Weekday boarding: The perfect solution for time-stressed families

Boarding school enrolments have rebounded sharply in recent years, reversing two decades of decline.

Australia now has almost 200 residential schools serving tens of thousands of students throughout the school term and on a weekly basis.

While boarding is a necessity for many families in regional and remote Australia, city-based students now represent one-third of boarders at NSW schools.

Experts point to several reasons for the surging interest in boarding. Cultural trends, from the well-loved Harry Potter series of books and films to a spate of popular television shows set in boarding schools, have recast these schools’ image from austere to awesome. Today, living at school, surrounded by friends, is, for many students, an appealing prospect.

Societal changes have made boarding schools increasingly attractive for parents too, as more often than not nowadays, they both work full time in demanding careers. 

Between long hours and long commutes, parents are busier than ever and boarding schools are moving to meet the needs of modern families. 

A growing number now offer flexible boarding to alleviate the burden on time-pressed parents. Options can include:

  • Casual boarding — a temporary situation for just a few days or weeks — particularly helpful for parents whose work involves travel 
  • Extended day boarding — students participate in after-school sport and study, then have dinner together before returning home in the evening 
  • Weekday boarding — students live at school during the week with weekends at home

Flexible boarding has advantages for students too. It affords them more time and space to concentrate on their studies and extracurricular interests while still enjoying lots of family time. 

Living at school, at least part of the time, can also help families avoid schedule clashes between siblings, making it easier to accommodate sporting commitments, rehearsals, intra-school debating and similarly time-intensive activities. 

As academic commitments accrue in the senior years, weekday boarding can be an excellent way to support students’ academic success and maximise their opportunities, says Richard Stokes, executive director of the Australian Boarding Schools’ Association.

“One of the things that is contributing to more urban boarders is the fact that in our big cities – Melbourne and Sydney and, to a lesser extent, Brisbane – families are really struggling with travel. For a child actively involved in a school’s extracurricular program, parents might question why their child might spend an hour or more on public transport, travelling to and from school when, in fact, they could live at the school and use that time wisely.”

Convenience aside, boarding is beneficial in many other ways too. Daily life in residence is highly structured with a level of supervision that few parents have the time or energy to replicate. 

Monitored study periods ensure that students complete their homework and boarders can easily access extra tutoring when needed, making them less likely to fall behind. 

Technology use is tightly regulated. Rules vary, but generally, there are strict policies on internet access in terms of both time and content. Mobile phones are off-limits during study periods and most schools require devices to be handed in at bedtime. 

For many parents, this aspect alone is worth the price of admission. Research shows children’s technology use is a source of conflict in two-thirds of Australian families and more than 80% of parents think digital devices are negatively impacting their children, mentally and physically.

Boarding can be an effective antidote to technology overload. A University of South Australia study, conducted at Adelaide’s Westminster School, found boarders sleep an average of 40 minutes more per night than their day student peers.

Speaking to the Australian, lead researcher Alex Reardon attributed the sleep differential to restricted technology use at night and the consistent routine of boarding house life.

“We know in the literature that kids who have set routines, who have good sleep hygiene, tend to sleep better and have better mental health outcomes,” he says. “Boarding is inherently really good at routine. It turns out boarders are sleeping really well, they’re sleeping longer than day students.”

But perhaps the greatest reason for boarding’s renewed popularity is that the schools themselves have changed to better reflect contemporary lifestyles.

Old-fashioned dormitory-style, cramped sleeping quarters have given way to larger rooms with fewer occupants and a greater emphasis on student privacy. 

Enhanced pastoral care ensures that every student receives individual attention and support. 

And, most significantly, for hungry, growing adolescents, the stereotype of meagre rations is completely outmoded. Today’s boarding schools prioritise healthy food, serving nutritious, tasty meals that cater to students’ dietary preferences and requirements.

The boarding experience has evolved dramatically in recent years and a new generation is eagerly reaping the benefits.



Boarding Schools, Independent Schools Australia

Boarding schools no longer need “Harry Potter effect” to inspire children, leading headmaster says — Camilla Turner, the Telegraph UK, April 29, 2017

Why flexible boarding options are becoming more popular — Rosanne Barrett, the Australian, September 10, 2021

Boarding schools appealing to the city as much as the country — Emily Parkinson, Australian Financial Review, May 16, 2016

Children more distracted by digital devices in the home, parents say — Ben Knight, UNSW News, April 28, 2021

Boarding school students sleep more than day student peers. The positive effects of bedtime routine and restricting technology use at night — Alex Reardon, K Lushington, A Agostini, SLEEP Advances, November 2022

Boosting mental health in their sleep — Rosanne Barrett, the Australian, September 10, 2021

High performance education: Central Coast Sports College brings out the best in bodies and minds with unique program

Healthy bodies, healthy minds … Central Coast Sports College takes a holistic approach to education.

