Many Army families are still highly mobile; which can be very disruptive to a child’s education.

One of the ways that the MOD helps to overcome this disruption is by funding an allowance that is a contribution towards the cost of boarding school. This allows the family to move together but for the child to have a continuous education.

AFF believes in accompanied Service and whilst there are mobile families, we will continue to tell the MOD that this support is vital for the children and for their families.

For enquiries on Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA), please email or visit this page.


01   Why board?

Do you have at least one school aged child? Have you moved house a number of times recently and is changing school becoming a bit of an issue for your child? Are you considering boarding school to provide a stable education for them?

From the academic year of your child’s 8th birthday, there is an option for soldiers to consider applying for an allowance to help with boarding school fees. This allowance is called the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA).

Regulations state that if your soldier wants to claim this allowance, your family must:

  • remain living together
  • be likely to move in the next four years
  • agree that, having chosen a school, your child will stay there until the end of their education stage

Your initial considerations should include:

  • Do I think that my child will like boarding school?
  • Are we mobile? – You’ll have to show past mobility and the future likelihood of posting away from where you currently are
  • Are we thinking about buying a home to live in, or moving back to one we already have? – In order to show mobility and accompanied Service, you would not be able to stay there unless it fits the eligibility criteria
  • Where in the country is a good place for us where there is wider family support and good road, train and airport links? – Consider matches, concerts and parents evenings, as well as making the journey easier if you live overseas
  • Do I have any friends who send their children to boarding school that I could ask about this?
  • What about our other children who are not boarding; how will moving affect them? – You will have to move if your solider is posted no matter that you may have another child that you don’t wish to move and maybe isn’t old enough to board yet
  • Can we afford it? – State boarding schools are considerably cheaper as, unlike at independent schools, you don’t pay for the teaching
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02   The hidden costs of boarding school

If you’re thinking of sending your child to boarding school and applying for the Continuity of Education Allowance (CEA), budgeting and finances will likely be high up your agenda.

From termly school fees ranging from £4,000-£11,000 – of which you’ll usually need to find 10% – to uniform costs, sports and extra-curricular activities; you may think you’ve included every eventuality in your eye-watering final figure.

But there can be hidden costs, and your wallet will thank you for getting to grips with them from the start.

Do your research

The most important thing is ensuring the school you choose offers value for money.

Some schools state their fees and very little is added to the extras bill; others will charge for every piece of stationery. Some may offer discounts for siblings, Armed Forces discounts and bursaries.

Above all, we recommend researching what different schools offer before signing on that dotted line. Here are some items to consider when budgeting.

  • Extras bill for trips, stationery, matron’s account school shop, weekend activities and in some cases milk and toothpaste!
  • Kit such as suitcases, tuckboxes, plastic boxes, lamp, padlocks, school bag.
  • Kit insurance.
  • Music tuition.
  • Phone plus contract/top-ups.
  • Public exam fees (for independent schools).
  • Termly, and usually compulsory, subscription for old boys/girls’ association.
  • Private health insurance.
  • Travel and fuel costs.
  • Initial deposit paid before your child starts.
  • Special educational needs or educational psychologists’ reports (if required).
  • These extras will typically add 5-15% to your average termly bill.

Planning ahead

If boarding school is on your family’s horizon, you may be building up to that first day. However, some schools may ask you to sign up for several terms in advance.

If your child becomes unhappy, or your circumstances change significantly, you may be liable for the outstanding fees, even if you have permission from the MOD to withdraw your child.

Lightening the load

So, what can you do to ensure your budget doesn’t spiral out of control? Here are our top tips for reigning in the extras…

  • Sports: mainstream sports, such as swimming, athletics and team games, are usually free. One-on-one sports with individual tuition are often an extra.
  • Music: learning an instrument can be costly but singing in choirs is free.
  • Scholarships: if your child is sporty/musical/artistic, a scholarship could meet the cost of individual tuition.
  • Insurance: check you’re not paying twice, for example, for medical insurance that duplicates your existing family cover.
  • Uniform: many schools sell second-hand uniform.
  • Choose wisely: subjects such as theatre studies may involve frequent outings to shows.
  • Set limits: try a termly pocket-money allowance rather than putting everything ‘on the slate’.
  • Check your bill: schools sometimes make mistakes and should rectify these.
  • Be informed: ask questions and read the small print.

Find out more

Want to know more about managing your Service child’s education? Visit our dedicated education pages, or contact our Education & Childcare Specialist on

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The MOD Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS) gives advice, information and support on all aspects of your child’s education, including boarding school.

