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A British boarding experience need not break the bank

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Bermudian Willow Smith is in the Sixth Form at Thomas Adams School (Photograph supplied)

If you are considering boarding school for your child but worried by the high fees, British state schools might be a solution.

Education is free for anyone with a British passport and room and board costs about one third of the tuition of the average independent school.

Added to that, state schools assert that their students are top performers with frequent acceptance at Oxbridge and other highly rated UK institutions.

“One of the most common questions I am asked is how does state boarding differ from the independent model,” said Lee Irwin, director of boarding at Thomas Adams School in Wem, Shropshire.

“My answer is always the same; it doesn’t. Having extensive experience of boarding in both the state and independent sectors, I know that we all offer the same high level of pastoral care and we all have a shared love of boarding and education.”

Thomas Adams sits on a 30-acre campus and offers co-ed classes up to Sixth Form. The secondary school has 1,200 students; boarders are capped at 50.

At the other end of the scale is Wymondham College, the largest state boarding school in Britain. It is a co-ed school for ages 11 through 18 and has 1,338 students, of which 638 board.

“Last year Wymondham College was [voted] the Secondary School of the Year,” said Andrew Fell, executive headteacher of Sapientia Education Trust, which runs about 20 schools in the Norfolk and Suffolk areas of England.

“Wymondham has very high A-level standards and GCSE standards; there's a lot of children who go to Oxbridge and go on to very good British universities. It’s one of the highest performing schools, certainly in the eastern region.”

Andrew Fell, executive headteacher of Sapientia Education Trust (Photograph supplied)

Bermudian students have yet to capitalise on that said Mr Fell, who taught at Northlands Secondary School in the 1990s and was here for the opening of CedarBridge Academy and the introduction of middle schools.

“I don’t know what the political thinking is about tracing back the sort of decline in interest in public school education in Bermuda to that point, but I know there's been a big growth in private school education on the island,” he said.

At Wymondham there are boarders with families “just a few miles away” while others come from Hong Kong, Nigeria and many parts of Europe. The campus sits on an 80-acre site in Wymondham, a market town in Norfolk.

“It's got a sort of international feel as well as something local,” said Mr Fell. “And it's quite remote, in a sort of rural area, which is quite important for some parents.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Adams lays claim to Bermudian alumni but Willow Smith is the only one enrolled at the moment.

Thomas Adams School (Photograph supplied)

Aside from the cost, what makes the Shropshire secondary school attractive to many parents is its small group of boarders.

“We're a large school but we limit our boarding places so we keep the family feel and ethos that boarders and parents love. We are often described as Shropshire's largest family,” Mr Irwin said.

Ten per cent of the boarding students at Thomas Adams are from the Caribbean. There are also students from Hong Kong, Japan, Nigeria and the Ukraine.

“We've got a real mix of children that all have this English background, so to speak, but come from all different areas in the world,” he said.

The Thomas Adams experience

Bermudian Willow Smith is in the Sixth Form at Thomas Adams School.

The 17-year-old chose it with her parents after a great deal of research. A virtual visit helped her decide it was the right choice. That sociology was on the curriculum was particularly appealing, but just as important for someone who had never lived away from home before was that the boarding house seemed to have “good atmosphere and community”.

“I thought it would be hard to adjust and fit in but Thomas Adams was very welcoming and I made a good group of friends which made the process much easier,” Willow said. “Even if you feel like you might be struggling there’s always someone you can talk to whether it be a house parent or even another boarder.”

Although moving from Bermuda to a much bigger country “seemed scary”, she liked that Wem was “a nice, small town” and only a short train ride away from Birmingham, London and other cities.

“After moving I feel much more independent and feel there’s many more opportunities,” Willow said.

Most families begin their search on the internet and narrow down choices based on preferences such as proximity to family, academic results, school size and the type of sports offered.

“Moving to a boarding school from another country can sometimes be a worry for both parents and the child. You want to ensure that the transition is handled as smoothly as possible and for me, that process starts way before you visit in the first instance,” Mr Irwin said.

“Starting the transition early is the key to success. We take pride in pairing prospective boarders with existing students at Thomas Adams. Our current boarders serve as ambassadors and can provide first-hand insights into the boarding house environment. This personal connection often eases the transition for new students and their families.”

Lee Irwin, director of boarding at Thomas Adams School (Photograph supplied)

Sixth Form students at both Wymondham and Thomas Adams consistently produce good results.

“Each year, state boarding schools regularly outperform other state schools, with many topping academic league tables around the country,” Mr Irwin said. “The combination of the excellent state-funded education and a stable boarding community enables students to make the most of their talents and abilities. At Thomas Adams School, we are one of the top performing state schools in the Midlands.”

Mr Fell added: “People are paying £30,000-plus [for an independent school] whereas the Wymondham College boarding fees are £13,000 per year and it’s a really good school.

“And because it's a state-funded boarding school, there's a very high bar in terms of both academic inspection from Ofsted and boarding inspection.”

For more information, visitwww.stateboarding.org.uk; www.thomasadams.net/, www.wymondhamcollege.org/

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Published October 26, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated October 27, 2023 at 8:06 am)

A British boarding experience need not break the bank

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