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A very English education

Friday October 13, 2006

If you live overseas and you're determined that your child reap the benefits of a paid-for English education system, the best advice is to plan ahead as far as possible and at least a year in advance. This will give you a wider choice of school and allow you time to research all the options properly and make an informed choice. Parents may find it helpful to bear in mind the following aspects.

Level of English

Most independent schools will expect your child to speak some English on arrival, although additional tuition is often available in school to improve fluency and accuracy and to ensure that your child can cope with a normal curriculum.

If your child is to board in the UK but speaks only a little or no English, he or she may benefit from a short period in one of the specialist boarding schools (often called international study centres) which prepare overseas pupils for entry into mainstream boarding schools at secondary level. A list of international study centres is given at the end of this section.

Alternatively, you may wish to arrange for your child to spend the summer at one of the UK's many language schools before joining a boarding school in September. Details of suitable courses can be obtained from reputable consultants such as Gabbitas.

Academic background

If your child has been educated within the British system, it should not be difficult to join a school in the UK, although care should be taken to avoid changing schools while a student is in the middle of GCSE or A level studies. However, if your child has not been following a British curriculum, entry to a mainstream independent school may be less straightforward. The younger your child, the easier it is likely to be for him or her to adapt to a new school environment. Prep schools may accept overseas pupils at any stage up to the final two years, when pupils are prepared for Common Entrance exams and entry may be more difficult. Senior schools, in particular, will normally look for evidence of ability and achievement comparable with pupils educated in the British system and will probably wish to test your child in English, Maths and Science before deciding whether to offer a place. Students wishing to enter the Sixth Form will probably be tested in the subjects they wish to study. Recent reports and transcripts, in translation, should also be made available to schools.

If your child has been following the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme overseas, you will find a number of schools and colleges in the UK, both state and independent, which offer the IB.

Length of stay

If you are planning to live in the UK for a relatively short period, perhaps no more than a year, you may find it more appropriate for your child to attend an international school. These schools specialise in educating children whose stay is limited and who regularly move around the world with their parents. Most are day schools, though some also offer boarding provision. These schools tend to have a broad mix of nationalities and offer a curriculum, normally based either on the British or the American system, sufficiently flexible to allow a smooth transition afterwards into international schools elsewhere in the world. Many also offer the IB, as described above.

If your stay is relatively short and you plan to return home afterwards, you may be able to enter your child in one of the schools in the UK specifically for nationals of other countries who are based in the UK. France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Greece and Japan are all represented. Your own embassy in London should be able to provide further details.

Location

If you are looking for a boarding school, try not to restrict your search too narrowly. Most schools, including those in the most beautiful and rural parts of the UK, are within easy reach of major transport links and the UK is well served by air, rail and road routes. In addition, most schools will make arrangements to have your child escorted between school and the airport and vice versa.

Visiting schools

Once you have decided on the most suitable type of school, you can obtain information on specific schools. Gabbitas can identify schools likely to meet your requirements, and arrange for you to receive prospectuses. It is essential that you visit schools before making a choice. Try to plan your visits to schools during term time. The school year in the UK begins in September and comprises three terms: early September to mid-December, early January to mid-March and early April to early July. There are also three half-term breaks, normally from two days to a week, at the end of October, in mid- to late February and at the end of May.

Guardianship

Most schools insist that boarding pupils whose parents live overseas have an appointed guardian living near the school who can offer a home for `exeats' (weekends out of school), half-term breaks and at the beginning and end of term in case flights do not coincide exactly with school dates. A guardian may be a relative or friend appointed by parents, but it should be remembered that the arrangement may need to continue for some years and that guardianship is a substantial commitment.

For parents with no suitable contacts in the UK, schools may be able to assist in making arrangements. Alternatively there are independent organisations that specialise in the provision of guardianship services. Good guardian families should offer a `home from home', looking after the interests and welfare of your child as they would their own, providing a separate room and space for study, attending school events and parents' evenings, involving your child in all aspects of family life and encouraging him or her to feel comfortable and relaxed while away from school.

Parents seeking a guardianship provider may like to contact AEGIS (the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students). The purpose of AEGIS is to promote best and legal practice in all areas of guardianship and to safeguard the welfare and happiness of overseas children attending educational institutions in the UK. For details of the Gabbitas Guardianship Service, see our useful contacts below.

Where to go for help

You may be able to obtain information about schools from official sources in your own country. For detailed guidance and assistance in the UK you may wish to contact an independent educational consultancy such as Gabbitas which can advise you on all aspects of education in the UK and transferring into the British system.

Some international study centres

The International Centre, Ackworth School, West Yorkshire


Bedford School Study Centre, Bedfordshire


Diana, Princess of Wales Study Centre, Riddlesworth Hall, Norfolk


Dover College, International Study Centre, Kent


International College, Sherborne School, Dorset


International Study Centre at Kent College, Canterbury, Kent


King's International Study Centre, The King's School, Ely, Cambridgeshire


Millfield English Language School, Millfield School, Somerset


Newlands International College, East Sussex


Rossall School International Study Centre, Lancashire


Sidcot Academic English School, Sidcot School, North Somerset


Taunton International Study Centre, Somerset


Useful contacts:

AEGIS
www.aegisuk.net

British Dyslexia Association
www.bdadyslexia.org. uk

Gabbitas Educational Consultants
www.gabbitas.co.uk

Gabbitas Guardianship Service

Catherine Stoker
+44 (0)20 7734 0161
www.gabbitas.co.uk


This is an exerpt from The Independent School Guide, which is produced by Gabbitas Educational Consultants and published by Kogan Page. Paperback, 15.99

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