Defence Business Service Pay and Allowances, Complaints & Casework Cell (DBS PACCC)

DBS PACCC based in Glasgow confirm that the eligibility certificate form has been completed correctly and that the Service person is eligible and authorised to claim CEA. They monitor and investigate CEA eligibility and calculate the rates of CEA.

The soldier should contact them via their unit to submit casework if necessary. To find out more information about who is who in the MOD, please click here.
To find out more about MOD education allowances, please click here.

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04   First steps

If you’re considering boarding, then there are some things you should know before you start the process.

You will need to contact CEAS for the Boarding Schools Pack and have read the regulations in JSP 752.

CEAS holds the Accredited Schools Database (ASD), a list of schools for which CEA is admissible. To claim this allowance, the school you choose must be on this list.

This database now includes more detail about the schools, including latest inspection reports, boarding capacity, fees and discounts to Service families in receipt of CEA. Families can also use filters to identify suitable schools. The information provided is for guidance only and all Service personnel should verify the details with the school prior to accepting a boarding offer. You can request access to the database by emailing

CEAS will provide you with information and a unique serial number to apply for an eligibility certificate.

There are three stages of education defined as follows:

  1. Primary, junior or preparatory school (8-11/13)
  2. Secondary or senior school (11/13-16)
  3. A-level or academic equivalent (16-18)

Note that it’s only possible to change schools at either 11 or 13 – this will depend on the type of school you are looking at.

If you know that your soldier will be leaving the Army before a stage of education is completed, you need to consider whether you can continue to pay the fees yourself. Entitlement to CEA stops either the term after a Service parent’s end of Service date, or the term before if this falls in school holidays.

Once you receive an eligibility certificate, the soldier applies for CEA three times a year in a specified window via JPA and the allowance is given via bank transfer. It is your responsibility to then pay this to the school.

Eligibility certificates need renewing at any change e.g. house address, job, education stage, school or at the certificate renewal date.

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05   State boarding schools (SBS)

Whether or not you have a school in mind yet, the following may help you make an informed choice about your child’s school.

  • Majority of SBS are in England. The State Boarding School Association (SBSA) has an interactive map and further information. A tiny percentage offer boarding for primary
  • Some are academic (grammar schools) and some are themed academies or tech colleges. Lots are graded outstanding by Ofsted, but investment in boarding facilities varies
  • Your child will need to hold a full British or EU passport
  • Application deadlines for boarding places vary from school to school. Some use the normal October admissions round the year before entry, with places offered on National Offer Day in March. Others are more flexible. An independent school may offer a place immediately and this may suit you better for planning purposes as a mobile family
  • Always have a plan B
  • If you’re looking for a Year 9 place because it’s the end of prep school, then contact the school to find out if there are places available. The number of places available is often published on schools websites; however, be warned this can be as little as four
  • There will be an exam to pass for grammar SBS. Contact the school if you think you are moving to the area and would like to apply
  • Thinking ahead? It’s very important to check that you can swap from a boarding place to a day place in the future if needed as most specify that this is not possible due to boarding place and day place quotas
  • SBS often have no formal school at weekends, although activities are offered by most and include sports
  • Holidays are shorter than independent schools so if posted abroad, you may see your children less, but if living fairly near, you may see them more as weekly boarders
  • You will only pay for the boarding part as the teaching is free. Note that if you claim the full amount of CEA, it’s not possible to claim for any further costs
  • Free schools and academies are run by a Board of Governors which is accountable to the charitable trust overseeing the school. The school will also be accountable to the Department for Education through its funding agreement. Others are maintained by the local authority

Got a question? Email AFF at

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06   Independent boarding schools

The best place to start when choosing an independent school is to ring the CEAS and ask for a list of all registered CEA schools in your chosen area.

Click on the links on this page and find the boarding section. There you will find various search engines. One in particular has an advanced search which enables you to find schools with Armed Forces bursaries.

The HIVE is also a good place to go for boarding school brochures and other info.

There is a good-schools guide, as well as various independent companies who will offer specific schools tailored to your wishes. These companies may not charge you for their services, but they may charge the schools for inclusion – remember, there may be other schools that fit your criteria who choose not to participate.

Independent schools are inspected both independently and also by Ofsted; you can find the latest reports online.

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07   What about children with SEN?

Please click here to learn more about how the MOD supports children with Special Educational Needs who would like to go to boarding school.

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08   How much is this all going to cost?

Costs vary widely. Some schools state their fees and very little is added to the extras bill, and some charge for every piece of stationery.

