How to choose a school when relocating to the UK
It’s never easy to move your family to a different country, and changing schools can be a time of great stress - especially if you are considering looking at the best schools in the UK. In order to find an establishment that is right for you and your child, it is important to do your research before you relocate. Ideally, this would be a year or two before you move, but if you don’t have the luxury of time, you may have to make decisions quickly. Here’s what you need to consider:
Before you can settle on a school, you need to decide on a type. Are you planning to slot into the state or the independent system? Do you want day school or boarding? Single-sex or co-educational? Is a faith system important to you? Once you’ve decided on your basics, devise a wish list based on your family’s requirements and your child’s needs. Consider your child’s learning requirements and personality and the environment from which they’ve come. Would you prefer your choice to have an international feel, with lessons taught in more than one language? Does your child have extra-curricular interests – such as horse-riding or drama – that you want to be continued?
Having narrowed down your selection, you can now gather brochures and prospectuses and scour websites. But this only goes so far. The most effective way to get a feel for an establishment and see if your child will fit in is to visit them, preferably on open days when staff and pupils are on hand to guide you around and answer questions. However, schools are aware that overseas parents can’t always fit in with their timetable, and most will organise a private tour for you if you contact them. Don’t turn up without prior warning. They may well do their utmost to accommodate you in but it’s unlikely that relevant members of staff will be on hand and you won’t get a proper look at the school.
The British education system is the finest in the world, but for some people overseas, it is represented by old-fashioned images from the Just William stories or Malory Towers. A world-renowned establishment, steeped in tradition and set in a beautiful neo-classical building may sound impressive, look beautiful in the brochures, and tick the boxes of the ‘quintessential British education’ but it might not be among the best schools in the UK for your child, who may thrive in a smaller, more intimate setting. Equally, it’s not simply a case of the most money buying first-rate. The place with the largest fees isn’t necessarily the right one for your child.
If you’ve shortlisted a number of educational establishments around the country, you might not have time to see them all, which is why employing someone who is knowledgeable about your choices can help you whittle them down. However, be aware that there are a number of unscrupulous agents who prey on overseas parents. They will charge an eye-watering amount (typically 10-20% of first-year fees, which can be £6-8,000) to place pupils at schools from which they receive commission. Your family’s needs are not their priority. If you do employ an agent or consultant, make sure they’re reputable and trusted. Better still, work from word of mouth.
Once you have made the move, be realistic and don’t expect your child to fit in straight away without a helping hand. If English is their second language, they might need extra tutoring to bring them up to standard. They might also need extra tuition to get them up to speed in certain subjects. This is especially important if you join part way through the year and have missed some of the syllabus. And remember, it’s not only academic life that can struggle. Moving to a new placement, where friendship groups have already formed, can make it difficult for your child to settle, especially if they’re shy. Before you move, check what the school will do to encourage integration and research its pastoral care. This is especially important if your child is boarding.
Moving school is difficult, especially if it involves moving to a new country and considering the best schools in the UK. Taking the time to research the options and decide on what you do (and don’t) want, always with your child’s interest at heart, means you’re more likely to make the right choice as you embark on this new chapter in your lives.