Finding the best UK boarding school for your expat child
If you are an expat family living or preparing to move abroad, you may be considering sending your child to an independent boarding school in the UK. Like all parents you have a common objective; you want your child to be safe, cared for, respected as an individual and challenged to make the most of their abilities. Your son or daughter will be living apart from you for big chunks of the year and you will be placing your trust in the hands and hearts of teachers and pastoral staff many miles away from your home. It is a huge decision to make; a decision that you know must be made carefully and one that has to be right.
The right school for your child
Are you asking yourself which school you want your child to go to? Should you perhaps be asking which is the right school for your child? The outstanding Headmaster of Eton College, Simon Henderson, urges, “Ask about the right place for your child – not the most distinguished or impressive sounding name. Choose a school with academic standards that match the needs of your particular child”. He is absolutely right.
But what happens if your child is accepted at a highly selective school and then finds that the expectations and pressure placed upon them are too much, that the style of teaching and learning doesn’t suit them, and that they can’t make friends?Many parents ask me to find their child a place at a school ‘in the top twenty in the league tables’. But what happens if your child is accepted at a highly selective school and then finds that the expectations and pressure placed upon them are too much, that the style of teaching and learning doesn’t suit them, and that they can’t make friends? They will never, ever fulfil their considerable potential. It’s far better to understand what makes your child tick, consider a range of options based upon their individual needs and then place them in a school where they will grow in confidence.
A school that offers a value-adding education, where ethos, teaching styles, assessment and academic monitoring encourage all pupils to perform at levels above and beyond their baseline performance. Value-added feedback is a far better measure of the progress that students have made. Rather than relying solely on exam results, value-added feedback takes account of each student’s starting point and identifies progress they have made relative to other, similar students. To attain a place at a top university, such as Oxford or Cambridge, a child will have to perform well in a series of examinations – they will only do so if they are settled, happy and valued.
And to find the right school for your child, you (or the consultant you ask to support you) must visit the school. Only then will you have confidence that the match is right; you will see the relationships between pupils and, importantly, between pupils and staff. If you have any wobbles that it might not quite be right, go with your gut feeling. You know your child better than anyone. Some schools do drama, sport, music and other activities particularly well. Some are stronger in different areas of the curriculum, such as science, maths, languages or art – such factors might well help you as you create a long list of suitable schools.
As overseas parents you need to be totally confident that certain aspects of pastoral care are right for your familyHowever, as overseas parents you need to be totally confident that certain aspects of pastoral care are right for your family – the ability to chat openly and frequently with boarding house staff, the nature of reporting on progress and, above all, the atmosphere. If it doesn’t come across as caring and you sense that your child might be considered just another child, then that school isn’t right for you, irrespective of its position in the league tables.
Allow time to search for the right school
Give yourself enough time to make the right decision. For a September start, do not look to start your research in March and expect that you will find the right school – many good schools will be full, and your choice will be limited. An eighteen month prior to your desired start date is about right.
What does an outstanding school for your child look like? This is highly personal, but you might consider:
- Inspection reports – all independent schools are regularly scrutinised against standards by ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) and National Minimum Standards for boarding;
- Examination league tables;
- Personal recommendations, but just remember that because that school was right for your uncle in the 1970’s, it might have changed a bit since then;
- Destinations and outcomes (ie universities, or for prep schools, senior school leaver destinations);
- Headmaster / headmistress – their vision and direction and how long they have been in post;
- Ethos and beliefs.
Ask about the number of international boarders. Which countries do they come from, and in what proportion? How many pupils are in at the weekend and what activities are laid on? Ensure that your selected school really values international boarders and considers them more than just bums on seats. You’d be surprised… whilst UK boarding schools are considered world leading, the quality varies greatly and you can’t afford to make a poor decision – do your research properly and with due care and attention.
School search placement
If you seek advice with school search placement for your child, The English Education would be delighted to talk to you on a personal basis, during a no-obligation and free initial consultancy.
Sponsored article from The English Education
Founder of The English Education, Jimmy Beale, worked in the UK private education sector for twenty years, having gained his teaching qualification at Bristol University. He worked in both single-sex and co-educational day and boarding schools; his last two roles were as Deputy Headmaster of a large co-educational senior school, and then as Headmaster of a leading co-educational prep school, Taunton Prep School, where he was a Founding Member of the PSB (Pre-Senior Baccalaureate) curriculum and an Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI) Inspector.
Jimmy retired from his role as Headmaster in 2013 in order to pursue a career in business, now leading the education services arm of Constellation Group.