Attending boarding school: a longitudinal study of its role in students’ academic and non-academic outcomes

Brad Papworth

PhD thesis, conferred 2015

Attending boarding school has long been a part of the educational culture in Australia. For a significant number of students, boarding is a necessity due to distance from suitable schools or potential lack of resources in remote or regional areas. For other students, attending boarding school represents a choice and access to greater educational resources. Research conducted to date has been limited to relatively few boarding schools or to relatively narrow outcome measures. As a result, this research has not comprehensively assessed the role of boarding school in the outcomes of students. Guided by theories and perspectives of ecological systems, positive youth development (PYD), extracurricular activity, attachment, and experiential education, it is proposed that boarding school represents a unique socialisation setting in comparison to home or day school experiences.

In the current study, structural equation modelling was used to explore the extent to which boarders - relative to day students - may gain or decline in academic (e.g., motivation, engagement) and non-academic (e.g., life satisfaction, interpersonal relationships, self-esteem) outcomes. Quantitative survey data were collected from high school students at 12 schools across Australia in each of two successive years. Cross-sectional data, controlling for socio-demographic, prior achievement, personality, and school-level factors, showed general parity in outcomes between day and boarding students; however, where significant effects emerged, they tended to favour boarders. Longitudinal analysis, which controlled for prior variance, socio-demographic, prior achievement, personality, and school-level factors, also revealed general parity in day and boarding students’ gains and declines in academic and non-academic outcomes. In fact, any differences between day and boarding students appeared to be due to personality traits, prior achievement, and some socio-demographic features. Unlike historical accounts of predominantly negative experiences of attending boarding school, the current study found no such negative effects on outcomes measured.

Taken together, these findings hold implications for boarders, parents considering boarding school for their children, staff involved with day and boarding students, and researchers investigating the effect of school structures on students’ academic and non-academic development. Importantly, given the lack of rigorous research and theory in this area, the current study provides a foundation for more detailed and well-designed longitudinal research into residential education settings in the future.

Supervisor: Professor Andrew Martin