I have written before about the potential for children in care to thrive in boarding school placements. The difficulty is the ideological hostility to such an arrangement from the social workers. The evidence for the success of such placements is overwhelming. So rather than attempting to refute this, the typical response from a Local Authority Children’s Services Department will be to feign open-mindedness. Boarding school is “right for some” but “not right for all” children is the message put forward in a tone of expertise and sophistication by the relevant bureaucrat offering “professional judgment.” Then it invariably follows that no children get placed.

Norfolk County Council is an exception. It is justly proud of what has been achieved “with 52 vulnerable children placed in 11 state and independent boarding schools over the last decade.” Research by the Council, which was commissioned by the Boarding Schools Partnership, has found:

  • 71 per cent of all the Norfolk-funded boarders showed a reduced level of risk and 63 per cent moved off the risk register completely; nine of the 17 children in care in the programme were able to return to their families
  • A higher proportion of children who took the placements attained an A*-C or Grade 4+ in both maths and English, compared with children in care nationally;
  • Placing children who are in or on the edge of local authority care in boarding schools can be cost-effective. The boarding school fees paid by Norfolk ranged from £11k per year for state schools to £35,000 for independent schools, with Norfolk County Council spending an average of £56,200 on children in their care.

Cllr Penny Carpenter, Chairman of the Children’s Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said:

“Our work with boarding schools has helped to keep children safe, supported their education and helped build resilience in families so that children can return home. 

“We know that the partnership has reduced levels of risk for children, helped them to achieve qualifications and prevented family break-down. 

“It’s a scheme that has had a really positive impact on children and young people, giving them a sense of community, helping them to thrive and building their confidence. I am pleased that we have had the foresight to invest in this project and that the government is now sharing Norfolk’s work – this will mean that even more young people across the country can benefit and achieve their potential. ” 

Even in Norfolk the number is relatively low. The County has over a thousand children in care. Lord Agnew, an Education Minister, said:

“We very much welcome the findings from this report. It is right that all children should be given the opportunity to reach their full potential and this important piece of work demonstrates that – for the right person, at the right school, at the right time – boarding school can be highly effective in improving both social and educational outcomes. I urge local authorities to consider these findings and the positive impact boarding school placements can have on vulnerable children.”

Surely Agnew must realise by now that simply to “urge” such a thing is worthless. There was already an abundance of evidence which was being disregarded. If the Government is serious about children in the care system being given the “opportunity to reach their full potential” then the social worker veto on boarding school placements must be ended. There could be a requirement that all children in care above a certain age should be given a right to register their wish to attend a boarding school. If a place is available there should be the presumption that they be allowed to take it. If the social worker claims there are some special reasons that make it unsuitable and the child still wishes to attend then some sort of appeal panel could be established.

We had another speech from an Education Minister calling for more boarding school placements last month – Nadhim Zahawi told a Conference that “children in need” who attend “are able to turn their lives around and vastly improve their outcomes.” When Michael Gove was Education Secretary he used to talk about this a lot. So did Lord Adonis during the Labour Government before 2010. Is it too much to hope that the next time a Minister gives a speech extolling the merits of this arrangement, that they also come up with a plan to make it a reality?