: Группа продленного дня) featuring cheap meals for children and preventing them from coming home too early before parents were back from work (education in the Soviet Union was free). In post-soviet countries, concept of boarding school differs from country to country.
The term boarding school often refers to classic British boarding schools and many boarding schools around the world are modeled on these.
A typical modern fee-charging boarding school has several separate residential houses, either within the school grounds or in the surrounding area. Pupils generally need permission to go outside defined school bounds; they may be allowed to travel off-campus at certain times.
Depending on country and context, boarding schools generally offer one or more options: full (students stay at the school full-time), weekly (students stay on the weekdays and return home for the weekend) or flexible (students choose when to board, e.g. during exam week).
A number of senior teaching staff are appointed as housemasters, housemistresses, dorm parents, or residential advisors, each of whom takes quasi-parental responsibility for perhaps 50 students resident in their house at all times but particularly outside school hours. Each may be assisted in the domestic management of the house by a housekeeper often known as matron, and by a house tutor for academic matters, often providing staff of each gender. In the US, boarding schools typically have a resident family that lives in the dorm, known as dorm parents. They also have janitorial staff for maintenance and housekeeping, but typically do not have tutors associated with an individual dorm. Nevertheless, older pupils are often unsupervised by staff, and a system of monitors or prefects gives limited authority to senior pupils. Houses readily develop distinctive characters, and a healthy rivalry between houses is often encouraged in sport. See also House system.
Houses or dorms usually include study-bedrooms or dormitories, a dining room or refectory where pupils take meals at fixed times, and a library, hall or cubicles where pupils can do their homework. Houses may also have common rooms for television and relaxation and kitchens for snacks, and, occasionally, storage facilities for bicycles or other sports equipment. Some facilities may be shared between several houses or dorms.
In some schools, each house has pupils of all ages, in which case there is usually a prefect system, which gives older pupils some privileges and some responsibility for the welfare of the younger ones. In others, separate houses accommodate needs of different years or classes. In some schools, day pupils are assigned to a dorm or house for social activities and sports purposes.
Each student has an individual timetable, which in the early years allows little discretion. Boarders and day students are taught together in school hours and in most cases continue beyond the school day to include sports, clubs and societies, or excursions. As well as the usual academic facilities such as classrooms, halls, libraries and laboratories, boarding schools often provide a wide variety of facilities for extracurricular activities such as music rooms, gymnasiums, sports fields and school grounds, boats, squash courts, swimming pools, cinemas and theatres. A school chapel is often found on site. Day students often stay on after school to use these facilities.
British boarding schools have three terms a year, approximately twelve weeks each, with a few days' half-term holiday during which pupils are expected to go home or at least away from school. There may be several exeats or weekends in each half of the term when pupils may go home or away. Boarding pupils nowadays often go to school within easy traveling distance of their homes, and so may see their families frequently; families are encouraged to come and support school sports teams playing at home against other schools.
Most school dormitories have a "lights out" time when the pupils are required to be in bed, depending on their age, and perhaps a later time after which no talking is permitted; such rules may be difficult to enforce, and pupils may often try to break them, for example by reading surreptitiously by flashlight or escaping on nocturnal excursions. Students sharing study rooms are less likely to disturb others and may be given more latitude.
Some boarding schools have only boarding students, while others have both boarding students and day students who go home at the end of the school day. Day students are sometimes known as day boys or day girls. Some schools welcome day students to attend breakfast and dinner, while others charge a nominal fee. For schools that have designated study hours or quiet hours in the evenings, students on campus (including day students) are usually required to observe the same "quiet" rules (such as no television, students must stay in their rooms, library or study hall, etc.). Schools that have both boarding and day students sometimes describe themselves as semi boarding schools or day boarding schools. Some schools also have students who board during the week but go home on weekends: these are known as weekly boarders, quasi-boarders, or five-day boarders.
Day students and weekly boarders may have a different and perhaps unfavourable view of the day school system, as compared to children who attend day schools without any boarding facilities. These students relate to a boarding school life, even though they do not totally reside in school; however, they may not completely become part of the boarding school experience. In some cases, day students feel they are treated as second-class students by the boarding students. On the other hand, these students have a different view of boarding schools as compared to full-term boarders who go home less frequently, perhaps only at the end of a term or even the end of an academic year.
Boarding schools are a form of residential school; however, not all residential schools are "classic" boarding schools. Other forms of residential schools include:
In the UK, almost all boarding schools are independent schools, which are not subject to the national curriculum or other educational regulations applicable to state schools. Nevertheless there are some regulations, primarily for health and safety purposes, as well as the general law. The Department for Children, Schools and Families, in conjunction with the Department of Health of the United Kingdom, has prescribed guidelines for boarding schools, called the National Boarding Standards.
