A boarding school is a school where students go to school to learn and live together with some or other students during the school year¹.This practice has been on in Europe for well over a thousand years as recorded in classical literature. In the United Kingdom (UK) most boarding schools are independent schools. These boarding schools are controlled by certain guidelines set by the Department of Children, Schools and Families together with the Department of Health known as the National Boarding Standards².

Majority of school children in the UK are day students who attend state schools. Only very few families chose to send their children to boarding schools, most of which are private. In 1998 there were 772 independent boarding schools in England and about 100,000 children all over the UK attending boarding schools¹. However this practice is still very common in certain British colonies such as Nigeria, Ghana and India. Parents often give a number of reasons for sending their children to boarding schools. The decision is said to be a way in which the parents try to perpetuate their social beliefs³. This study sets out to seek the reasons why some parents in the UK send their children to boarding schools. In particular, this research is focussed on certain immigrant families from the former British colony in West Africa (Nigeria) who are resident in the UK or live abroad and have their children in boarding schools in the UK.

In the colonial era of the British Empire, boarding schools became popular among the administrators who were abroad and sent their children back to Britain for schooling so that they imbibed the British culture¹. Overtime, the culture of sending children to boarding schools became associated with the upper class. In addition, military boarding schools came into existence to cater for the children of those in the armed forces whose careers frequently take them abroad in order to give the children a stable education whereby they are not uprooted each time their parents are transferred to live in another country⁴. Also, in some societies it has become a tradition to send children to boarding school. Some of these reasons given include the belief to imbibe the same culture that was imparted on these parents in their youth to their own children. However the reasons given may actually hide some other reasons for taken such decisions⁵. Some of the real reasons may be the parents’ perception that the children are disobedient, performing poorly academically or in families where the parents are divorced or separated. Other reasons often stated by parents for sending their children to boarding schools also include discipline, as therapeutic measure⁸ and religion⁹.


This researcher undertook the study given her positionality as an immigrant from Nigeria living in the UK to find out why and how decisions were made by parents to send their children to private boarding schools in the UK, a country where majority of school children are day students. I also sought to see if this is associated with the upper social class . Although there are very few studies on this topic but available references have associated these with parents’ perception of prestige as one of the reasons given for sending their children to boarding school¹°. The assumption is that the reason why these parents who are immigrants from Nigeria send their children to private boarding school has to do with their background and experience from their homeland. I would put the theory behind this to be a form of social constructionism. As emotions vary across cultures meanings and ways of dealing with situations are affected by our social and cultural assumptions¹¹. Some parents also send their children to boarding school to make their lives better by giving them the opportunity to mix with children of the upper classes.


Design and Setting

The researcher conducted focussed semi-structured open interviews on four parents whose children attend private boarding schools in the UK. This allowed the researcher to follow a set of questions in a particular order for each interviewee in order to provide data that can be compared among each one of them¹². Being focussed it allowed the researcher to take in-depth answers to questions thus making provision for reflective analysis¹³. Being semi-structured, it also provided some flexibility in the way the questions were asked¹².

The participants were selected based on the close relationship with the researcher and knowledge that they have children who attend boarding schools in the UK. The purpose of the research study was explained to each participant weeks before the interview was conducted and a written consent was sought from each of them after assuring them of the confidentiality of any information and data that might be generated from the study. All the participants are from the same ethnic group and country of origin as the researcher. Only one of the parents was interviewed.

The interviews were conducted in the participants’ homes after seeking permission and appointments given for specific times.

Data Collection

The instrument used for the interview was developed based on concepts received from a review of the literature related to the topic as this is expected before setting out to do a qualitative study¹â´. The interviews were recorded face-to-face¹âµ using a digital recorder which was later transferred to a computer for ease of transcription. All the participants were asked the same questions in the same orders set out on the topic guidelines, but were also allowed to talk on other aspects of the topic they wished to. The age range of participants was between 47-53 years. All except one is resident in the UK .The interviews lasted between 29 to 44 minutes.

All the interviews were transcribed verbatim but pseudonym initials were used in the transcripts. The transcripts were then hand-coded to look for themes and meanings. This was an on-going process through-out the study. The potential themes were identified but during the process of analysis emergent themes were added. Steps were taken to ensure credibility by sending the transcribed interviews to all the participants except one who lives abroad and could not be reached.


