How Important is Education?

Education is one of the most critical issues for families relocating globally. Finding the right school that will provide a smooth transition and not jeopardise the academic potential of their children is a key consideration for families undertaking an assignment. Whilst starting a new school is usually an exciting experience, starting a new school, in a new country, whilst learning a new language, when you may be starting in the middle of a school year, can feel more daunting. 

International Schools:

International schools provide an education designed to meet the needs of internationally-mobile families. They can offer:

  • Internationally-recognised curricula transferrable to another country or for a return home.
  • EAL and mother tongue language programmes to support a student’s learning in their new language, as well as continuing learning in their mother tongue for a successful transition back to their home country.
  • Experienced Faculty adept at working with the special social-emotional needs of students relocating internationally.
  • A structured program for integrating new students and connecting new families with existing ones.
  •  Vibrant after school activities and social events for the entire family, because it’s not just the students who need to make new friends. 
  • Rolling admissions, so that students can join the school throughout the school year, whenever they are relocated to the new country.

State and Independent Education in the UK

Finding a new school can be stressful for parents too.  It is important to get it right but the options on offer – and the process of applying - can seem quite bewildering. An Education Consultant’s job is to guide the parents through this process and make it as easy and as informed as possible.

One of the first decisions to be made is which type of schooling to consider state (government funded) and/or independent (fee paying) schools.

The British independent (private) system is well–known so it may be surprising to learn that only about 7% of children attend these types of schools, which typically cost between £15,000 -£20,000 per year. The other 93% attend state schools, which are free. 

State schools

State schools are regulated, funded and inspected by the government. They follow a national curriculum leading to national exams and as such there is a broad similarity between them. Most classes will have around 30 students and most schools are purpose built with good sized play areas and large, well-resourced classrooms.

The schools all have the resources to cater for children who have mild additional needs or need support learning English. If there are high level additional needs the family will need to work with the school and local authority in order to secure the appropriate support needed.

Children start primary school at the age of 4. At primary school they will have one class teacher who will teach most of the subjects although there may be specialist teachers for sport and music. At the end of the academic year children automatically move up to the next year group and change teacher. All primary schools are non-selective, co-ed and cater for the surrounding communities.

Children usually transfer to the secondary system when they are aged 11 but there are a few pockets in the country when this can take place at an older age. At secondary school they will have a form teacher with whom they touch base for registration and with whom they can discuss any concerns; and then they will be taught by subject specialists. Some areas of the country have selective (grammar) secondary schools. To gain a place in these, children must pass an 11+ exam when they are aged 10-11 years – although passing is no guarantee of a place as these schools are often over-subscribed.  The majority of secondary schools are not academically selective and most are co-educational.

There are many primary and secondary state schools which are linked to a faith, usually Christian although there are Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faith schools. They prioritise the applications from children of worshipping families but will also welcome children of a different or no faith if there is room.

Applying for places in state schools

State schools are managed by the local authority. Each authority works slightly differently but you need to have proof of your address in the authority before you apply for a school place and most authorities, certainly those in London, will not allocate a place until the child is resident in the authority. In less mobile areas there is more flexibility and some authorities will allocate a place before you arrive. Applications from siblings and those children who live nearest to the school will be prioritised if there is competition for places. In addition there has to be a space as there is a set limit on the number of children per year group, so finding out about availability prior to making an application is crucial.

Independent schools

Independent schools are just that – independent - and as such there is much greater variance between them than between state schools. They will all use the national curriculum but as entry to independent secondary schools at age 11 or 13 is often competitive, there will also be additional preparation for the entrance exams. Some parents prefer to choose an all through school (aged 4-18 years) to try and avoid the stress of these entrance exams. There is a higher proportion of single sex independent schools than state.

Class sizes are smaller than state schools with about 15-20 students in a class and there is often more specialist teaching. Independent schools are not all able to support children with additional needs especially if these are linked to behaviour and many can only support children under the age of 9 with limited English.

Some of the schools will have a link to a particular faith and will prioritise applications from children of families who practise that faith.

Applying for places in an independent school

The schools differ in their application procedures. All schools will require you to register and pay a non-returnable fee (commonly between £50 and £200). The schools will want to look at current school reports in the first instance and will then want to assess the child. For younger children this is often classroom based and includes observation and small tests in reading, writing and maths which means families need to be prepared to bring their children over in advance of the move. Older children are often tested in English and Maths and, as they progress through Secondary school, science and a modern foreign language are also tested. Many schools can arrange for these tests to be sent out to the child’s current school and subsequent interviews can be carried out via Skype.

A real advantage of applying to a private school is that you can apply and secure places in advance of moving and without proof of address.

Comparing schools

Looking at websites, reading inspection reports and viewing exam results all help to build up a picture of the school. However, nothing replaces visiting the schools, talking to staff about your particular concerns and seeing the schools in action. That way you should be able to identify a school where your child will be happy and thrive.  Then the whole family will be happier!