A closer look at the differences in attending a predominantly boarding school (like Rugby) and a predominantly day school (like Dulwich).
By Paul Calleja
All too often, it is assumed that boarding students go to boarding schools and day students go to day schools. In reality, this is not entirely true. Most boarding schools accept some number of day students, and many day schools have boarding houses. This was the case in my previous two schools: Rugby School and Dulwich College. While the majority of students at Rugby School board, there are two whole houses dedicated to day students. Similarly, although Dulwich College is widely considered to be a day school, it has four boarding houses. In light of this, the choice between boarding school and day school isn’t quite so straightforward – students can board at a school which is predominantly for day students and, conversely, day students can attend a predominantly boarding school. In my experience, the choice between boarding at a majority boarding school and boarding at a majority day school is as important, if not more important, than the choice to board in the first place. Having taught in both types of schools, I hope that the following observations will help to shed some light on the key differences.
- Sprints and Marathons
With the vast majority of students heading home at the end of the day, most activities in day schools take place between 8.30 and 4.30. With a narrow window of opportunity, the school day is often jam-packed with lessons, academic enrichment, music, drama and sports, to name just a few. After a busy day juggling academic and co-curricular commitments, students are rewarded with relatively quiet evenings where they can recharge and prepare for the next day’s sprint.
If day school is a sprint, then boarding school is a marathon. Generally speaking, boarding schools like to spread academic lessons and co-curricular activities over a much longer school day. After all, there is little need to pack activities into the 9-5 when the vast majority of students are on site 24 hours a day. In fact, it is not uncommon for co-curricular activities, or even academic lessons, to run until the early evening. These longer days require more sustained effort from students but tend to proceed at a more moderate pace. Additionally, a typical daily schedule will be varied, with sports, co-curricular activities and free time interwoven between academic lessons.
- Breadth and Depth
Providing a ‘well-rounded’ education is a central tenant of the mission of any boarding schools, and indeed, this is something they do very well. Students attending boarding schools, whether they actually board or otherwise, are expected to engage fully with school life. This means that most students are expected to join societies, attend academic enrichment, play on a sports team, compete in house competitions and so on. Providing each and every student with this breadth of educational opportunities is a real speciality of boarding schools.
Day schools, for the most part, take a slightly different approach. While they still offer a huge range of co-curricular activities, students are expected to pursue the areas that most interest them. The impetus is on the student to pursue their interests and make the most of the extensive co-curricular opportunities on offer. Naturally, some students make the most of these opportunities, and others do not. What is certain is that students who have a passion for sport, or drama or science, will be able to find a society in which they can take a deep dive into the specialism they love.
- Fellowship and Diversity
Boarding life revolves around boarding (and day) houses. While there are opportunities to mix with the wider school community, the majority of time outside of lessons is spent as a house, whether it be preparing for house competitions or simply eating lunch together. As a teacher and house tutor, I saw a real sense of fellowship and comradery develop between the students in my house, and it was reassuring to know that each of my tutees had a close-knit group to support them through the trials and tribulations of secondary school.
Conversely, it is more likely that students in day schools will cultivate friendships across the school community – they will have friends in lessons, friends they eat lunch with, friends the play sports with etc. Additionally, with the school day limited to the hours of 8-4ish, there is more opportunity to form friendships outside of the school community. Indeed, many of my students at Dulwich participated in sports and clubs outside of school.
I hope these observations have provided an insight into how the day-to-day differs in boarding schools and day schools. So why are these differences so important? Well, in my experience, there is an expectation of students, regardless of whether they board or not, to fit in with the wider ethos of the school. For this reason, it’s the wider ethos of the school that, I feel, has the most significant impact on the educational experiences of the student. Some students will be better suited to the fast-paced and diverse world of day schools, whereas others will thrive in the holistic world of boarding schools – it really is a matter of taste.