One example of regulations covered within the National Boarding Standards are those for the minimum floor area or living space required for each student and other aspects of basic facilities. The minimum floor area of a dormitory accommodating two or more students is defined as the number of students sleeping in the dormitory multiplied by 4.2 m², plus 1.2 m². A minimum distance of 0.9 m should also be maintained between any two beds in a dormitory, bedroom or cubicle. In case students are provided with a cubicle, then each student must be provided with a window and a floor area of 5.0 m² at the least. A bedroom for a single student should be at least of floor area of 6.0 m². Boarding schools must provide a total floor area of at least 2.3 m² living accommodation for every boarder. This should also be incorporated with at least one bathtub or shower for every ten students.
These are some of the few guidelines set by the department amongst many others. It could probably be observed that not all boarding schools around the world meet these minimum basic standards, despite their apparent appeal.
The practice of sending children to other families or to schools so that they could learn together is of very long standing, recorded in classical literature and in UK records going back over a thousand years. In Europe, a practice developed by early mediaeval times of sending boys to be taught by literate clergymen, either in monasteries or as pages in great households. The school often considered the world's oldest boarding school, The King’s School, Canterbury, counts the development of the monastery school in around 597 AD to be the date of the school's founding. The author of the Croyland Chronicle recalls being tested on his grammar by Edward the Confessor's Queen Editha in the abbey cloisters as a Westminster schoolboy, in around the 1050s. Monastic schools as such were generally dissolved with the monasteries themselves under Henry VIII, although for example Westminster School was specifically preserved by the King's letters patent and it seems likely that most schools were immediately replaced. Winchester College founded by Bishop William of Wykeham in 1382 and Oswestry School founded by David Holbache in 1407 are the oldest boarding schools in continual operation.
Boarding schools manifest themselves in different ways in different societies. For example, in some societies children start boarding school at an earlier age than in others. In some societies, a tradition has developed in which families send their children to the same boarding school for generations.
One observation that appears to apply globally is that a significantly larger number of boys than girls attend boarding school and for a longer span of time.
In the United States, boarding schools for students below the age of 13 are called junior boarding schools, and are not as common and not as encouraged as in the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan. The oldest junior boarding school in the United States is the Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts. Other boarding schools are intended for high school age students, generally of ages 14–18. About half of one percent or (.5%) of school children attend boarding schools in the United States. This is much lower as compared to Britain or commonwealth countries. In Britain about one percent of children are sent to boarding schools. Boarding schools for this age group are often referred to as prep schools.
Within the Northeast, some notable examples with pre-Revolutionary and even colonial origins include Brooks School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Deerfield Academy, The Governor's Academy, Groton School, The Hotchkiss School, Milton Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon School, Phillips Academy Andover, Phillips Exeter Academy, Pomfret School, Portsmouth Abbey School, St. Marks, St. Paul's, Tabor Academy, and The Taft School.
Outside of New England, notable boarding schools include Episcopal High School (Alexandria, Virginia), St. George's School, Asheville School, Army and Navy Academy, Culver Military Academy, Cranbrook Kingswood, Western Reserve Academy, Shenandoah Valley Academy, The Masters School, Woodberry Forest School, Foxcroft School, Saint James School, Millbrook School, Westtown School, NJ West Ridge Academy, Blair Academy, The Hill School, The Lawrenceville School, Shady Side Academy, and The Emma Willard School.
"St. Grottlesex" is the colloquial name for the New England boarding schools, and comprises elements of the names of five geographically grouped schools: St. Paul's School, St. Mark's School in Southborough, MA, The Groton School in Groton, MA, Middlesex School in Concord, MA, and Chapel Hill - Chauncy Hall School in Waltham.
Boarding schools in England started in medieval times, when boys were sent to be educated at a monastery or noble household, where a lone literate cleric could be found. In the 12th century, the Pope ordered all Benedictine monasteries such as Westminster to provide charity schools, and many public schools started when such schools attracted paying pupils. These public schools reflected the collegiate universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as in many ways they still do, and were accordingly staffed almost entirely by clergymen until the 19th century. Private tuition at home remained the norm for aristocratic families, and for girls in particular, but after the 16th century it was increasingly accepted that adolescents of any rank might best be educated collectively. The institution has thus adapted itself to changing social circumstances over 1,000 years.
Boarding preparatory schools tend to reflect the public schools they feed. They often have a more or less official tie to particular schools.
The classic British boarding school became highly popular during the colonial expansion of the British Empire. British colonial administrators abroad could ensure that their children were brought up in British culture at public schools at home in the UK, and local rulers were offered the same education for their sons. More junior expatriates would send their children to local British-run schools, which would also admit selected local children who might travel from considerable distances. The boarding schools, which inculcated their own values, became an effective way to encourage local people to share British ideals, and so help the British achieve their imperial goals.
