As private schools expand student residences to accommodate the flow of international students, Wesley College is tapping into another booming, albeit neglected market: busy, professional parents.
After years of childcare, nannies or long visits to grandma's house, parents working full-time are searching for age-appropriate care for their adolescent children during the week.
"Not being at home is a big challenge for parents," said Wesley College's principal, Dr Helen Drennen, who is offering parents the chance to enrol their children in the school's new $15 million Learning in Residence, a boarding program that runs from Monday to Friday only.
"In most cases, both parents are working and many of them are engaged in a lot of travel ... they're worried that their child's development might be impacted by their absence from home."
The state-of-the-art facility at the school's Glen Waverley campus is pitched to parents living in metropolitan areas with children in year 10 to 12.
The school, which also offers full-time boarding, has ditched the strict routines and harsh discipline that characterise old fashioned boarding houses. The residences are fitted out with TVs, a piano and a communal dining space. The program offers students extra tutorials, homework assistance, debating programs and cultural initiatives in the evenings, led by live-in qualified teachers and youth workers.
"We're putting a lot of focus on the environment and culture … we have a positive ethos, we want it to feel like it's a home away from home," said Dr Drennen.
Professor Lyn Craig, director of social policy research centre at the University of NSW, said a weekly boarding arrangement fosters a "healthy delineation" between work and family time, she said.
"Generally it is the case that people's work bleeds into the evening hours with smart phones and technology, but this could be an attempt to protect a work and family divide."
The new program will roll out fully in 2018 to accommodate 128 students, and already has more than 30 enrolments since opening in October.
Half of the residences will be taken up by the domestic market, and the rest by international students, who will also undertake an English language preparatory program.
Boarding school enrolments in Australia have spiked, with about 23,000 boarders currently in Australia – an increase of 3000 enrolments five years ago, according to Richard Stokes, executive director of the Australian Boarding School Association.
There are 23 largely urban school residences in Victoria offered at private schools, including Caulfield Grammar School, Methodist Ladies' College and Scotch College.
But Professor Craig said hard-working parents with smaller budgets were starved of options.
"Kids who are 13,14 and 15, are still in need of monitoring … it's a live issue."
(Wesley's boarding fee is $24,500 for the year, on top of $30,000 in tuition.)
Alistair McLean and his wife, Rosemary, sent their son Hugh to Wesley's boarding program from Monday to Friday.
Rosemary, a lawyer, recently took up a senior job interstate and Alistair works full-time as a business owner and consultant.
Rosemary said it took some adjusting to the distance, but the family keep in touch over social media and catch up when he returns home on the weekend.
"Hugh says the food is better than what he gets at home," she joked.
Rosemary said she believed it was important for women to show their children that work was also a priority.
"It's important for young men and women to see that women are pursuing a successful career, the role model aspect is important in this," she said.
"It's also an opportunity for kids to get away from helicopter parents, and to create a healthy distance between parents and children."