Since leaving Eton, Tony Little has been busy spreading the word about the joy of the UK boarding school system. The Honorary President of the Boarding Schools’ Association explains why the benefits should be available to many more children

How are you finding life outside of Eton?

Life outside of Eton is interesting – my life is no longer ruled by the rhythm of the school day! When leaving any job there are many things you miss. Not being at the centre of a boarding community has taken some adjustments.

One of your new roles is Honorary President of the Boarding Schools’ Association. Why were you keen to be involved with the BSA?

I believe boarding offers many fantastic opportunities and is a great educational experience. Boarding numbers have recently started to grow again, demonstrating the strength and quality of the boarding sector and the confidence parents have in a boarding education. By continuing my relationship with the BSA as Honorary President I hope to continue to support the hundreds of member boarding schools who work hard to provide an all-round education for students.

Is it exciting to be a part of their Golden Jubilee celebrations?

Being Honorary President of BSA during its Golden Jubilee year is a very exciting time. They champion boarding and promote boarding excellence. Throughout this year we aim to promote and celebrate all boarding can offer. On 20 June, 2016, the BSA will launch National Boarding Week during which there will be many exciting events taking place including Big Boarding Sing – the biggest boarding choir made up of member schools – and the Boarding Bake Off final.

You will be fronting a host of conferences celebrating British boarding schools. Is the boarding sector here in good shape?

The boarding sector is in very good shape. The UK is the world leader in boarding education with around 500 boarding schools, over 75,000 students and representatives from more than 50 countries. UK boarding dates back hundreds of years, with the newest boarding school built as recently as 2013.

Ex-Eton Head Tony Little on boarding school for all

HM The Queen visits Holyport College, a new state boarding school

How have they changed since you first started teaching at a boarding school?

Advances in technology and its use inside and outside the classroom have been the biggest changes to boarding schools since I joined the profession. I am very aware that we, as adults, are the ‘out of touch’ generation; even our younger staff haven’t grown up experiencing this all-consuming social media culture, meaning that today’s youth are effectively guinea pigs. This is the first generation of children being entirely exposed to this technological way of life.

As with anything new, there are opportunities and dangers. While the opportunities are obvious, as adults we must keep the dangers in perspective. Children will inevitability push boundaries, take risks and get it wrong to develop their moral compass – all part of the normal growing-up process. Knowing how to deal with these situations as they arise becomes a problem when parents and staff are scared or lack knowledge of the technology so over-react or fail to understand the full implications of the errors children make.

Boarding house staff are teenage-angst experts and are trained to deal with issues, and boarding schools create a culture of openness and dialogue for children to discuss situations and have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. These are the pupils who will teach the next generation about the pitfalls of their technological world so they must have the opportunity to become capable of setting their own social parameters. I believe the boarding environment greatly helps this process.

Why is there a demand internationally for a British education?

The rise in boarding numbers is proof parents increasingly recognise that for the right child boarding offers fantastic opportunities and a great education. As the numbers show, the growth in boarding students clearly demonstrates the strength and quality of the sector.

At the recent HMC conference you talked about the need for more state boarding schools – why?

I believe a boarding experience is very worthwhile and it should not be reserved for those who can afford it. There are many examples of social mobility in boarding schools over the years. British history is filled with stories of social mobility success and we know a good education can make all the difference.

Having had direct experience of helping create Holyport College, a new state boarding school, I believe there is more work to be done in this area. Lord Nash has described state boarding as ‘life-changing’, saying ‘boarding is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest success stories of our education system’ and Lord Adonis has been quoted as saying ‘boarding schools can make all the difference to children who are in care or who are growing up in chaotic or floundering families’. Why shouldn’t more children have access to this?

Do too many UK families miss out on what a boarding school can offer?

While boarding may not be for everyone, many families do not have the choice to even consider it. Boarding offers a wide range of benefits including strong pastoral care, excellent learning and teaching, security and first-class facilities. There are also extensive activities outside the classroom and the chance for students to forge lifetime friendships.

I would like to see more state boarding schools supported by their independent cousins, but without investment and real commitment from the Government this is unlikely to happen at any great speed. In the meantime, our independent boarding schools are offering an increasing number of scholarships, bursaries and shared facilities/expertise to increase access to their schools.

Generally, what’s the biggest problem with British education today – and is it easily rectified?

There is a lot of good practice in our education system, but the biggest problem is the Victorian-style examination and measurement system, which shoe horns pupils and teachers in a particular way. All the evidence shows a truly holistic education in which young people’s attitudes and attributes are developed is the most effective preparation for modern life and the work place. Boarding schools are exceptionally well placed to give young people this environment.

Keep up-to-date with the Boarding Schools’ Association’s Golden Jubilee plans at boarding.org.uk