Here is a list of things to consider when budgeting:

Costs to consider:

  • Standard fees are currently around £4,000-£11,000 per term
  • Extras bill for trips, stationery, matron’s account, school shop, weekend activities
  • Uniform
  • Sports kit including rackets, bats, helmets, pads, skins and footwear
  • Other kit – suitcases, tuckboxes, plastic boxes, lamp, padlocks, school book bag/briefcase
  • Music tuition
  • Phone plus contract or top-ups
  • Public exam fees (for Independent schools only)
  • Termly, and usually compulsory, subscription for old boys/girls association
  • Private health insurance
  • Kit insurance
  • Travel and fuel costs
  • Initial Deposit paid before your child starts that is not usually refunded until your child finishes

Possible deductions:

  • CEA
  • Armed Forces Bursary, sibling discount, scholarship
  • Armed Forces Sodexo Childcare Vouchers – you will need to check in advance that your school accepts these.

You will need to pay a minimum contribution of 10% of the fees (unless you are claiming SENA). This can end up being considerably more depending on the level of the fees as CEA is capped at an upper limit.

CEA doesn’t necessarily always reflect the increase in your particular schools fees and families are responsible for this increase, not the MOD.

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09   Questions to ask boarding schools

If you’re considering boarding as an option for your family, ring up and ask schools for a prospectus.

Once you’ve received this, you will be able to make a decision about whether you want to find out more and visit. Visiting schools is vital and it’s important that you ask lots of questions.

Here is a list of questions to print off and take with you.

Questions to ask boarding school students who show you round:

  • What’s the food like?
  • What’s the best thing that’s happened whilst you’ve been here?
  • Why do you like your house?
  • How much prep do you get and what happens if you need help with it?
  • Do you know anyone in a different year group or house to you?
  • What’s the sport/music/art like?
  • What do you think of the teachers?

Questions to ask the admissions team:

  • Do you have other Army children here?
  • How much is the deposit?
  • How much have the fees gone up in the last three years?
  • What’s the plan for options with subject choices for Year 9 starts?
  • How soon will we know if we have the house of our choice?
  • How many full boarders are there and how many flexi-boarders?
  • How many exeats are there – are they every term?
  • Can I see the uniform list with prices – is there a school shop on site?
  • Is there a health centre and what’s their accident policy?
  • When did the house parents start in their job? Are they planning to move/retire/leave?
  • What’s the school policy on electronic equipment?
  • Is the Wi-Fi restricted at all?
  • What appears on the extras bill?
  • What weekend activities are there?
  • How much notice do we have to give if this doesn’t work out?
  • What does the induction programme involve?

Questions to ask the Head:

  • What is the school’s USP? What makes it different to others?
  • School values – what is important – particularly relevant to faith schools.
  • Where do students go on to from here? University applications (Russell Group applications percentages if relevant).
  • Can I come and see my child if I’ve just come back from time away?
  • Are there any major building works planned for the next five years?
  • What size is the sixth form in comparison to the rest of the school?

Questions to ask Matron:

  • How often is there a register/call-over?
  • Who is there when you aren’t?
  • What happens on birthdays?
  • How quick is the laundry?
  • What happens if a child is ill in the night?
  • How many children are full time boarders in my child’s year?
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10   Read the small print

There are a wide variety of schools offering different things to suit your child and your circumstances. There are also various discounts on offer. However, please be aware of the small print.

Some schools may ask you to sign up for a number of terms in advance. Nine terms, for example, doesn’t sound much, but three years is a long time in your child’s educational life.

If your child becomes unhappy, or your circumstances change significantly, and you sign up for a certain number of terms in advance, you may be liable for the outstanding fees, even if you have permission from the MOD to withdraw your child.

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11   What happens if it all goes wrong?

Despite being prepared and having planned well, your child may not settle, may change their behaviour significantly or just might not be suitable for boarding school.

If you’re worried about your child and think that the best thing for them would be to come home, then seek advice.

Firstly, if you’re at all worried about a safeguarding issue, act immediately and remove your child from the situation.

If, however, you have had time to think about this for a while, have had strategies put in place that haven’t worked or maybe there has been an ongoing health issue, or similar that just hasn’t gone away, or the school is changing in some way, then you may want to withdraw your child from boarding school.

Before you make any formal decision with the school, contact CEAS – you can find details at the top of the page – and ask for their advice.

If you wish to continue with a local school and not return to boarding, then you can withdraw without financial penalty from the CEA system; however, you will also need to check your contract with the school as you may have to give notice.

If you wish to choose another boarding school, then you will need to put in casework to explain why this school is no longer suitable and why you see a need to change schools; you will also need to check you contract with the school.

If your child has reached the end of an education stage, or has finished at a particular school, then you can change or leave without too much of an issue.

Got a question? Email our Education and Childcare Specialist at or call 07527 492 869.

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