Comparing Six of England's Top Boarding Schools
The first step to finding the right independent school for your child.
Every year, parents must make a difficult choice. Which schools should they apply for on behalf of their children? Whether your child is at the beginning of their educational career, transitioning to senior school, or looking to switch school for any reason, there's often a lot of pressure riding on this decision.
To make life easier, we've taken a magnifying glass to six of the best-performing boarding schools in England. Boarding schools are fantastic for helping students make friends, develop independence, and thrive away from home. Most run taster weekends and assign buddy mentors to help young people settle in, too.
All six of these schools offer boarding options, and some offer weekly and flexi-boarding for students who don't want to board full time. For example, some students may prefer to board during exam times - or their sixth-form years - but attend as day students for the most part. [LM1] As there's such a range of boarding options today, young people can enjoy a home away from home as much or as little as they like.
1. Repton School
Last year, Repton School and Repton Prep joined as a through school. Together, they offer a seamless educational journey for 1,000 children aged 3-18. This is arguably the ideal size for a boarding school - big enough that students can enjoy a community feel and partake in international academia, sports, and arts competitions, but small enough that students receive tuition in small teaching groups, where they get the most out of teacher-led sessions. This is perhaps why so many Reptonians achieve places at the top seats of learning around the world. In recent years, students have secured places at universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Berklee College of Music, as well as Russell Group universities here in the UK.
Nestled in the rural village of Repton, Derbyshire, the school offers a stunning Augustinian campus and beautiful grounds. Over the years, Repton has preserved its historic campus while integrating state-of-the-art facilities. These facilities include:
- A science priory with an observatory
- A lecture theatre with a 3D screen
- An art school with ceramics and photography workshops and two gallery spaces
- A 315-seater multi-million-pound hall theatre with industry-standard lighting and technical equipment
- A music school with practice rooms, recording studio, and performance areas
- All-weather hockey pitches
- A private cricket ground
- Football pitches
- Two floodlit AstroTurf pitches
- Netball and squash courts
- Indoor and outdoor tennis courts
- A multi-purpose sports centre, strength and conditioning suite, and gymnasium
- A 25-metre indoor swimming pool
This mixture of twelfth-century buildings and contemporary spaces is representative of Repton's wide-ranging curricular and extra-curricular programmes. These programmes combine traditional options with modern subjects, including the Future Learning, Future Skills (FLFS) programme for lower-sixth students.
Academia aside, many of Repton's students are also keen sportsmen and sportswomen. The school offers an extensive programme of over 25 curricular and extracurricular sports to accommodate all interests. Students compete in major competitions, and Repton's hockey team has taken home 41 national accolades - more than any other school in the UK. Repton also hires accomplished sports professionals to coach the students, including:
- Australian Olympic swimming coach Scott Talbot
- England's first-choice wicketkeeper and former captain of Nottingham CCC Chris Read
- Winner of over 100 England hockey caps Martin Jones
- Former professional footballer Ian Clarkson
Repton School also consistently develops its impressive pastoral-care schemes, each of which ensures students receive the support they need to thrive in and out of school. Pastoral staff encourage students to discuss wellbeing with their tutors, attend wellness talks from guest speakers, and submit surveys on their mental health. Students can also spend time with the school's doctor, counselling team, and therapy dog. Repton is currently designing Wellbeing Rooms for each of its houses, which students can use to access mental-health resources and take time out when necessary.
Excellent ISI Inspection Results
Last year, Repton's latest ISI inspection deemed the school 'excellent' in every area. This is the highest commendation a school can achieve in the inspection. Meanwhile, almost all year-thirteen students progressed on to universities around the world, and six accepted places at Oxbridge.
Inclusive House Structure
Repton's inclusive House structure offers positive learning support for all students, whether they board or attend during the day only. The school assigns both boarders and day students to a House so they can partake in competitions and an array of social events. Repton dedicates itself to involving all students, regardless of whether they're boarding.
2. Uppingham School
Nestled in the pastoral county of Rutland, Uppingham School is particularly well known for its science department. Students have a vast choice of subjects when it comes to their GCSE and A Level studies, but many excel in sciences and go on to pursue dentistry, medicine, and veterinary science at a higher level.
Students who enjoy music are also a great fit for the school, which has housed professional musicians such as Robert Sterndale Bennett and Paul David.
Most of Uppingham's historic buildings and contemporary facilities border a quadrangle, which features a chapel, Victorian schoolhouse, colonnade, and school tower. The school's 'Western Quad' sits amongst these buildings. This stand-out addition to the campus houses the following high-end facilities.
