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Finding the right school for your child in the UK

If you’re looking for a British education for your child, you’ve got plenty of schools to choose from. But what do you need to think about when you’re looking for the right one? 

UK education has a great reputation around the world, which might explain why there are over 27,000 international students currently studying in Britain1. With about 650 independent schools available to students from outside Europe, there’s a lot of choice if you would like your child to experience a UK education1. But how do you choose a school for your son or daughter? Here are some of steps you can take that should help you come to the right decision.

Think about your child’s needs and interests 

The most important factor in choosing the right school is your child. Start by thinking about their needs and interests. Are they exceptionally academic or gifted in certain subjects? Likewise, do they have any special interest or talents like music, art, sport or drama?

Some UK schools have a reputation for teaching certain subjects or specialise in developing other skills or talents to very high levels. A great option for finding a school that focuses on a particular aspect of education is to use the search box in the Independent Schools Council or Good Schools Guide websites. Notable examples include the Yehudi Menuhin School for musicians in Surrey, and Millfield in Somerset, a top sporting school2.

What about location?

If you’re looking for a school in the UK because your family is relocating, then your search is likely to be narrowed to schools close to where you will live, and with good transport links.

...Fettes College, where 91% of all GCSE and 77% of A-Level grades were A*, A or B in 2015, is just 30 minutes from Edinburgh Airport

If your child will be boarding, and you aren’t looking to relocate, you have much more choice. Schools within an hour of Heathrow Airport in west London are often chosen by families of international students, but you will get much more choice if you widen your search, perhaps within reach of one of the UK’s other major airports. For instance, Fettes College, where 91% of all GCSE and 77% of A-Level grades were A*, A or B in 2015, is just 30 minutes from Edinburgh Airport3.  

Beginning your search

You can search for schools on several websites. Good places to start include:

  • Education UK run by the British Council, the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities
  • The Independent Schools Council, which represents more than 1,200 independent schools
  • The Good Schools Guide, which includes reviews of both state and independent schools

These sites should help you find a selection of schools that might suit your child. However, remember to bear in mind that he or she can only attend an independent school that is on the UK Visas and Immigration Register of Sponsors. 

Narrowing down your options

Unless you want to go to many school Open Days, you’ll need to narrow your list down by finding out which schools fit your needs. Start with the school’s website. As well as details on the education centre and its facilities, and what it’s like to study there, this will also include vital information on application dates. It may also tell you whether it is a Tier 4 sponsor, which means it can sponsor international students wishing to study in the UK 4.

The website may have information for parents applying from abroad, including whether they arrange in-country seminars or whether they have an international co-ordinator on staff to help with visa applications.

The website should also have a link to the school’s Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) report. The ISI inspects every independent school for the UK government to check that they meet legal requirements, including looking after students. School inspections are carried out every six years, with checks on boarding provision every three years. It is a good idea to read these if you are interested in the school, especially sections on the quality of the teaching, what the curriculum is like, and what sort of activities the pupils do.

Ofsted, the government’s inspection organisation, also reports on independent schools. These reports, and independent publications such as the Good Schools Guide, will give more information on the quality of the school’s teaching than league tables. Open Day information will also be on the website. 

Getting the most out of Open Days

If possible, talk to some of the school’s students – are they happy, relaxed, and confident? What do they like about the school? I’m a great believer in talking to sixth formers: they are sensible and loyal to the school but give you a realistic picture of what the school is really like
Peter Etherton, who specialises in preparing overseas students for British boarding schools

Once you’ve shortlisted a number of schools, try to go to their Open Days. These are the best way to experience what the school has to offer. Talk to staff in charge of the boarding houses, as they will be looking after your child. Find out how pupils get assigned to boarding houses, and if parents have any say in this.

Make sure you look around a boarding house, including the bedrooms. Look at notice boards. Are there lots of activities? Does there seem to be a good balance of different activities? Your priority may be for your child to shine academically and get into a good university but participating in things like sport, drama, music are core to UK independent schools, giving leadership skills to students. They also help when applying to university, as students need to write a personal statement and schools must provide a reference.

Also, ask about what happens on Sundays, when some schools are almost empty of students. Do they run activities? What could your child do? “If possible, talk to some of the school’s students – are they happy, relaxed, and confident? What do they like about the school? I’m a great believer in talking to sixth formers: they are sensible and loyal to the school but give you a realistic picture of what the school is really like,” says Peter Etherton, who specialises in preparing overseas students for British boarding schools.

Talk to teachers – ask about how classes are taught in the school, as it may be very different to what you are used to. If there is something about the school that really attracts you, such as a particular sport, try to find out more about it. 

What about using a study abroad agent?

Some families use an agent with personal knowledge of UK schools to place their child. This can be a good idea if you use a reputable agent. The British Council and English UK both have directories of agents who have passed certain quality checks. Schools you are interested in may also recommend agents they work with in your country.

“If you are interested in exploring lots of different education centres and evaluating which one is best suited to you – make sure the agent is able to present you with the full range of options,” advises Helen Obaje, Professional Development Manager at the British Council.

Some agents will work with a few schools they know well, and may be paid commission for placing students. Many have an ongoing relationship with families, which can be especially useful if parents are thousands of miles away with limited English skills.

Helping your child to make a good start

If your child has previously been educated in your home country, lessons in UK schools may be very different to what he or she is used to. It may be worth considering sending your child on a summer course to get them ready for life at boarding school, which might include improving their English skills as well as the expectations in their new school. 

Paying school fees

The average termly fees for a day school are £4,174, according to the ISC4. Our international banking products and services can help you save for your children’s education and pay for their expenses while they’re in the UK.

Average cost of UK's private schools

Conclusion

Choosing the right school for your child or children in the UK can be difficult. It pays to focus on the individual needs of your child, and to do your research carefully. Looking at information online and visiting schools on Open Days will give you the confidence to make the right choice for your child.

For more information, click here

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Barclays seeks to ensure that the information published on this website is as accurate as possible. Please note the information on this website does not constitute legal or professional advice. Barclays accepts no responsibility for the contents of any pages referenced by an external link. Any references or links on the website to external organisations or websites are provided for the purposes of ease of access. Such links should not be taken as an endorsement of the contents of those external websites or of those organisations.
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