The best boarding schools around the world and how they’re pioneering the standards for education

Cardiff Sixth Form College
Source: Cardiff Sixth Form College

Studies have proven this for years: boarding schools produce more success stories. From the first president of the Republic of China Dr. Sun Yat-Sen to Hollywood star Uma Thurman, they exemplify the power of combining first-class education with an enriching environment and nurturing support systems.

To add to that, especially in the midst of uncertainty where safety is a concern amongst parents, the “mini college” appeal has been seen as an effective way to give younger students a way to achieve greater self-discovery. How? Small class sizes enable personalised teaching, a residential campus ensures consistent productivity, and diverse student bodies develop cultural competence. 

While there are many types of boarding schools to choose from — from prep academies to military or religious schools — it’s clear there is no one-size-fits-all model. To help you narrow it down, here’s a list of four boarding schools around the world who are pioneering the standards of education today:

Cardiff Sixth Form College

Cardiff Sixth Form College

Source: Cardiff Sixth Form College

Located in the heart of Cardiff, the capital of Wales, this top British boarding school inspires pupils to achieve their best grades. In 2020, 99% of its students gained A* to A grades and 76% progressed to high-ranking universities worldwide, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College, the London School of Economics, University College London and leading US and international universities. Thirty-three students won highly competitive medical school places.

These accomplishments do not go unrecognised. For the tenth consecutive year, the college was placed at the top of the Education Advisers’ league tables in two categories: Top Private Co-educational Boarding School and Top Independent Sixth Form College. UK’s top school for the past 11 years has also ranked number one for outstanding A Level results in league tables published by The Telegraph and The Times for five consecutive years. The same applies for GCSE — the college topped the small school league tables in the UK with 84% of students gaining A* to A grades and a stunning 100% A* to B. 

These awards are significant. They translate to an outstanding foundation for getting into top universities and beyond. All students take part in work experience, international work placements and one-to-one careers guidance. A diverse range of curricular programmes — including career-based societies for those aiming to study medicine, finance, engineering and law, for example — enrich their experience here. The backbone of this culture of scholarship and ambition? Teachers with over 15 years’ experience, a team of career specialists, a warm and enabling school community and highly qualified alumni always ready to guide their juniors. Principal Gareth Collier calls the college a place “for students who wish to win a place at the best universities to study courses which will provide fulfilment and challenge.” “It is certainly the perfect place for those aiming high.”

St. Paul’s School

A St. Paul’s education is transformative. SPS 360 — its heart — makes certain of this. SPS 360 is an approach to learning that integrates social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth into every aspect of each student’s life. “St. Paul’s develops student potential in its totality for the good of society and our world,” says Kathleen C. Giles, Fourteenth Rector.

Located in Concord, New Hampshire, St. Paul’s School (SPS) is home to over 500 students who come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, all looking to learn and grow together. Here, it’s not just about obtaining knowledge. The main focus is to allow students to develop the understanding and ability to apply knowledge in new and unfamiliar contexts, in and out of the classroom. 

St. Paul's School

Source: St. Paul’s School

The SPS academic programme provides a solid grounding in the fundamentals along with the flexibility to pursue varied and enriching electives. Core curriculum includes mind-stimulating courses in the humanities, mathematics, sciences, languages, religion and the arts. These are intertwined with performing arts, an inclusive chapel programme, and community engagement. With guidance and inspiration from an exceptional faculty, SPS students prepare intensively toward success in college, university, and career. 

At SPS, faculty members partner with families to ensure the right amount of independence is granted to students to achieve excellence. It’s this flexible approach, a multinational community, advanced topics and more that create independent self-starters who will one day transform the world.

The Putney School

Creative yet practical, visionary yet grounded — the Putney School is one of the most progressive schools in the US. That’s not all. This co-educational boarding and day school for grades nine to 12 is distinctive in many other ways.

One is its culture of vibrant intellectual curiosity within an informal environment. The feeling that students belong is tangible as soon as one steps foot on campus. Free from the race for grades — it does not teach the Advanced Placement curriculum or any other standardised tests — they learn in compelling ways. They are in charge of the destiny of their education. Adults step back, making way for students to step up. 

The Putney School

Source: The Putney School

How? By operating the school’s dairy farm, participating in physical work programmes, getting elected to the governing board, sitting in as members of the admission committee and more. Regimented? Far from it. Inspiring? Very much so. It’s an effective approach too — the majority of Putney students win places at top colleges and universities.

The second reason is its project-based learning, integrated curricula and hands-on education. Although only recently implemented by other schools, the Putney School has been practising these for over 75 years. Its academic arts programme encompasses a wide range of disciplines in the visual and performing arts, one of the central Putney experiences. They get to dive into their media in greater depth during Project Week, a period of nine to 10 days at the end of each term where students get to engage and explore a topic meaningful to them.

The third reason? Support. Learners of all stages and experience are celebrated here. There are English language classes for international students. The Afternoon and Athletics programme ensures Putney students are not just active, but reap the full physical and emotional benefits of exercise. Across the curriculum, issues of social justice and race are taught.

Then there’s its location. Nature surrounds the Putney School. Located in the state of Vermont, in the Northeast of the US, the school campus is nestled over 500 acres of pristine woods and fields on a hilltop. The Green Mountain State is sparsely populated and these days, among the safest US states amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about how your child can become active, critical thinkers and members of a democratic society, click here.

African Leadership Academy 

Located in Johannesburg, South Africa, the African Leadership Academy (ALA) aims to address Africa’s greatest challenges by developing a network of young leaders who are passionate about doing the same. In total, 1,180 students, representing 46 countries in Africa are currently working towards bringing this goal into fruition. 

African Leadership Academy

Source: African Leadership Academy

This residential, secondary institution provides learners with the chance to “author” their futures through rigorous academics. It begins with the academy’s highly selective Two-Year Pre-University Diploma Programme that is geared to nurture students between the ages of 16 to 19 from across Africa. These students are seen as young leaders who have the potential to catalyse positive change on the continent. 

During their time at ALA, students complete a unique and comprehensive curriculum that includes courses in entrepreneurial leadership, African studies, writing and rhetoric, and Cambridge A-Levels. These students then go on to join an impressive alumni who have collectively enrolled in 162 leading universities around the world and accepted over US$117 million in scholarship aid. 

ALA’s module creates students who are well on their way to achieve their goals and the academy’s reputation confirms this. So far, 177 ventures have been founded and 499 quality jobs have been created by ALA alumni, who are currently thriving in 35 different countries across the globe.  


*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International