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Boarding at Ripon Grammar an article courtesy of the Yorkshire Post
Lessons of a school that crosses the border line.
With record numbers chasing places at Yorkshire 's only state boarding school, can lessons be learnt from the staff and pupils at Ripon Grammar?
James Reed reports.
Boarding schools don't often receive a good press. Often seen as the preserve of the rich and famous, who can't wait to get rid of their offspring and return to the important business of shopping and socialising, the stereotypical boarding school, which still remains in the mind of most, is something of an antiquated affair. And while there's little denying boarding schools have historically produced the lion's share of politicians and business entrepreneurs, and regularly occupy the top spots in league tables, not everyone is convinced of the long-tern effects of being separated from parents at such an early age.
But maybe, just maybe there is a happy medium. Ripon Grammar, Yorkshire 's only state boarding school and one of only 34 in the country, is facing record numbers of applications and is looking at building new accommodation to meet demand, which for the first year ever has seen nearly every place for new first year boarders taken, and oversubscription for sixth form places.
With Ministers looking at how state-funded boarding schools could be used to give opportunities to children from difficult family circumstances, the success of Ripon, where pupils only have to pay for their accommodation, rather than fees on top, could be key.
Headteacher Martin Pearman said: "At sixth form, we have had an unprecedented high level of applications. Unfortunately we don't have the space to accommodate them all but it is an interesting phenomenon. We are competitively priced when you look at other types of boarding school, and our academic results have gone up dramatically so students are seeing that as a significant pull. Schools like ours are all about securing a good place at university."
"We think this can be a good bridge between school and university, where you have to be more independent, organise your own life and take more responsibility." " The income from boarding also helps us to keep our heads above the water financially at a time when many other state schools struggle to stay in the black."
The school has seen interest rise among busy Yorkshire parents who are keen to make sure their children are properly looked after during the week as well as from overseas students.
Felicity Baldwin, 13, is typical of children whose parents have looked at boarding as a way of coping with increasingly busy lifestyles, despite living only 20 miles away, in the village on Newton-on-Ouse . "My parents work in all different directions," says the 13-year-old, who boards during the week and the heads home at the weekends. "We just thought the easiest thing was to board."
In the light of increasing interest in boarding, the school is looking to build new accommodation for its boarders, at an estimated cost of £1m, which would also see some of the 20 extra places created to allow more sixth formers to stay on site.
Ripon Grammar is a selective school and boarders must take the same entrance exams as other pupils. In each year group, 14 places are reserved for boarders and those not taken up are then made available to day pupils.
Accommodation fees for boarders, who can stay on a weekly or termly basis, range from £6,000 to £7,000-a-year. Ripon Grammar's experience echoes that of independent schools who have seen parents taking a renewed interest in boarding sometimes as a way of helping to cope with their commitments.
The so-called "Harry Potter effect" has also been identified as a reason younger children have looked at boarding again, having been inspired by the antics of JK Rowling's characters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Despite it being a state boarding school, pupils at Ripon still encounter the dreaded stereotypes.
"A lot of my friend's think I go to a really posh school," says 16-year-old Tom Ravalde from Middlesborough. "They give me a hard time about it. I used to let it bother me but I'm fine with it now." "I wanted to go to a Middlesborough school but my parents thought this was a better school."
In the last election Labour's manifesto said it would encourage more state boarding schools, and the Government has since promised £5m to three schools to improve their accommodation. The Department for Education and Skills has also said it's in discussions with the State Boarding Schools ' Association, independent schools and local authorities about how boarding could be used to help "vulnerable children".
A spokeswoman said the discussions were at an early stage but it was true to say there had been a "small but significant increase" in the state boarding sector. If the lessons learnt by Ripon Grammar are anything to go by, it may not be the whole answer, but it could at least give the politicians a head start in improving standards.