Britain has some famous exports, from Rolls Royce cars to mashed potato, Harry Potter to Doctor Who. But one of the country’s fastest growing industries is a little less tangible.
Education is rapidly becoming a lucrative business in the UK, with students jetting in from around the world to study at famous British universities.The pomp of Oxford and Cambridge may draw the brightest of bright sparks, but there’s plenty of room for others at the hundreds of other institutions to take on their share of overseas students.
The UK has also long been famed for its public schools. The expensive, exclusive schools only take those pupils who can pass tough entrance exams and stump up the expensive fees.
Those who gain access to the cloistered courtyards and dusty libraries can look forward to the same classical education of Latin and stiff upper lips that shaped men like Rudyard Kipling and Winston Churchill. Although turning out A* students, these venerable institutions also pride themselves on instilling character in their young charges.
Of course, not all British children undergo this stately education, with the majority passing through a state school system that, although not as famed, it still one of the best in the world.
Consequently, expat kids living in the UK often enjoy a standard of education that is higher than they would get in their home country. The qualifications they gain are so well respected that schools in other nations have started to adopt the same schemes.
This is all very reassuring if you are a newly arrived expat with school aged kids, but the quality of teaching is not going to help your family unless you can enrol your young ones in the right school.
As mentioned in the first part of this series, there is a lot of variation in schooling in the UK, with individual state schools being able to pick and choose which subjects they offer and how to invest money they are assigned. This variation only gets bigger when qcademies and free schools enter the mix.
It’s important to visit schools ahead of applying for them, making sure your child gets to meet other pupils and staff as well as seeing if the subjects on offer are right for them. It’s hardly fair to enrol a budding Nobel scientist at an arts academy or a gifted linguist at a specialist sports school.
Having said that, the final decision on where pupils end up is made by the Local Education Authority (LEA), rather than the parents. So it’s important to understand how best to improve your chances of getting into the school of your choice.
Part one of this article ran through the different types of school and the bureaucracy that run them. Part two runs through the practicalities of how to make this system work for you and your child.
Prepare for any entrance tests
For the majority of state schools there will be no entrance exam, unless the school is unfamiliar with the qualifications your youngster already has or if the specialism of the school demands a certain standard of ability.
You are most likely to encounter tests when applying for a spot at a fee-paying public school. These exams may vary in difficulty but failing them will usually count your child out of studying at these prestigious institutions.
If you have your heart set on a spot at a public school, research the entry requirements. It’s unlikely that they will publish the exam papers verbatim, but the school will give an outline of the skills and standards expected from each pupil.
From here, spend time with your child, coaching them through the material that they are likely to need. Seek out mock exam papers where available and study them before introducing them to your child.
Although your youngster may be whip smart and capable of completing the task, it may be that the language used in test papers is unfamiliar or confusing. This is especially important if English is not their first language.
Before you leave your home country try to find a tutor, ideally one who grew up in the UK. They will be able to guide your child through the British way of doing things, showing them how essays are to be laid out and the terminology used in science or maths questions.
It may be the case that the British system encourages more creative or interrogative thought from its pupils. Asian education systems often prize the retention of knowledge, whilst western schools often present pupils with facts and ask them to analyse the information.
Don’t despair if the entrance exam does not go according to plan. A rejection will not show up on any educational record and will not preclude you from enrolling in a state school that is almost as good.
Improve their English
The UK is a multicultural nation. Travelling on public transport or walking along the street, you can often hear a dozen different languages in one trip. Unfortunately, the school system only functions in English.
There are some foreign language schools in London, where concentrations of expat and immigrant kids are high. These schools offer special support for these newly arrived pupils who often don’t speak a word of English. This, however is the exception rather than the norm. The majority of schools in the UK will not be able to run lessons in another language or may struggle to provide remedial English teaching.
If your child does not understand what is being said in a lesson, it’s unlikely that anyone in the room will be able to translate for them. A perfectly intelligent child can start to fall behind simply because they can’t follow what is being taught. A poor grasp of the language is one reason why more elite schools may turn down applications.
Along with getting a tutor to help develop your child’s academic skills, look to improve their grasp of English. If you or any member of your family can speak English, set aside certain times when you talk to each other in English. Not only with this improve your child’s grasp of the language, it will give them confidence in using it.
Another great way to get children interested in English is to introduce them to British TV and film. The BBC produces family favourites like Doctor Who and Sherlock, as well as programmes aimed specifically at younger audiences. By watching these shows in their original English, the family is not only getting a lesson in the language, but also a taste of the culture.
Appeal if you are refused
Even with all the the will and efficient preparation in the world, your application can still be turned down for a spot at your choice of state school. The best schools are popular, so after offering spots to pupils in the immediate catchment area, the remaining spots are fiercely fought over. If class sizes have reached the maximum level of 30, the doors will be closed.
Your child won’t be left out in the cold – they will get an education – but at this stage it won’t be at the establishment you’d hoped for.
That does not mean game over. There is still a chance that you may work you way back into a spot at the school.
You should already have met with the headteacher to discuss how your child would fit into the school and any special assistance they may need. Now that you’ve received the bad news, reach out to the school management and see if they are happy to commit to taking on your child given their circumstance.
With this assurance in hand, approach the LEA and remind them that this school has promised to support your child and their particular needs. Every LEA has an appeals process, which will often involve a hearing that will discuss whether the decision violates one of three criteria.
You may win your appeal if you can prove the LEA did not follow their own admissions procedure, if the criteria for admission are not legal, or if your specific refusal was not reasonable.
Find out term dates and school times
As mentioned in part one, the school year runs from September to July, with various breaks spread out through the calendar. Independent, free and public schools can set the exact dates themselves and state schools get their term dates from the LEA.
It’s entirely plausible that one school may take a half term break one week, but the neighbouring school will take theirs a week later due to being over an LEA boundary.
These dates will be posted on the authority website well in advance, meaning you can coordinate your arrival to tally up with the start of a new school year. This may mean leaving part-way through a semester at home, but the last thing you want to do to your child is force them to catch up with half a year of school work while they struggle to settle in.
Ideally you should arrive at the end of the previous school year, giving your child plenty of opportunity to adjust to the language, weather, neighbourhood and culture before packing them off to school. It will also give you plenty of time to get the any issues sorted when it comes to securing your child the place that is perfect for them.
Order the school uniform
If everything else has gone to plan, your child is enrolled and they are excited about day one in their exciting new school. So make sure they turn up looking the part. In addition to a backpack filled with stationery and textbooks, your child also needs to be wearing the school’s uniform.
Unlike the schools in many countries, British schools still require pupils to don a uniform during the school day. This is true of state schools as much as the more affluent public schools.
Each school is free to decide on its own dress code, with some demanding blazer and tie in school colours whilst others have only a coloured t-shirt and fleece. Uniform standards can also extend to sportswear, overcoats, backpacks, hats and footwear.
Whatever the standards, your child will need to have a full set of everything required. This can be both expensive and laborious to organise, especially as some items may only be available from the school itself.
Allow plenty of time to finish this final step and make sure your kid doesn’t stand out for having the wrong clothing on their first day.
Article by Andy Scofield, Expat Focus International Features Writer