Life as a Boarder

Deciding whether to send your child to a full-boarding school or picking the moment to make the transition from day pupil to boarder can often be a difficult one.

This is why we have decided to provide you with an honest opinion of what boarding school life at Downside School is really like, in an attempt to try and make that decision a little easier for all involved.

A Somerset Boarding School

Downside School is one of the leading boarding schools in Somerset. One aspect that makes Downside very attractive to families as the ideal boarding school for their children is our amazing location:

Private Boarding School Life


Conveniently situated near three train stations, two airports (Bristol and Cardiff) and being just off the A367, A37 and A361, Downside is also easily accessible via the A303, M4 and M5. Getting to Downside from any direction clearly is no problem. This is something that is definitely reflected in our pupil uptake, where children come from all over the country, continent and indeed the world to experience their own slice of Downside Boarding life.

Being located in Somerset also affords Downside School many benefits. Not only are our surroundings breathtaking and facilities enviable – shown by the Telegraph placing us in the top ten most beautiful schools – but we are surrounded by a plethora of national heritage sites meaning that at Downside, feelings of boredom and idleness are practically non-existent.

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul” Rule of St Benedict 48.1

For our boarders, visiting families and parents, the surrounding area caters for everyone. From exciting weekend activities for our pupils and trips into Bath, Glastonbury and Wells to relaxing stays for parents at Babington House and fun visiting family days out at Longleat, we really are absolutely spoilt for choice!

Why Choose to Board At Downside School: An Overview

At Downside, 85% of our pupils are full boarders – which as a figure certainly speaks for itself. Every one of our boarders enjoys an outstanding level of pastoral support, a strong sense of community and that all important quality time with their friends, outside of the timetabled routine. Weekends are full, busy and purposeful with a whole host of activities available to cater for different houses, age groups and interests. There really is never a dull moment at our Somerset Boarding School.

As one of the remaining traditional full boarding schools in the UK, Downside School life revolves around the six boarding houses: First, Second and Third Form boys join Powell House, before moving up to one of three senior boys houses; Barlow, Roberts or Smythe. In the same way, girls join Caverel House at 13 or Isabella House from 11 to 18. Each one of these houses has its own unique spirit and traditions. However, pupils integrate across the houses and of course with our day pupils who to are also assigned to one of the previously mentioned houses.

We are a full boarding school for a reason and firmly believe that for children, boarding and full boarding, in particular, heralds many advantages over a non-boarding, flexi boarding or weekly boarding routine. Our strong Benedictine boarding community serves as the perfect stepping stone between childhood and adulthood. We see the developmental advantages that out boarding school offers pupils both socially, academically and physically:

Socially, our boarders have that incredibly important opportunity to relax with their friends. Enjoying time outside of classes together is fundamental for healthy friendships to be forged. Add spending weekends together on top of this and Downside School nurtures friendships that last a lifetime. Boarding life also coaxes independence to blossom within all of our students, which is only encouraged by excellent pastoral care.

“Being at a boarding school is a different experience. You learn to look after yourself on a day-to-day basis; you adapt very quickly. Whilst there is a level of independence we still have our meals cooked and our clothes washed…it’s a good first move ahead of university life! !” Elsa, Upper Sixth Form

Academically, what boarding school offers is an unrivalled focus. Remaining at school throughout the week and weekend affords our pupils a sense of grounding and an extremely settled environment, meaning that they are free to fully concentrate on their work. Not to mention by being at school for all of their studies – over the weekend and prep time – means that all necessary academic resources are on hand, whether this be our library, teachers or indeed friends who make perfect study buddies!

Finally, physically our boarders are given the opportunity to experience and try amazing activities that without boarding perhaps they may not have the chance to. First, Second and Third Formers have an activity programme ranging from paintballing and go-karting, trips to museums and theme parks, cycling and walks. Adventure activities include mountain biking, caving and climbing, to name but a few. Our students are also free to utilise our amazing facilities in the evenings and weekends.

What Makes Downside Boarding School So Special?

What makes Downside a unique boarding school is our history and heritage as a school. The Benedictine community of St Gregory the Great started life at Douai Abbey, France, in 1606 by a group of English and Welsh monks who were in exile due to laws under James VI England that forbade Catholicism. As this community grew, it founded a school for English Catholic boys, who were unable to find a Catholic education on their home ground: this was the very start of Downside School, in 1617. Since then Downside School has expanded and gone from strength to strength to become the “outstanding” somerset boarding school we are today.

The Benedictine ethos at Downside underpins all aspects of the School and the Catholic faith is central to a Downside pupil’s education. Indeed, during the School’s last ISI inspection the Inspectors observed that “pupils’ excellent personal development draws clearly on the School’s Benedictine ethos, a strong sense of community and excellent pastoral care. Pupils appreciate the monastic context, respect each other’s views and seek to meet the needs of others.”

It is this ethos and development of personal values that makes a boarding school life at Downside so valuable. We look beyond the classroom, beyond the pastoral and straight at the individual. 

Boarding School Can Help You Achieve

Every year, our boarding pupils go on to achieve hugely impressive results. Whether that be excellent GCSE results, outstanding A-Levels, making the sports teams, forging remarkable friendships, experiencing new activities for the first time or securing a high profile university place.

Contact Us

If you think your child would like to try boarding at one of the leading boarding schools in Somerset, Downside School, please visit our website or contact us today and we can arrange a trial night, open day visit, or taster day to help you with your decision.