The decision to send your children to a UK boarding school when you live overseas can be difficult. For some families, it is a chance to temporarily live in the UK while their children continue their education. For others, it will mean many trips back and forth from the country of origin.
So what important factors do overseas families need to be considering in advance of this emotional and logistical rollercoaster?
Location – Ideally find a school no more than 2 hours from an international airport. You must take into consideration the entire journey time from leaving your home in whichever country you live into arriving at the school.
It’s not just your child who will be tired after a long flight but also you as parents who will end up coming back and forth much more often than you originally planned. Adding an additional lengthy car/train journey from the airport can be very hard on everyone – not to mention the jet-lag which miraculously doesn’t appear to affect your children as much as you.
Plus, if you are going to be relying on relatives/a guardian based in the UK to take care of your children while you overseas then do be considerate to their journey to and from the school as well.
Full/Weekly Boarding - If you are not planning to relocate as a family then a FULL boarding school is essential. This means that every child remains at school all term except for the set weekends, of which are there usually two per term plus the mid-term holiday which allows your children to return home for a week or more. These FULL boarding schools also boast a full weekend programme of activities so that your children will not be “bored” while “boarding”!
There is less choice for full boarding schools as more and more schools are opting for a weekly boarding model. Although there are still a handful of children who remain in at weekends at these weekly boarding schools, my advice is to consider a short-term relocation if you happen to favour a weekly boarding option.
Pastoral Care – Who is looking after your child? Who is managing their time? This is an important factor if you are overseas. Look carefully at the people responsible for your child and on your visit ask how they might communicate with you as communication channels differ from school to school. (These include Matrons (Dames as some schools call them) House Masters, Mistresses or House Parents alongside your child’s academic tutors.
Do not be afraid to ask as many questions as you wish along the way and I always advise parents to enquire as to the timetable and structure of the day – what time do the children get up, go to breakfast, go to bed and how far is it between lessons or to the sports hall etc? If you have a child who is particularly disorganised and finds it difficult to manage his/her time then a school with a vast campus might not be the right place for him or her.
Uniform/Clothes & Kit – Ideally find a school where your child is able to leave the main bulk of their kit and clothes at school during the holidays so that when they return the following term it is all washed, dry-cleaned and ready to wear.
Entry Tests & Assessments – Schools are becoming more selective – this does not necessarily mean more “academically” selective – they are mainly looking for families and children who are on board with their ethos and the tests are to qualify that your children are the right fit rather than whether they have been over-tutored.
The Finished Product - For those of you looking at Senior Schools then my biggest piece of advice is to ignore exam league tables. (These are inaccurate most of the time) Instead look to see what percentage go on to Oxbridge/Ivy League Universities if that’s your end goal, as it usually means they are expert in this area. Try and get shown around the school by pupils about to leave, because they will give you the most relevant information regarding their time spent at the school.
The Admissions Office - Once you have visited a school and it is of interest to you and your children then be organised & allow plenty of time for registration. Keep in touch with and “be nice” to The Admissions Offices. They are generally very amenable and willing to help overseas families - especially if you stick to their deadlines and keep them informed of your plans – even if they might change at the very last minute!
For further information on selecting a UK boarding school or for advice on entry & admissions procedures do get in touch with Arabella Davies at Their Best Years – www.theirbestyears.com - email@example.com
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Arabella Davies has helped families relocating their children to the UK public schools for decades, she has deep knowledge of the sector and was a writer for the Tatler School Guide.