One of the reasons sometimes stated for sending children to boarding schools is to develop wider horizons than their family can provide. A boarding school a family has attended for generations may define the culture parents aspire to for their children. Equally, by choosing a fashionable boarding school, parents may aspire to better their children by enabling them to mix on equal terms with children of the upper classes. However, such stated reasons may conceal other reasons for sending a child away from home. These might apply to children who are considered too disobedient or underachieving, children from families with divorced spouses, and children to whom the parents do not much relate. These reasons are rarely explicitly stated, though the child might be aware of them.
In 1998, there were 772 private-sector boarding schools in England and 100,000 children attending boarding schools all over the United Kingdom. In England, they are an important factor in the class system. In Britain about one percent of children are sent to boarding schools. Also in Britain children as young as 5 to 9 years of age are sent to boarding schools. Most societies around the world decline to make boarding schools the preferred option for the upbringing of their children. However, boarding schools are one of the preferred modes of education in former British colonies or Commonwealth countries like India, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other former African colonies of Great Britain. For instance in Ghana the majority of the secondary schools are boarding. In China some kids are sent to boarding schools at 2 years of age. In some countries, such as New Zealand and Sri Lanka, a number of state schools have boarding facilities. However, these state boarding schools are frequently the traditional single-sex state schools, whose ethos is much like that of their independent counterparts. Furthermore, the proportion of boarders at these schools is often much lower than at independent boarding schools, typically around 10%.
The Swiss government developed a strategy of fostering private boarding schools for foreign students as a business integral to the country's economy. Their boarding schools offer instruction in several major languages and have a large number of quality facilities organized through the Swiss Federation of Private Schools.
In Canada, the largest independent boarding school is Columbia International College, with an enrollment of 1,700 students from all over the world. Robert Land Academy in Wellandport, Ontario is Canada's only private military style boarding school for boys in Grades 6 through 12.
In the late 19th century, the United States government undertook a policy of educating Native American youth in the ways of the dominant Western culture so that Native Americans might then be able to assimilate into Western society. At these boarding schools, managed and regulated by the government, Native American students were subjected to a number of tactics to prepare them for life outside their reservation homes.
In accordance with the assimilation methods used at the boarding schools, the education that the Native American children received at these institutions centered on the dominant society's construction of gender norms and ideals. Thus boys and girls were separated in almost every activity and their interactions were strictly regulated along the lines of Victorian ideals. In addition, the instruction that the children received reflected the roles and duties that they were to assume once outside the reservation. Thus girls were taught skills that could be used in the home, such as "sewing, cooking, canning, ironing, child care, and cleaning" (Adams 150). Native American boys in the boarding schools were taught the importance of an agricultural lifestyle, with an emphasis on raising livestock and agricultural skills like "plowing and planting, field irrigation, the care of stock, and the maintenance of fruit orchards" (Adams 149). These ideas of domesticity were in stark contrast to those existing in native communities and on reservations: many indigenous societies were based on a matrilineal system where the women's lineage was honored and the women's place in society respected. For example, women in indigenous communities held powerful roles in their own communities, undertaking tasks that Western society deemed only appropriate for men: indigenous women could be leaders, healers, and farmers.
While the Native American children were exposed to and were likely to adopt some of the ideals set out by the whites operating these boarding schools, many resisted and rejected the gender norms that were being imposed upon them. See also: Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Some elite university-preparatory boarding schools for pupils from age 14 to 18 are seen by sociologists as centers of socialization for the next generation of the political upper class and reproduces an elitist class system. This attracts families who value power and hierarchy for the socialization of their family members. These families share a sense of entitlement to social class or hierarchy and power.
Boarding schools are seen by certain families as centres of socialization where pupils mingle with others of similar social hierarchy  to form what is called an Old boy network. Elite boarding school pupils are brought up with the assumption that they are meant to control society. Significant numbers of them enter the political upper class of society or join the financial elite in fields such as international banking and venture capital. Elite boarding school socialization causes students to internalize a strong sense of entitlement and social control or hierarchy. This form of socialization is called “deep structure socialization” by Peter Cookson & Caroline Hodges (1985). This refers to the way in which boarding schools not only manage to control the pupils physical lives but also their emotional lives.
Boarding school establishment involves control of behaviour regarding several aspects of life including what is appropriate and or acceptable which adolescents would consider as intrusive. This boarding school socialization is carried over well after leaving school and into their dealings with the social world. Thus it causes boarding school students to adhere to the values of the elite social class which they come from or which they aspire to be part of. According to Peter W Cookson Jr (2009) the elitist tradition of preparatory boarding schools has declined due to the development of modern economy and the political rise of the liberal west coast of the United States of America.
