Bringing ideas to life

What are the capital benefits of boarding schools?

Published in Editor's Choice, Inequalities by Mark Murphy on January 9, 2014

Herlufsholm Boarding school (c) Michael B. Rasmussen

Herlufsholm Boarding school (c) Michael B. Rasmussen

Article: Lisa R. Bass (2014) Boarding Schools and Capital Benefits: Implications for Urban School Reform, The Journal of Educational Research, 107:1, 16-35

This is the question asked by Lisa Bass in her recently published research – specifically she asks what are the capital implications of boarding schools for urban school reform in the United States. Here’s the abstract:

The author discusses the boarding school model as a schooling alternative to improve life chances for disadvantaged youth, particularly African American youth, by positively meeting their social and educational needs. Bourdieu, Coleman, and other social scientists purported that these needs can be better met by exposing students to social and cultural capital. In this qualitative study, the environment of a boarding school is studied to determine to what extent they increase students’ exposure to social, cultural, and education capital (Bourdieu, 1977, 1993, 1996). Findings indicate that the boarding school model is successful at increasing students’ exposure to social, cultural, and education capital. Implications include implementing successful practices from boarding schools into traditional day schools.

Seasoned observers of boarding schools in other parts of the world will already be familiar with the benefits of such forms of education, so the positive implications expressed in the study should come as no surprise – what did surprise me was the lack of any sustained discussion of how forms of capital (in particular economic capital) buy you access to such schools in the first place. A more expansive analysis of Bourdieu’s forms of capital may have helped further contextualise the study, but having said it, it would be difficult to argue against the findings presented here.


Mark MurphyMark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.


  1. Ted Fleming

    An interesting question posed here and deserves really careful thinking. It is always worth noting the economic capital dimension and I agree. AND equally interesting to ask ‘whose capital’ is being passed on to student? How is the pre-existing capital base of the student valued or otherwise in the transaction? I suspect that it is always a form of capital that is not easily in synch with that of the young person. In case of ‘wealthy’ child there is often a fit between their own capital base and that offered, but for less well off (poor) the fit may not be without bumps, discords, divergences etc. How to set up learning experiences for young that build on and enhance the wonderful working-class values with which these students arrive at education, that is also a worthwhile question.

  2. Mark Murphy
    Mark Murphy

    That’s a good point you make at the end of your comment Ted, and the paper could have taken maybe a bit more time to consider not only the relative value of capitals, but also the potential damage that such exposure to other forms of capital might have for already existing capital forms. The author does this to some extent, for example, when she talks about the label of sell-out etc, attached to those who board. But it does smack somewhat of compensatory education where the focus is more on deficiency. There’s also many stories to be told about the less than happy lives of boarders. I’ve certainly heard a few in my time.

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