Select Committee on Defence Eleventh Report

5  Boarding schools

125. The Boarding Schools Association, which represents over 500 boarding schools in the UK, estimates there are currently 10,871 Service children at boarding school.[135] Thirty five of the BSA accredited boarding schools are state maintained, two of which are run by the MoD.

126. The evidence we have received, as well as the postings to our forum, suggest that the boarding option is frequently chosen by parents because it avoids the issues associated with high mobility between schools. Brigadier Brister told us that, when deciding the best education for their children, Service personnel faced an invidious choice:

we in the Forces have three options: our children have a disruptive education; we board; or we live apart from our families. None of those is ideal for most people.[136]

127. We were told in Germany that the boarding option tended to be more popular for children of secondary school age because at that age stability was most important. This view was reinforced by Mrs Carolyn McKay who told us "the only reason my children are going to boarding school is because of the stability issue".[137] Mrs Michelle Titcombe told us:

I want my children with me but I know that they will go to boarding school when they are older because it is the only way I can guarantee some stability of education. It is against everything I would want but I feel that would be the best option.[138]

Continuity of Education Allowance

128. The MoD provides a Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA) to all eligible Service personnel who choose to educate their children at Boarding School. To be eligible, Service personnel must be on an accompanied (by partner) posting. Children must be aged between 8 and 18. 3,074 commissioned officers and 1,813 non-commissioned Service personnel claim CEA, in respect of 7,914 children.[139] In the Services as a whole, 1,492 Service personnel of Sergeant rank (or equivalent) and above claim CEA for the children's education.[140] A higher proportion of RAF Senior Non-Commissioned Officers claim CEA compared with equivalent ranks in the Royal Navy, and Army.[141] The MoD was keen to point out that it "does not endorse a twin-track approach to education and does not differentiate in any way or at any stage between the children of other ranks and the children of officers".[142]

129. Postings to our forum suggest that the CEA is valued highly by those Service families who choose to take advantage of it although we received some comments that the CEA was not raised in line with the rate of inflation.

Postings to our web forum: Continuity of Education Allowance (from Service parents)
"Our children have now completed their education but this and my husband's military career would not have been compatible without the boarding school and the allowance the MoD provide for this."

"The CEA is failing to keep pace with increases in school fees."

"The gap between the allowance and fees seems to widen every year."

"The rules stipulate that parents have to pay a minimum of 10% of total fees but we end up paying 25%."

130. The CEA is set at a rate of £4,557 for senior pupils and £3,496 for junior pupils.[143] All Service personnel are required to provide at least 10% of school fees themselves, although in practice considerably more than 10% is payable depending on the individual school fees. The CEA can be used to pay fees at an MoD-approved list of schools. Brigadier Brister told us that the CEA was not a perk of Service but rather a means by which a significant down side of Service life may be mitigated, "there are firm rules which are there to make it clear to us that this is not just an allowance to let us send our child to an independent or state boarding school, but it is there for continuity of education".[144]

131. While the CEA is available to all ranks we have been concerned to establish whether it is accessed by lower ranks or whether it is issued predominantly to officers. The breakdown by rank and Service shows that commissioned officers are the major users of the CEA, but that senior NCOs also make use of it. Some lower ranks make use of it but not in great numbers. Proportionately fewer of these lower ranks are of an age to have school age children themselves. The Minister for Schools suggested to us that there might be a "cultural" unwillingness to consider the boarding school option. But the requirement to pay at least 10% of fees may discourage take up among lower-paid ranks.

132. We recommend that the MoD commission research on the reasons for lower take-up of CEA among lower-paid ranks. In particular, this research should focus on any financial or cultural reasons for the lower take-up of the CEA by lower-paid ranks.

133. During our visit to Germany, we heard concerns from Service parents that the process for awarding the CEA was insufficiently flexible, making it difficult to transfer the CEA between schools if, say, a child was unhappy at a particular school. We were keen to seek assurance from the Minister that, if a sound case was made by parents, the CEA could be transferred between schools. Brigadier Brister told us:

if you are dissatisfied with the school or if, for various reasons, your child is unhappy at the school, then you can put up a case to be allowed to change school and rotate the allowance.[145]

134. MoD subsequently provided us with figures which suggested that applications by parents to transfer their CEA entitlement between schools were rare and, when they did arise, were treated sympathetically by the MoD.

In the period 12 Dec 2005-16 May 2006, [MoD] processed 27 requests for a change of Boarding School (0.34% of the number of Service children for whom Continuity of Education Allowance is paid). All of these cases were approved and the Service parents retained their entitlement to Continuity of Education Allowance.[146]

Queen Victoria School and Duke of York's Royal Military School

135. The MoD directly manages two boarding schools for Service children: the Queen Victoria School in Dunblane, Stirlingshire (260 pupils), and the Duke of York's Royal Military School in Dover, Kent (500 pupils).[147] Both Schools are co-educational and provide boarding for 11 to 18 year old children of Service children.

136. The Queen Victoria School follows the Scottish curriculum, is non-selective and "has a particular duty of care for compassionate and needy cases".[148] Ms Liz Cassidy told us that the Queen Victoria School was "a very supportive school with a good teacher/pupil ratio and it provides a very supportive environment for children who probably would not cope with standard alternative boarding schools".[149] The school's most recent inspection judged teaching to be good and the overall quality of attainment for examination groups as very good.[150] The MoD also noted that the school is over-subscribed with 50% of applications rejected due to restrictions on capacity.[151] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence told us that the MoD had no plans to 'disengage' from the schools.[152]

137. The Duke of York's Royal Military School is a selective co-educational boarding school, with strong academic performance including 98% of pupils attaining A-C GCSEs and 96% success at university applications.[153] Ms Liz Cassidy noted that the school had improved its educational standards a great deal over recent years and that school league tables showed that it competed successfully with "some pretty decent independent schools".[154]

138. The two schools have different roles but both are popular: admissions to the Queen Victoria School and the Duke of York's Royal Military School are over-subscribed. While the Queen Victoria School and the Duke of York's Royal Military School are clearly anachronisms, we see no reason to recommend any change to their status.

135   Ev 100, Para 1  Back

136   Q 295 Back

137   Q 147 Back

138   Ibid. Back

139   Ev 77, para 2 Back

140   Ev 78  Back

141   Ibid. Back

142   Ev 78, para 5 Back

143   Ev 68 Back

144   Q 292 Back

145   Q 292 Back

146   Ev 76, para 8 Back

147   Ev 64 Back

148   Ev 65 Back

149   Q 301 Back

150   Ev 65, para 9 Back

151   Ev 66, para 14  Back

152   Q 302 Back

153   Ev 64, para 24 Back

154   Q 301 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 September 2006