A lot of this was overcome as the participants were friends of the researcher who are adults and gave a free and informed consent. Confidentiality of the participants was maintained in the transcripts by using pseudonym initials for participants. Also, all through the interviews the researcher tried as much as possible to remain neutral even though the participants are close friends to her.



Findings are result of the analysis of data based on the grounded theory, a process of identifying themes as they emerge from the data¹â·. These focussed on the responses given by the parents on reasons for decision, methods of searching for schools, reasons for choice of schools, things that the parents were of interest to parents about the schools, who made the final decision on the choice of schools, parent’s perception of children’s life in the boarding schools, the children’s educational and academic progress, the children’s social life and parents’ perception of risks and benefits of boarding schools. A thematic chart was produced (Fig1).

Reasons why parents chose boarding schools

There are so many reasons why parents send their children to boarding school. It emerged that parents believe that because they attended secondary boarding schools their children should also follow the same tradition. All the parents interviewed except one had attended boarding schools as children. The parents had a firm belief that having attended boarding schools helped them to develop independently. This further supports the theory that a lot of the reasons given by the parents are socially constructed and social experience are thus created and given meanings by individuals. They also stated that the boarding schools make children to be independent. Apart from making it a tradition another parent stated that the reason he decided to send his children to boarding school was that it offered him the best education.

“Well I went to boarding school and I thought it helped me to develop independently you know, apart from the fact that it offered me one of the best education” (K)- Transcript 1-paragraph 20.

Similarly Y also mentioned that the decision was made to send their children to boarding school because her husband also attended boarding school and he became independent and responsible because of this.

“…It was an early decision when the kids were growing up because my husband went to boarding school, and emm… he was…he became independent and responsible you know being put in boarding school early in life” (Y)- Transcript 3- paragraph 2.

Another parent had this to say:

“…We, both I and their dad went to boarding schools as young children. For me in particular, I went to a primary boarding school and secondary boarding school, but for dad he went to a secondary boarding school but we had always known they would go to boarding schools because for us in Nigeria, boarding schools make the difference. It’s in boarding school that you learn how to live with other people that you learn how to behave in life”( O)- Transcript 2- paragraph 14.

Some parents also believe that attendance at boarding school helps the children with maturity and mannerism. They stated that boarding school helps the child to form character and learn to live with other people. This is similar to the findings by Shane et al in their qualitative enquiry looking at military boarding school perspectives of parental choice¹â¸. They believe that if a child goes to boarding school he has a chance of having better outcome in life. This was expressed in the interview with the second participant

“There are many reasons but the most important one is…that we believe that it is in the boarding school that you mature and you learn a lot of things which you need……how to live with other people, mannerism, it’s in the boarding house you form your character, and the best comes out of you when you’re away from home” (O) – Transcript 2- Paragraph 20 & 22.

One of the participants considered as the ‘deviant case’ because she was the only one who said she didn’t attend a boarding school but was however impressed as a teenager when she met peers who had attended boarding school even though she never went to boarding school. She felt that being in boarding school had afforded her peers a lot of opportunities and thought they had enjoyed themselves. She made up her mind as a teenager that she would send her children to boarding school when she eventually had them.

“…this is something I had known all along that my children would go to boarding school…this is something I had known because I went to sixth form college in this country…and talking to people there who had come from boarding school in the first five years before coming to sixth form college I had formed the impression that they had really enjoyed themselves and they were in an environment whereby they had a lot of opportunities so it was something that had always stayed with me from a young age” (M)- Transcript 4-paragraph 2.

Contrary to some of the reasons given in literature are that the children who are considered disobedient or underachieving are sent to boarding school. This was not indicated by the parents interviewed as one of the reasons for sending their children to boarding school.

Reasons for the choice of schools

Several reasons have been given for choosing certain schools. Similarity to previous schools attended by his children overseas was given by one of the participants as a reason for sending his children to a particular school. Also high academic rating was another reason given by some parents for the choice of particular boarding schools.

“Because…we spend a lot of money bringing them to boarding schools so we didn’t want just any school. We wanted highly rated academic schools” (O) – Transcript 2- paragraph 54.

