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

Putting a dollar value on a good school

It is often said that schools have little impact on individual student outcomes. Despite the perpetually high rankings of some schools and occasional dramatic turn-arounds of others, we keep hearing that all things being equal, all schools are equal.

Academic accomplishment is supposedly a matter of a child’s socio-economic background, how many books are in the home, the parents’ education level, and so on. In other words, high achieving parents produce high-achieving children regardless of the educational environment. Rarely is a school’s outperformance acknowledged as the work of the staff.

But parents intuitively know that a good school can make a huge difference. Probably because we all went to school ourselves. Usually more than one. And we all remember the most effective teachers, the school counsellor who truly understood kids, the principal who ran a tight ship — or not. We know how we were shaped by the schools we attended and we know what we want a school to do for our children.

Our faith in the power of a good school is not misplaced. US research shows that proficient teachers lift more than test scores. They also lift lifetime earnings.

A US National Bureau of Economic Research analysis of more than 1 million individual tax records, sorted by school district, found that teachers who improved academic results also had a long-term positive influence on their students.

Data showed that just one year of skillful teaching produced students who were more likely to finish school, attend university, and earn higher salaries relative to their cohort. Ten years after graduation, those students were earning 1.3% more in annual income, which, in this sample, was projected to add $US39,000 to their lifetime earnings.

The cumulative effect of a series of talented teachers on individual incomes was outside the scope of this study. But it seems self-evident that the more students achieve, the greater the benefit to their career prospects and future earning capacity.

Education experts explain the ongoing effect of transformative teaching as being about more than knowledge acquisition. To help students significantly improve their grades, teachers have to instil a range of non-cognitive skills in their students, such as self-discipline, perseverance and resilience, which also help children to achieve greater success in adulthood.

High-performing teachers can’t operate in isolation though. They need school leadership that supports them to efficiently manage classroom behaviour so they can nurture those vital non-cognitive skills. They need skilled ancillary staff to maintain high levels of student wellbeing and the time and resources to attend to individual learning needs of students.

It’s a team effort and the results speak for themselves. Good schools lay the foundation for children to grow into successful adults — and it all starts with great teaching.


Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood —  Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman & Jonah E. Rockoff, US National Bureau of Economic Research, 2014


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