International Students: Working Together to Find the Right UK School.
With numbers of international pupils interested in UK Independent schools holding steady in these uncertain times, what should families be expecting, what questions should they be asking, and how can school admissions departments help?
At this time of year, William Clarence's school placement consultancy team is busy organising visits to schools, both day and boarding, for clients from all over the world. Many of these clients do not have fluent English and have very little or no experience of UK Independent schools. What should they expect?
Before visiting schools, families should do their homework, studying the school website and being aware of the school’s location and make up. They may well already have information about the school supplied by a consultant, but they should expect to ask questions when they visit that go beyond the surface league table information on the website or the key facts supplied. For some families this is difficult but areas to consider should include:
- Breadth of the curriculum and subject choice at GCSE and A level - does the school offer the sorts of subjects/curriculum you prefer?
- Academic expectations - is there a bar to entering the senior school or sixth form?
- Higher education preparation and advice - who delivers UK and US university advice? What provision is there for those not wanting to go to university or looking at alternative routes?
- Extra curricular activities, particularly those that are important to you - ask about music, drama, sport or whatever your interests are
- Pastoral care and well-being - how are the boarding houses run? Is the school engaged with mindfulness and well being?
- Food - Most schools now have weekly menus available. What does the school do about special dietary requests?
- Boarding expectations and weekend policy - how many full boarders are there and what is the school’s policy on going out at weekends?
- International pupils - what percentage and how many of any particular nationality that concerns you?
- If you are looking at a junior or prep school, ask where the pupils go on to next
Families should feel free to ask as many questions as they like and not doing so will be seen as a negative by schools. I urge families to question staff and pupils alike and often a pupil-led tour is a good time to find out how that pupil found starting at the school and their best and worst bits of school life.
In addition, potential pupils should expect to be asked questions about why they want to come to a UK school, why they want to board if applicable and what they hope to gain from the experience. It is important that families think about these questions in advance as schools are looking for pupils who are going to contribute to school life in some way and a willingness to get involved.
Schools in turn can help families from overseas by cutting out or explaining jargon - expat or short leave for example - and not assuming that children from overseas will have experienced everything a UK school has to offer. I recently took a ten year old Russian girl to see a well known girls boarding school and as we arrived in the rather imposing hall, she was asked what she thought about starting lacrosse. She was bemused!
Coming from an Admissions background and now visiting schools with overseas families, I cannot stress more the need for schools to look at their marketing tools and make sure that those not familiar with the system can fully understand what is on offer.
Finally for those families who want their children to gain places at a top UK school, you must be prepared to come and see the schools. We often encounter families who are ‘too busy’ but some schools will not consider a pupil if the family has not visited, and other schools will not be impressed by this lack of interest. If as a family you want some of the world’s best education, you need to participate fully in the admissions process.
A Helping Hand
William Clarence Education's UK school placement consultants have years of experience in helping international families find, select, apply, and transition students into the British education system.
For advice on the unique needs, expectations and challenges of international families, and how to tailor your school's offering to fit, William Clarence School Services is our dedicated consultancy offering guidance and resources for independent school admissions and marketing professionals.
Diana Morant is Head of Schools and University Consultancy at William Clarence Education