The boarding school socialization of control and hierarchy develops deep rooted and strong adherence to social roles and rigid gender stratification as documented in the research work of Sarah Chase. She states that one of the surprising findings of her study was the highly gendered student culture in boarding school. The social pressure of conformity was severe and several students abused performance drugs like Adderall and Ritalin for both academic performance and to lose weight. The distinct and hierarchical nature of socialization and boarding school culture becomes very obvious in the manner pupils sit together and form cliques, especially in what would traditionally be called a refectory in classic British boarding schools. This leads to pervasive form of explicit and implicit bullying in boarding schools with excessive competition between cliques and between individuals. The rigid gender stratification and role control is displayed in the boys forming cliques on the basis of wealth and social background and in girls it is displayed in their overt acceptance that they would marry only for money. This narcissistic tendency and gender stratification is also shown in their choice of only rich or affluent males as boyfriends. According to Sarah (2008) most boarding school students get caught up in rigid socialization and gender roles. She states that students are not able to display much sensitivity and emotional response and are unable to have more close relationships except on a superficial and politically correct level. Students engage in social behaviour that would make them seem appropriate and rank high in social hierarchy. This socialization makes boarding school students to adhere and perform extreme gender and social stereotypes even in their social life later on.
The aspect of boarding school life with its round the clock habitation of pupils with each other in the same environment, involved in studying, sleeping and socializing leads to pressures and stress in boarding school life. This is manifested in the form of hypercompetitiveness, use of recreational or illegal drugs, indulgence or experimentation with sexuality, and psychological depression that at times may manifest in suicide or its attempt. Studies show that about 90% of boarding school pupils acknowledge that living in a total institution like boarding school has significant impact and changed their perception and interaction with social relationships. Boarding schools are less a form of schooling and more a form of child rearing. The change that the students experience is often not in the manner that the boarding school establishment defines itself or claims to inculcate, instead the changes that come about is chiefly due to the constant interaction of the pupils with the ever present boarding school student culture. This is shown in manifest level or covert level in the form of attaining credential in school and in an implicit level or inherent level in the pursuit of individual goals and hierarchical social class interest which is often social control and material comfort in the ethos of boarding schools.
It is claimed that children may be sent to boarding schools to give more opportunities than their family can provide. However, that involves spending significant parts of one's early life in what may be seen as a total institution and possibly experiencing social detachment, as suggested by social-psychologist Erving Goffman. This may involve long-term separation from one's parents and culture, leading to the experience of homesickness and may give rise to a phenomenon known as the 'TCK' or third culture kid.
|“||Preparatory schoolboys live in a world completely dissociated from home life. They have a different vocabulary, a different moral system, even different voices. On their return to school from the holidays the change-over from home-self to school-self is almost instantaneous, whereas the reverse process takes a fortnight at least. A preparatory schoolboy, when caught off his guard, will call his mother 'Please, matron,' and always addresses any male relative or friend of the family as 'Sir', like a master. I used to do it. School life becomes the reality, and home life the illusion. In England, parents of the governing classes virtually lose any intimate touch with their children from about the age of eight, and any attempts on their parts to insinuate home feeling into school life are resented.||”|
—Robert Graves 
Some modern philosophies of education, such as constructivism and new methods of music training for children including Orff Schulwerk and the Suzuki method, make the everyday interaction of the child and parent an integral part of training and education. In children, separation involves maternal deprivation. The European Union-Canada project "Child Welfare Across Borders" (2003), an important international venture on child development, considers boarding schools as one form of permanent displacement of the child. This view reflects a new outlook towards education and child growth in the wake of more scientific understanding of the human brain and cognitive development.
Data have not yet been tabulated regarding the statistical ratio of boys to girls that matriculate boarding schools, the total number of children in a given population in boarding schools by country, the average age across populations when children are sent to boarding schools, and the average length of education (in years) for boarding school students. There is also little evidence or research about the complete circumstances or complete set of reasons about sending kids to boarding schools.
Boarding schools and their surrounding settings and situations have become a genre in British literature with its own identifiable conventions. (Typically, protagonists find themselves occasionally having to break school rules for honourable reasons the reader can identify with, and might get severely punished when caught - but usually they do not embark on a total rebellion against the school as a system.)
Notable examples of the school story include:
The setting has also been featured in notable North American fiction:
There is also a huge boarding-school genre literature, mostly uncollected, in British comics and serials from the 1900s to the 1980s.
The sub-genre of books and films set in a military or naval academy has many similarities with the above.