Choosing a school for your son or daughter is one of the most important decisions any parent will make. There is a huge global choice for parents with schools catering for just about every sort of child – which of course is one of the reasons why independent schooling in the UK is flourishing; there really is a school to suit every child and their interests. (advertorial)
However, choosing a school when you are based in a different country can be twice as difficult. Lack of local knowledge and recommendation can lead the international parent to become overly reliant on basic results and league table position, which can often result in finding a school which does not offer the best balance for their child as an international boarder.
Those of us who work professionally in the Independent School sector appreciate the challenges facing parents as they decide on the right place to invest in their child’s future. We are aware of the variety of experience each school offers and the difficulty in providing hard and fast guidelines to assist in making this decision.
There are a few essential areas which should be investigated at an early stage:
Full boarding and all-round education offer
The first question to ask of a prospective school is whether the school offers full boarding and – most importantly – what is the number of students in that category. Crucially, how many boarders are in for Sunday breakfast? Many UK boarding schools are increasingly offering weekly and flexible boarding and whilst these options may work well for local UK parents, they will not provide the support and friendship groups throughout the week that an international boarder requires and deserves. There are some excellent boarding schools in the UK which provide astonishing value for money despite what might at first seem a high termly fee. A good boarding school will provide a genuine all-round education with the academic and the extra-curricular experience merging into one continuous programme. The 24/7 nature of boarding schools provide a wonderfully stimulating environment for children, along with outstanding pastoral care and facilities.
International pupils add a wonderful global perspective to any boarding community and their presence in the mix of pupils helps broaden local horizons and has been a key feature of most UK boarding schools over many years. How well the prospective school has maintained the balance of nationalities within its community is a key consideration. It is worth asking for a detailed breakdown of the percentages of nationalities and crucially if the balance is towards any one country or region.
Academic set-up and teaching
Of course academic results do matter when choosing a school, but there are more sophisticated ways of assessing academic success rather than a basic ranking. For example, how does the school set, stream or band pupils upon their ability? What size are the classes? Some UK schools have exceptionally low class sizes and this can mean far more individual support and guidance is possible than can be provided elsewhere in the world.
And, the quality of the teaching matters a great deal. All independent schools in the UK are inspected on average every 6 years and the inspection reports are available online through the Independent School Inspectorate. This is usually a good guide for parents as to the quality of the teaching and gives a far better insight than merely how selective the school has been when recruiting pupils. The final area to consider is the range of destinations that the leavers go on to and how well the school has prepared students of different abilities for higher education courses which suit their strengths.
Visiting prospective schools
Visiting a school often provides one of the best opportunities to see a school at its natural best. In my experience, schools are very open when showing parents around on individual tours and most good schools will involve a pupil guide as part of your tour as well as a member of staff. Do quiz your pupil guide as to their experience at school; it is often their honesty and sincerity which both sells the school and gives you the most valuable opinions.
Use your visits to gauge how you feel your individual son or daughter will fit in to the school; make sure you fully understand what the school offers and expects from its pupils and whether this will suit your child; if it doesn’t – they won’t be happy. Your gut instinct has much to do with your decision but if you are still unsure, just watch your son or daughter’s reaction when they visit; this is usually the most instructive indicator you can possibly have.
The Millfield Admissions team will be in Kenya in June 2016; please email firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment.
Millfield: Facts and Figures
Millfield (ages 13-18)
- Millfield is the largest co-educational boarding school in the UK with 1250 pupils, 950 of which are full boarders
- It has 250 international pupils from 65 nationalities
- Around 200 British boarding pupils are British residents living overseas
- Millfield’s Top 100 pupils in 2015 achieved a 90.2% A*-B pass rate.
- Our 2015 leavers have gone on to over 90 different UK and overseas universities and colleges: 29% Russell Group, 16% US & Canadian universities.
Millfield Prep School (ages 2-13)
- Millfield Prep offers full boarding from ages 7 upwards
- The school has 400 pupils of which 135 are full boarders
- There are 58 international pupils comprising of around 20 nationalities
- 20 pupils are British residents living overseas
Article by James Postle, Registrar at Millfield School