Boarding schools

Students at a UK school

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 pupils an outstanding education, helping them to develop their 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 pupils will will improve their English skills while they 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, pupils won’t have normal classes but will be supervised by staff and be able to take part in activities and events.


At a boarding school, pupils 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 students and care for their 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. Boarders might also have their own bathroom or washing facilities.

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

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

Applications to independent boarding schools are made 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 will 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.

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

Visa requirements

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

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

Schools must also:

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

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

More in this section

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Undergraduate study

Get started in your academic career with a UK undergraduate degree.

Studying for a degree outside the UK

A life-changing UK degree, yet closer to home. Learn more about studying for a UK degree in your home country.

Foundation pathway courses

Foundation pathway courses can help you improve your English skills and give you the confidence to start undergraduate or postgraduate study.

Improve your English

There’s no better place to master your English than in the UK, and there are a range of English language courses on offer to support your learning.

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