British Tutors' UK Schools Consultant, Alexandra Slater, shares her expert advice on choosing the right British boarding school for your family.
1. What should I think about when choosing a school for my child?
My advice is to focus on what is the right school environment for your individual child. Be realistic about your child’s academic level and look for a school where they will have room to grow but won’t be struggling to keep up. It’s important to recognise that a child’s boarding school experience is made up of many factors, not just the classroom. I encourage parents to pay attention to the values and culture of the schools and consider if the reality of the environment matches what you want for your child’s teenage years. In practical terms, this can come down to whether the school requires students to attend chapel? Wear a uniform? Play sport? Or arrange their own Saturday night entertainment?
Also think carefully about what age you think is the right for your child to start boarding. UK schools offer a range of choices and have entry points at 8+, 11+, 13+ and 16+ (Sixth Form). In my experience, many Hong Kong families choose 13+ but there are advantages to each entry point and it entirely depends on the individual child and what is right for them.
2. How do I narrow down the choices?
There is a massive range of choice for boarding schools in UK. As a first step, I suggest identifying the criteria that matter most to you and your child, for instance single sex or co-ed, A level or IB, full boarding or a mix of day pupils and boarders etc. The location of a school also matters, even a full international boarder will need to get home to Hong Kong for the holidays so access to the airport is relevant. Also consider the proximity to UK based family and friends who are willing to have your child to stay for weekends out or to attend concerts or sports matches. Likewise, as a parent I expect you’ll want to visit your child and attend school events so be realistic about which locations work for your whole family. All these factors add up to making the boarding experience successful from the start.
3. How do I research the schools?
Typically, school websites contain a huge amount of information including videos and brochures which makes them an excellent starting point for you and your child to research together. I strongly recommend planning a trip to UK to visit a selection of potential schools and to compare the reality of the different environments for yourselves. My top tip is to visit UK schools when they are in term time so you can see them in full swing and meet the pupils and staff in person. Chinese New Year and Autumn Festival are usually good times to arrange visits from Hong Kong. I encourage families to record their impressions of each school after they visit and to take note of their child’s opinion, you’ll find these notes so helpful as you proceed with your decision making.
Many UK schools visit Hong Kong and conduct information sessions for parents which is another useful way to get to know a school and establish your direct communication with them.
4. When do I need to begin the process?
Top schools like Eton and Winchester require boys to be registered by end of year 5 (the year they turn 10 years old) and at many schools testing takes place in year 6 and year 7 for students applying for places for year 9 entry. I personally prefer a calm, well planned approach so I recommend starting to research schools when your child is 8 or 9 years old. This gives you time to thoroughly consider the options, visit the schools in person and plan how best to help your child prepare for the (sometimes numerous) interviews and exams required.
5. Where can I get more advice?
I recommend meeting with a UK Schools Consultant to discuss your ideas for your child’s UK education. He/she will be able to explain the UK schools landscape and help you navigate the choices. Early on in the process, I find it helpful to have an assessment of a child’s English, maths, reasoning and interview skills to identify which skills they can improve prior to UK school entrance assessments.
Alexandra is a British Tutors consultant, providing expert advice about schools in the UK. She guides parents to identify the right school for their child and to successfully navigate their way through the admissions process. Her own three children all attend UK boarding schools and her insightful, first-hand knowledge and professional experience are a valuable resource.