Boarding schools can provide a springboard for disadvantaged pupils

By Suzanne Straw

Monday 9 November 2015

The benefits for the less than one per cent of pupils in England who have the privilege to attend fee paying boarding schools are widely acknowledged. However, what are the impacts of offering fully funded boarding school places to disadvantaged pupils? This is a subject less well researched over recent years and is the focus of an evaluation of The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation (‘SpringBoard’) being undertaken by NFER between 2013 and 2018. The second year evaluation report can be found here.

Background to SpringBoard

SpringBoard was established in 2012 with the aim of transforming the lives of disadvantaged young people through the provision of full bursaries at state and independent boarding schools. SpringBoard was inspired by The Arnold Foundation, which offers disadvantaged young people full bursaries to attend Rugby School. The NFER’s Evaluation of the Arnold Foundation for Rugby School strongly endorsed its work, and there was demand for an organisation such as SpringBoard to work with other boarding schools to lead a national roll out of a similar scheme.

At this point in time, a total of 123 pupils, within three cohorts, have joined SpringBoard, and they have been placed at 35 member boarding schools. Of these, 61 pupils have taken part in the evaluation to date. This includes 25 pupils starting boarding school in September 2013 (cohort 1) and 36 joining in September 2014 (cohort 2).

SpringBoard raises funds from donors for the bursaries, while some are paid in whole or in part by member schools themselves. All member schools are committed to providing their SpringBoard pupils with a first class education coupled with ongoing pastoral support.

What impacts are being realised for pupils?

The survey and interview evidence collected from cohort 1 and cohort 2 pupils and teachers to date suggests that SpringBoard is positively transforming the lives of disadvantaged pupils, as well as achieving wider impacts. (Given the small number of pupils placed in schools to date, the current findings provide perceptions of impact.  Future reports will provide more robust evidence of impact due to increased pupil survey responses (over 100) and the analysis of NPD data comparing SpringBoard pupils’ GCSE and A-level examination results to those of pupils from their original schools.)

Perceived impacts being realised for pupils include:

  • improved academic progress and attainment
  • raised aspirations, broadened horizons and enhanced future prospects
  • improved communication and social skills and increased awareness of social diversity
  • increased confidence, independence and resilience
  • the development of extra-curricular interests and abilities.

In addition, wider impacts being achieved include:

  • the development of the knowledge, skills and personal satisfaction of boarding school staff
  • raised awareness of social diversity within schools and SpringBoard pupils acting as positive role models for their peers
  • other young people in SpringBoard pupils’ home communities aspiring to follow in their footsteps and having raised aspirations.

These findings echo those of earlier evaluations by the Royal National Children’s Foundation  (RNCF), 2007, and Claire Maxwell et al. in which improvements were seen in the academic attainment, social skills, self-esteem and resilience of disadvantaged children placed in boarding schools. Similar outcomes were found from RNCF and Buttle UK’s experience of coordinating the Assisted Boarding Network. ‘Boarding Chances for Children,’ a three-year randomised controlled trial being undertaken by Buttle UK, RNCF and The Education Endowment Foundation, will also increase the current limited evidence base on this theme.

What is key to SpringBoard’s success?

Central to SpringBoard’s success is the tripartite support that is provided to pupils from SpringBoard itself, member schools and partner organisations. All work together to ensure that pupils are well suited and prepared for a boarding education, matched to the right school for them, benefit from a stable and secure school environment, and receive high-quality help and support all year round. The 18 accredited partner organisations based within deprived local communities are central to the programme through identifying suitable pupils, assisting in the application process, preparing pupils to join boarding school, and supporting pupils and their families during term time and holidays. An increasing number of virtual schools are partnering with SpringBoard to place looked after children at SpringBoard schools.

Previous evaluations have also stressed the importance of selecting the ‘right children, at the right schools, at the right time’, as well as partnership working between agencies to ensure pupils receive effective preparation for boarding school life and support during holiday periods.

What are the implications?

 The evaluation of SpringBoard demonstrates that, within the right environment, the lives of disadvantaged young people can be significantly transformed. In this case, the ‘right’ environment is a nurturing boarding school coupled with support from a local partner outside term time. This enables pupils’ educational and pastoral needs to be met all year round. In addition, the evaluation provides extremely useful learning for other programmes and settings seeking to raise the attainment, aspirations and future prospects of disadvantaged and vulnerable young people.

Further information

The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation Impact Assessment: Year 2

The SpringBoard Bursary Foundation