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.