A little independent school near Gosford is making big waves with an active education model that sees students playing sport for two hours every day.

Founded by principal Paul Chapman in 2013, Central Coast Sports College (CCSC) in Kariong is a “proudly progressive” co-ed, K-12 school that emphasises physical activity and goal setting to help students achieve their dreams — on and off the field.

Mr Chapman says that many of the school’s former students are currently playing sport at “a high representative level”. He offers the example of recent graduate Trent Buhagiar who now plays A-league football with Sydney FC while another, Cooper Griffiths, is one of the top 100 tennis players in the country.


True grit … Central Coast Sports College principal seeks to build resilience in students.

Not all students at CCSC can or even want to become professional athletes but the school’s holistic approach to developing the body as well as the mind fosters deeper academic engagement and promotes better health and wellbeing, Mr Chapman says.

“Our goal is to inspire students to be the best they can be”, he says.

“One of the things we’re very proud of is the vast majority of our students end up in the workforce or higher education because they set a goal and they achieve it. Some of our students didn’t get the ATAR they wanted but got into their preferred course through alternative pathways,” Mr Chapman says.

Academic or athletic, success comes down to resilience, he says.

“I believe talent is a myth. In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, [famed psychologist] Angela Duckworth says talent is just the speed at which we learn something.

“We know that every student learns at different rates and speeds. We’re trying to really hard to introduce mastery teaching, which means students don’t move on until they’ve mastered a topic. Some kids take two weeks to learn something, others take four weeks. We’re very much against rushing kids along just because they’re a certain age.

“We don’t promote competition in the classroom and we don’t believe in ranking students or external awards. We believe in developing grit in the students.

“They don’t need to be a star but they need to be keen to learn and play. If they give it a shot and work hard, they’ll be successful here. It doesn’t matter about their ability, we have a wide range of developmental levels and we manage it really well.

“A lot of kids come here at a very low level and I’ve seen them develop into high performers,” Mr Chapman says.

On target … CCSC teaches students to set goals and achieve them.

The active days at CCSC are good news for parents too. With sport integrated into the school day, there’s no need to ferry kids all over the city for games and training sessions.

This aspect of the school has proved so attractive that “a few families have moved interstate so they can send their kids here,” Mr Chapman says.

Easing the time pressure on young families is one of the school’s guiding principles and with three boys at the school he’s a beneficiary too.

“It’s very much about bringing balance back to family lives. As a parent, I haven’t had to do any extracurricular activities,” Mr Chapman says.

The school’s no homework policy is based on similar reasoning.

“I don’t think we have a right to inject ourselves into family time. We have plenty of students who get their work done in the classroom and want to go home and play. There’s no rush to grow up here; if a child wants to climb a tree, let them.”

Letting kids be kids … CCSC students are encouraged to play in their free time.

Some parents may wonder how CCSC students get through all their school work with so much sport and no homework. Mr Chapman attributes the school’s efficiency to streamlined days and a teacher/mentor model that uses technology to achieve time savings.

“Our days are a half hour longer than the average and we tend not to fluff around. We don’t have assemblies or chapel.

“We leverage technology. All the students’ work is online. Right now, we have a student in Spain training with a football talent agency who is keeping up with his school work online.”

Even more important is the investment teachers make in building long-term relationships with students, he says.

Explaining that students retain the same home room teacher from Kindergarten to Year 2, from Years 3-8 and from Years 9-12, Mr Chapman says: “The home room teacher is a mentor. They really get to know the children, spending time with them every day. They help to facilitate work experiences and formulate life goals.

“If the students are engaged in the classroom there’s no reason that they shouldn’t get through the curriculum during class time. When you move from control to engagement, you have more time to concentrate on teaching.”

“The biggest thing about us is we are really authentic, we do our best and it comes from the heart.”

