An academy school in Solihull, due to open next year, is to have accommodation for state boarders. Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, discusses the issue of looked-after children attending boarding schools below.
You propose that at least 10 per cent of looked-after children are in boarding school within three years. What are the benefits of boarding school for looked-after children?
Boarding school will cost a third of the cost of existing provision. (The total annual cost of a child in foster care is approximately £20,000 with some independent fostering agencies charging up to £50,000. The average charge for state boarding schools is £7,000 a year). I’m not saying all foster carers don’t do their jobs properly, there are some amazing foster carers, but the agencies have made it into a bit of a commercial venture.
How many state boarding school places are there?
We currently have 34 state boarding schools with 4,000 boarders. The record of boarding schools in looking after children in care is excellent. If the political will is there it should not be so difficult to find sufficient places.
What are the key things required for state boarding schools to work for looked-after children
Vulnerable children should only be placed in a boarding school with the consent of the school, the children and the family and guardian. Clearly, children in care with severe behavioural problems cannot be placed in regular boarding school since they would disrupt the education of other pupils. Such children belong in residential special schools.
Do you think there are other groups of vulnerable children who would benefit from state boarding school?
It might be good for some at risk children who have may have been in care or there may be something going wrong in their family.
Labour pledged to create more state boarding schools in its election manifesto. Do you anticipate more being created relatively soon?
We hope that some of the new academies will have boarding provision. It costs about £25,000 per bedroom to build a dormitory, or £2.5 million for 100 beds. The cost of boarding school provision would be dramatically less than for a council to run a children’s home with much better outcomes.
The Department for Education and Skills is actively considering a number of pilot schemes to test the feasibility of expanding boarding school provision for children in care in regular day schools. This is a welcome step. But bearing in mind the dramatically better record that boarding schools have in looking after children in care at a much lower cost, we need to be bolder in persuading and funding more state day schools to add a boarding unit.