A boarding school is a residential school where pupils live and study during the school year. There are approximately 500 boarding schools across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Why choose a UK boarding school?

UK boarding schools offer you an outstanding education, helping you to develop your skills and progress to university. All UK boarding schools have to meet strict government standards on the quality of their teaching, facilities and student care.

Many UK boarding schools combine beautiful, centuries-old buildings with a mix of modern classrooms and traditional architecture. The excellent facilities help make living and learning a great experience and you will improve your English skills while you study.

Life at UK boarding schools

Most UK boarding schools teach a mix of international pupils and local UK pupils. ‘Boarders’ are pupils who live at the school. ‘Day pupils’ live with their families and return home at the end of the school day. This mix helps to create a good social atmosphere.

Boarding schools usually close for the long summer and Christmas holidays and pupils return home to their parents or guardians. Some schools do, however, run language courses during this period. 

For the shorter half-term holidays, some schools stay open. Typically, you won’t have normal classes but you will be supervised by staff and be able to take part in activities and events.


At a boarding school, you live with other pupils in a boarding house – there might be several boarding houses in each school. Girls and boys stay in separate accommodation.  There will also be at least one house parent who lives on the premises who is there to look after you and care for your needs. 

Young boarders will probably share a bedroom or dormitory with other children. Older boarders usually have their own private bedroom, or share a room with just one other pupil.  You might also have your own bathroom or washing facilities.

Most boarding houses have comfortable communal areas where you can relax, socialise and watch television with your fellow pupils.

Subjects and qualifications

The UK boarding school system is split into three levels.

Primary education is for children aged four or five up to 11 or 13. You might hear this referred to as primary school, infant school, junior school, pre-preparatory school or preparatory school. 

Secondary education is for pupils aged 11 or 13 to 16. You might hear this referred to as secondary school, high school or senior school.

In the last two years of secondary school (age 14 to 16), most pupils study for GCSE qualifications. Alternatives include Standard grades and Intermediates in Scotland, or the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme. 

Sixth form is for students aged 16 to 18. The two years are often called Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth.  At sixth form level, most pupils take A-levels. Alternative qualifications include Standard Grades and Highers in Scotland, or the International Baccalaureate. Please see Further education for more details.

Boarding schools offer a wide range of subjects including maths, sciences, history, geography, drama, IT, literature and foreign languages.  All of these qualifications are highly regarded by universities, colleges and employers in the UK and around the world.

How to apply

If you are applying to an independent boarding school, you need to apply directly to the school. Look on the school’s website or contact them to ask about the application process.  Applications for state schools are usually handled by the local government authority.

Tuition at state schools is free of charge, but you need to pay for boarding. For independent schools, you will need to pay for tuition and boarding.  Boarding fees generally cover items such as accommodation, food and drink and laundry.  You may be able to fund your studies with a scholarship or bursary. Ask the schools that you are interested in what they can offer.

You may need to take an entrance exam or take an English course, so please check the entrance requirements on your chosen boarding school’s website.  

Visa requirements

Most international students need a visa to study in the UK. 

You can apply for a Tier 4 (child) visa if you're aged between 4 and 17 and you want to study at an independent school in the UK.

You must also:

  • have a place on a course
  • have the consent of your parent or guardian
  • have enough money to cover your course fees and living costs
  • be from a country that is not in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland 

Check your visa requirements and terms on the official UK government site

External links