For more information about Central Coast Sports College and to book a school tour see: www.ccsc.nsw.edu.au

The McDonald College: a high-performance education

When I’m performing it’s like I’m so much more confident. In that moment, I don’t have any worries in the world. It’s like heaven. I love it.Meg Mac, chart-topping singer-songwriter and graduate of The McDonald College

Does that sound like your child? Do you want to support your child’s natural abilities but find it hard to fit lessons/training/auditions around school and homework? If so, The McDonald College in Sydney’s Inner West might be the solution to your dilemma.

Peak performers … The McDonald College has a strong dance program including ballet, modern and musical theatre streams.

Centrally located in North Strathfield, the independent co-ed performing arts school nurtures talented students from years 3 to 12.

Its unique immersive approach emphasises academic excellence while allowing students to pursue their passions for two hours every day with dedicated tuition in either acting, ballet, dance, music, musical theatre or elite tennis. With all the coaching provided in-school, students can focus intensively on their training free of the demands involved in commuting to far-flung extra-curricular activities.

To develop their gifts fully, students often need to perform or compete at an elite level. The McDonald College offers students flexible schedules to help them meet their out-of-school commitments while ensuring that they maintain their academic studies.

Many students have the gift of natural ability but require specialised support to convert their gifts into the talent necessary for outstanding performance.

Reaching for the stars … The McDonald College offers specialised support to help students hone their gifts into talents.

These students do best when their exceptional qualities are cultivated and sympathetically managed says principal Maxine Kohler.

“Gifted and talented children are uniquely special and are often acutely aware of their difference in relation to their peers.

“Teaching these students requires a deep understanding of the personality traits that feed their creativity,” she says.

The school’s success is evident in the achievements of its performing arts alumni including pop star Meg Mac, Romper Stomper star Sophie Lowe and Heath Ledger scholarship winner Mojean Aria.

In 2013, the college added tennis to its roster of specialist programs partnering with Voyager Tennis Academy. With two international championship wins this year, the school won the NSW Tennis Award for Most Outstanding School.

Focus … The McDonald College is the Most Outstanding School in the state as awarded by NSW Tennis.

Powering every star is a deep well of creativity. In supporting and celebrating this characteristic the college produces not only excellent performers but high academic achievers well prepared for the modern workplace.

Once considered the preserve of artists, performers and advertisers, creativity is of increasing practical value throughout our fast-changing global economy.

At the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, it was named, along with critical thinking and complex problem solving, as one of the three primary skills requisite for success in the next decade.

With the rise of robotics and artificial intelligence entailed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, humankind’s unique creative capacity is of greater importance than ever, the WEF predicts in its 2016 The Future of Jobs report.

“Creativity will become one of the top three skills workers will need. With the avalanche of new products, new technologies and new ways of working, workers are going to have to become more creative in order to benefit from these changes,” the WEF says.

21st century skills … creativity will be the key to success in the next decade, says the World Economic Forum.

This WEF’s prognosis is borne out by Year 10 acting student and entrepreneur Ali Kitinas who, at 16, is believed to be the nation’s youngest CEO.

Her beauty product company Freedom Scrub recycles coffee grounds to produce an ethical and sustainable skin cleanser. A portion of the profits is donated to the Hope Foundation Hospital providing health and medical services to impoverished children in Kolkata, India.

The social enterprise has attracted wide media attention and Ali counts Virgin Airlines founder Richard Branson as a mentor but performance remains her first love.

“I’m a very passionate performer, but I always knew that it would be really hard to gain financial security in that field,” she told Mamamia. “That’s why I went into business, so that I could have the financial security to pursue my other passions.”

Talented, accomplished and ambitious: Ali’s self-assured dynamism is emblematic of the The McDonald College ethos.

“Our environment is supportive and nurturing of creativity enabling us to graduate students that are lateral thinkers and excited about life beyond school. Whether their chosen career is on the stage as a performer or in the world of medicine, law or global business, our students are confident communicators, distinguished leaders and diverse role models,” says Principal Kohler.


Meg Mac interview – Poncho TV

Iconic Australian film Romper Stomper to be recharged as Stan original TV series — Media release, Screen Australia, August 1, 2017

Mojean Aria awarded 2017 Heath Ledger Scholarship — Inside Film, June 2, 2017

The 10 skills you need to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution — Alex Gray, World Economic Forum website, January 19, 2016

At 16, Ali Kitinas is Australia’s youngest CEO (and her mum’s boss) — Belinda Jepsen, Mamamia, June 15, 2017