- A proscenium arch theatre
- A black-box drama studio
- Three squash courts
- 12 tennis courts
- A 25-metre swimming pool
- A 62-station fitness suite
- Two dance studios
- A gymnasium
Previously, the Royal Institute of British Architects has shortlisted the Western Quad for the Architecture Stirling Award.
Many Uppingham students make the most of the school's enrichment programme. This scheme allows students to take part in a host of volunteering, fundraising, and creative projects to prepare them for higher education and a variety of careers.
3. Shrewsbury School
Shrewsbury School's 110-acre riverside campus offers a stunning backdrop for students to learn. Whether they study in the library (which dates back to 1916 and holds 40,000 books), Shrewsbury House (the youth and community centre), or the school's ergonomically furnished classrooms, Shrewsbury School offers the utmost quality when it comes to facilities and tuition.
Boarders and day students partake in both traditional subjects and the school's Academic Extension Programme, which allows students to study forward-facing topics like current affairs.
Sixth formers can also practise their events-management skills by organising events for young people in the town. The school furthers this future-forward approach to education with its futures department, careers events, school leavers' schemes, gap-year support, and work-experience system.
Many of the school's alumni (known as Old Salopians) have gone on to become politicians, academics, military heroes, poets, authors, actors, sports professionals, and naturalists.
Famous for Rowing
Shrewsbury School boasts a rich sporting heritage and is best known for its rowing accolades. Passers-by often see members of the Royal Shrewsbury School Boat Club making their way down the River Severn, which loops through the town centre. Not only is this club one of the oldest school rowing clubs, but its members have also won the Henley Royal Regatta 14 times.
4. Rugby School
In 2020, Rugby School merged with Bilton Grange Prep School. Students aged 13-18 board at the newly combined school, which fosters a coaching-centred approach to education. Many know Rugby School for its students' impressive GCSE, IB, and A Level grades, which usually come out top in Warwickshire. Lots of students also study for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), which Rugby School founded.
Rugby School focuses much of its sporting tuition on football, though students enjoy a range of sports. The school's focus on football comes as no surprise - Rugby is the birthplace of football after all. The school also nominates 'Sport Scholars' to coach Rugby's teams and guide students through sports scholarships.
Aside from sports, Rugby students showcase their artistic creations at the school's annual Arts Festival, a thriving event where students, staff, and parents celebrate the students' creative achievements. Plus, students enjoy an array of international trips and termly musical events to further creative practices. BBC Radio 4 has even live-broadcasted one of the school choir's performances.
5. Oakham School
As the first secondary school ever to have gone co-educational, Oakham School changed history in the education space back in 1971. Since then, the boarding school - based in Rutland - has nurtured wide-ranging curriculums of academic, artistic, and sporting subjects. Students aged 10-18 attend the school, many of whom go on to study at prestigious universities - both in the UK and internationally.
Oakham School fosters relationships with international schools so students can learn abroad and develop their cultural knowledge. Many students enjoy exchange trips with these schools - ideal for students who pursue modern foreign languages at a higher level.
Musical and Sports Performances
Many of Oakham's students are keen performers, both in music and sport. When these students aren't rehearsing in the school's practice spaces, brushing up on theory in the classroom, or training in Oakham's outstanding sports facilities, they're performing and competing in major events. For example, Oakham students take to the stage in Edinburgh Festival plays, concerts, and House theatre productions. Meanwhile, in 2019, over 100 students made the national finals in more than 10 different sports.
6. Oundle School
Based in Northamptonshire, Oundle School welcomes boarders and day students of all backgrounds; the school currently houses pupils of 36 nationalities. Unlike the classic on-campus structure that most schools offer, Oundle has dispersed its educational facilities throughout the local market town.
Students who enjoy science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM subjects) are great fits for Oundle because of its 'SciTec Vision'. Swansea University and the Imperial College worked with Oundle to develop this vision, which has enabled the school to offer some of the best STEM education in the country. Aside from Oundle's high-level teachers, science and engineering experts such as Professor Robert Winston also present webinars to further students' understanding of scientific topics - and inspire them to pursue these further.
94 Subjects and Societies
Though many students attend Oundle School to make the most of its SciTec Vision, the school's curriculum is hugely varied. Students can choose between 28 A Level subjects, 26 iGCSE/GCSE subjects, and more than 40 academic societies. Boarders also enjoy a range of weekend programmes - each designed to help students nurture friendships and develop practical skills.
Those who pursue team sports can choose between Oundle's 270 squads. Meanwhile, those who prefer individual sports can also make the most of the school's impressive sporting facilities. And their efforts pay off - Oundle students have achieved 1,500 individual sports achievements.
Finding the Right Boarding School for Your Child
Every child has different needs when it comes to finding the right boarding school. But these six are an excellent starting point. Each offers an inclusive education that helps students hone all aspects of their academic, artistic, and sporting careers.