Other reasons include religious determinism, Discipline, pastoral care, good sporting and music facilities.

R: So what motivated your choice of school?

Y: First and foremost it is a Christian school ….they actually run the school with Christian doctrines and the head of the school is a reverend. So that for me. I thought the school will be a bit strict which they are, and that’s okay with me….they are strict their rules, they do not bend the rules so…that’s one thing I like about the school. Transcript 3-paragraph 30.

None of the participants mentioned the sex of the student population i.e. whether single or mixed sex population as n important consideration in the choice of schools. Although one of the participants mentioned that she decided to take her children to mixed sex because all her children are girls and she felt that going to a mixed sex school would afford them the opportunity of being able to socialise better and be exposed to boys who would provide ‘brother figure’ for them.

Parents’ perception of benefits of boarding schools

The parents stated that the benefits of boarding school include structured student development, self-actualisation, independence, maturity, academic achievement, well adjusted growth, ability to live with people of different backgrounds, motivation, and ability to plan and be better organised.

A participant also stated that they are able to get their desired outcomes on their children by sending them to boarding school.

“The benefits…they grow, they mature, academically they come up tops in school, and they learn a lot in boarding school. Their lives are planned, tailored…geared towards what they want to do…they see and read about role models and all that and at the end of it all you’re happy with them…they’ve turned out to be what you want them to be”. (0) – Transcript 2- paragraph 172.

Parents’ perception of risks of boarding schools

Among the risks stated by participants associated with sending children to boarding school include bullying. Although the parents who mentioned this categorically said they had never experienced this in their children’s schools but it was one of the risks considered. Other risks mentioned included issues of Gangs in school and children falling into bad company. All the participants except one mentioned they risk losing the closeness to their children by sending them to boarding school. The only exception which is considered as the ‘deviant case’ in this instance stated that she doesn’t think there are any risks associated with sending children to boarding school.

The parents stated specific reasons for sending their children to boarding schools. Several themes emerged from analysis of the data. These include central themes on tradition, independence, academics, socialisation, discipline, maturity and formation of character. These are similar to themes in previous studies and findings in literature¹â¸. However in previous studies prestige and elitism have been mentioned as themes associated with reasons why parents send their children to boarding schools¹°. However these themes have not emerged in this study, as there has not been any statement or response to suggest this in all the interviews.


A very common theme which occurred in this study is centred on tradition. The parents, most of who attended private boarding school in their home country still have the belief that this is the ideal situation even in an environment where this is not a common practice. This is similar to the ‘subculture norming’ mentioned by Shane et al.¹â¸ It has also been said that in some societies, families send generations of their children to the same boarding school¹. The parents’ intention of maintaining the social fabric of their own upbringing thus influences this decision.


As mentioned earlier, independence was a major theme discovered as reason why parents send their children to boarding school. They believe that children who stay at home with their parents are pampered and according to one of the parents become ‘attached to their parents’ apron’ for a long time, are unable to take decisions on their own, are unable to plan. The participants elicited particular outcome desires for their children. They talked about children who go to boarding school are able to plan ahead, are motivated and mature faster because of the independence which is instilled on them early in life.

Good Education

The parents also stated that one of the reasons for choosing private boarding schools for their children was to give them the best education. They believe that to get the best education the children are better off at private boarding schools. This was mentioned by Neal who suggested that this can be attributed to parents’ perceived failure in the condition of the society¹â¹. It can be explained from a social constructionist perspective that this is just an explanation based on the perception of these parents. It can be argued that children who are day students also receive good education depending on the type and exposure given in the schools they attend. The participants’ belief that the entry into some of the private boarding school being so competitive provides a kind of motivation for their children and a sense of achievement. They mentioned proudly the success of their children in some of the national exams and feel justified for sending them to boarding schools.


The participants stated that the ability for children who are sent to boarding school to live with people from different backgrounds is one of the reasons for opting out for boarding school for their children. They mentioned that the multicultural and multiracial settings of some of the boarding schools provided the attraction for them. They believe that the children learn to live with others from different cultural settings which therefore prepare them for the outside world. A participant mentioned that it is in the boarding school that character is built and good comes out of the children.


