Boarding at a sixth-form college


by Dr Julian Davies, Principal of Abbey College Cambridge
Abbey college

Independent boarding schools have a long history of creating well-rounded pupils with excellent results. Most pupils beginning an A-level course or an International Foundation Programme are striving to gain the best possible grades and complete a challenging programme of academic study, and also yearning to exercise their independence. In many cases these two can act in competition with one another, with young people rushing to celebrate their freedom without the lifeskills and experience they need to manage this.


Boarding at sixth-form colleges… At an independent sixth-form college the journey to independence is supported and skills are introduced and practised in a safe environment, while academic progression is monitored and the whole pupil nurtured and developed. The outcome is a resilient and independent learner prepared to take the next step in life on to university or a chosen career path.

Considering the most obvious key requirement for academic progression, the attainment of outstanding academic results, boarding provides an excellent ‘out-of-hours’ support system for learning. Once in the sixth form most pupils are trusted to manage their workload accordingly, but having subject specialists on hand to help or advise pupils with their assignments or respond to academic needs, ensures that class time can be more productive. Pupils can be taught study skills and then the process can be actively monitored and developed so that the end result is a pupil who can work efficiently and with confidence. Instilling a strong work ethic in all pupils is important, but teaching them to overcome setbacks and to persevere is also paramount to their future success.

Extra-curricular activities

The very nature of boarding allows for many more opportunities for extra-curricular activities. Introducing pupils to a variety of activities ensures they are inspired and open to new experiences and skills. Trying new things helps to develop a pupil’s resilience and confidence and also allows for the introduction and progression of skills. As young adults, pupils are also encouraged to help organise, promote and manage activities, giving them a real sense of ownership and an opportunity to engage in the passions they have outside the classroom. Time spent in these extra-curricular activities is time well spent – it ensures pupils enjoy their time in the sixth form, and helps to develop their ability to manage their work and life balance so the ‘whole child’ can flourish. At Abbey College Cambridge we have more than 50 clubs and an extensive programme of trips and activities: pupils can complete first-aid training, visit places of interest across the country, learn an instrument, join the drama group, learn circus skills or origami – there is something for everyone.

Boarding at a sixth-form college gives pupils the opportunity and challenge they need to develop a broader spectrum of lifeskills. Washing their clothes, making good dietary choices, looking after their health (physical and mental), managing their workload and living in a communal setting are just a few examples of the skills that prepare them for adulthood and independent living.

Pupils from around the world

Boarding at an independent sixth-form college means living with a host of other pupils from around the world. This in itself is an important experience and ensures pupils become comfortable with cultures, languages and religions that are different from their own. At Abbey College Cambridge we have pupils from 48 nationalities. Each nationality is recognised and celebrated while the whole community is brought together through the shared love of learning and the involvement in extra-curricular interests. 

Living in a community requires many skills and abilities such as being able to compromise and empathise. It also requires responsibility and commitment, and teaches young people how to establish equality while recognising differences and celebrating them. Pupils can learn to communicate at the highest level, making lifelong friendships and establishing international contacts for the future.

The time pupils spend at an independent sixth-form college is very special. It bridges the gap between school and university, childhood and adulthood. Pupils enjoy the experience while receiving the best possible training in how to navigate life independently. They gain the inner confidence to deal with new situations and can adapt to life at university successfully because strong foundations have been put in place. 

View a full list of boarding schools here.

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