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Boarding school words dictionary - School language

For parents who are new to British education and their children will be going to boarding school for the first time, looking for boarding school advice can sometimes be difficult and confusing. That’s why we have put together this boarding school dictionary to help you out!

Beak, Don, Exeat, Prep, Trinity, Shell, Sixes, Matron – the vocabulary used by British boarding schools can take some time to get used to. Particularly if your first language is not English, understanding the language of boarding school can be a challenge either when your child first starts school, or when you are going through the registration, pre-testing, testing and interview process. Often boarding school vocabulary represents the long history and heritage of schools which have been educating children for hundreds of years.

Here are a few vocabulary tips from our team of wise advisers. Please get in touch if you would like some boarding school advice on choosing the right school for your child, or perhaps help with understanding the often-confusing application, testing and interview process by clicking the button below.

Types of school and ages

Private & Independent School

​They are both words that are used to describe a fee-paying school that can be either day, flexi, weekly or full boarding.


​Educates girls and boys (co-educational).

Full boarding​

All pupils stay at school 24/7 during the term, except for exeats, half term and long holidays.

Primary years

​Schools running from ages 5-11. Reception to Year 6 inclusive. Often used to describe state schools for this age group.

​Junior school

​Same as above. Could be a state or private school.


​The school year when compulsory schooling starts. (Pre-prep) Child turns age 5 during the academic year.


Offering child care services or schooling for children who are younger than the school start age of 5 in Reception. Some private pre-prep or prep schools start schooling with a year in nursery.


Private school from age 3 (if they offer nursery education) through to age 7 or 8 (End of Year 2 or 3).


School from ages 8-11 or 13 for full boarding prep schools.

Feeder school

A prep school which has strong links with the senior boarding school – parents often choose this senior school from the feeder school.

Some preps are now part of a senior school with most children going into the linked senior school.

Senior school

School from ages 11 or 13 to ages 16 or 18.

Public School

Often the term is used for more traditional, top academic full-boarding schools, which start in year 9 at age 13. These schools are often members of HMC

Sixth form

The last two years of school. Years 12 and 13.

Key people at school

Chair of Governors

Leader of the body of Governors who set the strategic direction for the school.

Head, Headmaster/mistress, Warden

All terms used for the Head of the whole school.


Name of the person who deals with finance matters.


The senior teacher/pastoral leader who will be in charge of your child’s boarding house – where they will sleep and sometimes eat their meals.


The first person your child will talk to if they need medical care, are feeling homesick or have lost their socks. A caring, listening ear for your child.


The teacher, who will monitor, support and give you feedback on your child’s academic progress at school.


This team of staff is the main point of contact for all enquiries from new parents.

Registrar or Director of Admissions

The name used by the member of staff who’s in charge of the admissions team.


A pupil who has attained an exceptional standard in their entry tests and hence has been offered a scholarship to attend the school. This is often an honorary award, but sometimes there can be some reduction in termly school fees for scholars.

Gap student

A recent school leaver. They live in the school and support teachers with sports, boarding house duties and weekend activities.

Boarding life day to day

Pastoral care

Medical, mental and general well-being support for your child at boarding school.

Beak, Don

Words used for teachers.

Buddy system/peer mentor

The pupil who is asked to look out for a new pupil when they first start school.


The boarding school word most commonly used for homework.


Sleeping accommodation in a boarding school.

Lights out

The time the children go to sleep on a school night

House system

Children are usually placed into Houses which include all ages. There are lots of House competitions annually.

In-house dining

Schools where meals are cooked and served in each boarding house. Usually family-style approach to conversation over meals.

Central dining

Schools where all pupils eat in one dining room. Usually self service, lots of choice and sit where you choose.

​Vertical boarding house

Parents choose one boarding house and pastoral support team when their child starts school. They stay there for their entire time at the school.

Horizontal boarding house

Children sleep in age-appropriate boarding accommodation on a per-year group basis. Children change accommodation and pastoral support each year.

Combined Cadet Force (CCF)

An activity run by many senior boarding schools to learn skills of leadership, collaboration, teamwork, discipline, commitment, challenge, strategic planning, as well as outdoor skills.

Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (D of E) - Gold, Silver and Bronze Levels

Community, activity, team and outdoor skills are learned to acquire each level, with Gold awards being collected from a member of the Royal family.


The clubs, hobbies and interests that a child chooses outside the academic timetable of lesions.

Prefect, Head Girl/Boy

Children, usually in their final year who hold positions of leadership and responsibility.

Shell, Sixes, fourth form, Vth

All terms that are used to describe the school year that your child will join at the boarding school.


Describes sweets and other treats or snacks that a child can take with them to school or purchase via the school shop.

Tuck box

Small lockable box used to store personal things in the dormitory.


Describes a child’s own clothes brought from home.

The list is extensive, hopefully, this will help you to start to understand the language of boarding schools. Our education consultant experts are very much looking forward to helping you with your boarding school research, choice, application, testing and interview process. We have another dictionary blog for boarding school exam language, please click the button to find out more.

Our boarding school advice

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