The participants believe that discipline can be inculcated easily on their children if they are in boarding school compare to if they stay at home with them. They mentioned about the structured student life as one of the reasons for sending their children to boarding school. They believe that the strict life in boarding school prepares the children for the larger world. Some stated that the home environment provided an atmosphere that is too relaxed on a disciplinary/social level and this could provide a negative effect on their children.

Deviant cases

All the participants interviewed except one stated that they had attended boarding schools and they had become better for it; this is why they have decided to send their children to boarding schools. The only one that did not attend boarding school however was influenced as a teenager by peers who had attended boarding school and had gotten the impression that going to boarding school opens the individual to a lot of opportunities.

Also when asked if they had any regrets sending their children to boarding school, all the participants except one mentioned that they have had no regrets. However one of the participants mentioned that she has regrets for sending her children to boarding school. She mentioned that she feels lonely because she stays alone in the house and that if she had her way she would do things differently.

Also in the data from this study, there was no theme relating to upper social class status or elitism which contradicts much of the findings in literature¹°. However it was gathered from two of the participants that the fees for these schools are exorbitant when asked if they had any constraints after deciding to send their children to boarding school. She stated that they knew that the fees would be high and they were ready for it. In addition, one of the participants also mentioned that her choice of a particular boarding school was based on the fact that they provided scholarship for her children as the fees were high. This is also supported by Powell who mentioned that boarding schools have become exclusively preserved for the upper class²°.

It is also important to mention that the researcher did not see any theme or concepts in the study to suggest that the decision to send their children to boarding schools by the parents as a way of punishing them or any suggestions that the children are disobedient or underachieving. This contradicts some of the findings in the literature⁵’⁶. All except one mentioned that the final decision of going to the boarding schools involved the children. In fact one of the participants mentioned that it was her daughter who chose the school.

This study started with so much naivety on the part of the researcher as regards qualitative study. As qualitative research study is such a new ground for this researcher it took some time to get to grips with the research work. First it should be noted that this is regarded as a pilot study by researcher for future qualitative work.

Strengths and Limitations

I would say the strength first lies in the fact that I had few ethical issues to contend with. In a normal setting it would be expected that the research proposal be put through formal ethical clearance as stated for example by the Department of Health that any study to be undertaken should consider the interests of participants as well as use appropriate design to answer the research questions¹. Also another important consideration is the language used in conducting the interview. This was in English and all the participants were able to communicate their thoughts and feelings to the researcher in English. The importance of this has been stressed by many writers². The cultural setting of the researcher is also the same as the participants all of whom are Afro-Caribbean just like the researcher; three of who are also immigrants resident in the UK. A lot has been written in literature about the importance and advantages of carrying out research studies in familiar terrain³. Also this also helped to make access to the participants a lot easier and the issues and problems usually encountered with gate keepers in qualitative research studies drastically minimised.

There was little if any problem at all getting participants to agree to be interviewed.

It is also pertinent to note that there are certain limitations encountered during the research study as a result of the positionality of the researcher. First being a novice in this field there was a lot of problems in developing the topic guidelines. However this is known to take some time and is regarded as part of the learning process⁴. Looking back at the stage of analysis I realised that there were some answers given by some of the participants that should have been probed deeper. For example in the first interview, the participant K was so much in a hurry and also given my association with the family I found that I couldn’t probe further when I asked him this question:

R: …..So what motivated your choice of school?

K: Emm particular experience with the type of school my children were already going to in Nigeria…..

Transcript 1, paragraph 46

Looking back now I should have probed further to ask what type of school his children were going to in Nigeria. This further buttresses the fact that sometimes when the researcher and participants are close, a lot of assumptions are made which may limit the data acquired and interfere with the results and outcomes of the research.

Method of Collection of Data

The data was collected using focussed semi-structure open interviews in which all the participants were asked almost the same questions in the same order while allowing them to express themselves freely and give as much information as they could during the interview. The interviews were performed in the participants’ houses; for three of the participants in the living rooms and in the kitchen for one of the participants. The interviews were recorded using a digital recorder and later transcribed verbatim.

Strengths and Limitations

The settings of the interviews for the participants I consider a great strength of the research. Being in their ‘natural’ environment, the participants were found to be very ‘relaxed’ except for the first participant K who appeared to be somewhat in a hurry because according to him he was not feeling too fine. The setting of an interview is generally said to have an impact on the kind of data generated⁵. It helps to build a sense of trust for the interviewer on the part of the interviewee as he or she is at ease in a place he or she considers as ‘his’ or ‘hers’.

Also the fact that the interviews were conducted face-to-face, recorded and later transcribed verbatim ensured that data were not missed. This helped to ensure reliability as some of the answers which the interviewer was not very sure of while conducting the interview became clearer after listening several times to the recorded interviews. According to Patton (2001), this is one of the tools any qualitative researcher should be concerned about⁶. The transcribed interviews were also sent to the participants for comments and feedbacks on the researcher’s interpretation of the interviews. All except one of the participants were contacted and all were satisfied with the transcribed interviews. The only one that could not be reached lives abroad. The use of verbatim transcripts in the analysis and the checking with participants also helped to ensure validity and trustworthiness of the research⁷’⁸.

However one of the limitations of this study is that given my background and theoretical approach to the research question in which I perceive the reasons behind why the parents send their children to boarding schools as socially constructed, an observatory method would have been appropriate or if at all interviews are to be conducted some form of triangulation would have been a better option as a research method. This in addition would lead to a more valid, reliable and diverse realities⁹.

Also another limitation to this study is the closeness of the researcher to the participants. In some of the data and statements provided by the participants I noticed some inconsistency. When the second participant (o) was asked if her children had any issues in the school she mentioned that they didn’t have any. However during the course of the interview she later said she had to change her daughter from the first school she attended. It is generally said that in interviews people are more likely to provide the interviewer what they perceive to be ‘socially acceptable’ and not exactly the real situation.

I would also say that the inexperience of the researcher and not really knowing on time some important aspects of the research process is another limitation of the study. It took the researcher some time to know that she needed to have field notes while undertaking the study. A lot has been written in literature from other people’s experiences of the importance of having field notes. Field notes in addition provide visual data which may not be available if one relies on recorded interviews alone⁹.

Analysis Process

It took this researcher sometime to get to know how to set about starting the research work as mentioned earlier this is a relatively new ground for her. An interview guide had to be developed after briefly researching into the topic and based on my own background and positionality, I was able to put down some questions under different headings which I considered important to ask the participants. The data analysis ideally should begin from the start of the research work during data collection¹°.

Strengths and Limitations

I would say the strengths of the analysis process for this study lies in the resources and guidance received at the Qualitative Research Methods’ contact sessions for the Master of Public Health Programme. Also doing four interviews enabled me to have a lot of data for analysis. Although analysis of the data has been time-consuming but the ‘rigour’ involved I believe would contribute to the reliability and validity of the research work. The themes that emerged during the analysis have contributed in allowing the researcher to go back and further analyse the data better and had sharpen the collection of further data in subsequent interviews ⁷’¹¹. Also the grounded theory approach which was used to analyse the data has the advantage of allowing the researcher to go back and pursue in-depth enquiry of the themes that have emerged.

One limitation of the analysis process is that it was very time-consuming as it was done by hand-coding, “cutting and pasting”. This however had the advantage of helping this researcher to get familiar with the data. Although several computer software are available nowadays, this researcher is unfamiliar with the use of these and therefore this was not used at all. Where this is available and can be used by the researcher it makes the work easier and also has many potential benefits¹°. The use of computer software also has the potential to improve the ‘rigour’ of qualitative analysis¹².

The strength of the interpretation given to the findings I would say lie mainly on the researcher’s background. Given my positionality, background and familiarity with the participants I am able to identify with some of their aspirations, their language including slangs and cultural values. Also the ability to be able to compare and see similarities in findings with some research studies that tried to answer similar or related questions. For example in the study by Shane et al (2008)¹³, similar themes like Independence, Discipline and Structured life were recorded.

However I would say the limitation in the interpretation of findings lies in the fact that the data analysed focussed only on those participants that are known to the researcher and may not be applicable to the generality of parents who send their children to boarding schools including parents from the same ethnic background as the participants. Therefore caution needs to be exercised in making deductions from this type of study. It is therefore important to think through the impact of the study findings on other populations considering its generalizability and transferability⁴.

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