Supporting international pupils at UK Boarding schools

It is clearly a huge challenge for UK Boarding schools to help every international Boarding school pupil in the way that UK students take for granted. UK students have parents on hand to drive them to open days and help them review university opportunities. It is also easier for schools to communicate directly and regularly with UK-based parents and therefore manage parental expectations.

Managing parental expectations remotely can be a big challenge for schools. International parents have invested heavily in their child’s education already and understandably want their child to attend what they perceive as a ‘top’ university. Also, schools, recognising parental focus on ‘rankings’, often want to places as many international Boarding school pupils as possible at Russell Group universities.

However, as Julian Baker, Head of IB at Box Hill School, points out, “Whilst a focus on university rankings might be something that occupies our mind for PR reasons, in a non-selective institution such as Box Hill School, our focus is on matching the student with the most appropriate course and institution for the individual. That can be difficult if the student and their family have unrealistic expectations and their sole focus is on entering a high-ranking university. In such a situation, it is our role to manage that expectation, hence the crucial role of the guidance that is given.”

David Hawkins runs an independent university advisory service, Hawkins Global Education. He addresses the same issue: “Schools should challenge and educate parents about the full range of university options that are open to their students. There is enough misinformation about university in the media for schools not to be making things worse, and schools should have the confidence to challenge this head on.”

Gareth Collier, Principal of Cardiff Sixth Form College, also endorses the view that selecting the ‘right’ university is about more than just rankings: “Whilst subjects, rankings and locational factors are all important, matching student expectations to university provision is vital to avoid disappointment.”

So how are boarding schools and colleges practically making sure their international students consider a wide range of universities, not just the ones known to parents at the top of the rankings?

Schools try hard to make sure parents have access to as much information about university choices as possible. At Felsted School, university presentations at the school are filmed and added to the school’s web site for parents to view.

University fairs held at schools are also an excellent way of covering a lot of ground on one day. Kings Education Groupand Brooke House College see the value of such events and through these events strong relationships can be built with specific institutions. These relationships can additionally benefit students in other ways, as they study for their A-levels and additional qualifications that will enhance their university applications. “Southampton, for example, has a great outreach programme and the university has really helped with library facilities for pupils studying the EPQ [extended project qualification],” says Mike Oliver, Principal at Brooke House.

However, as Caroline Nixon, General Secretary at the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students (BAISIS), points out, “Increasingly, students look nowadays not only to the UK but to the US and other countries for their university education.  As European countries increase their provision of Anglophone courses this demand is set to continue. Keeping track of all these developments is time consuming and needs dedicated internal resource.’ She adds that if schools do not have adequate advisory and career counselling resources in place, they should work alongside independent advisers to make sure students get the best advice possible.

Some schools have the added advantage of already operating in both the UK and the US. Kings Education Group already works with every university both sides of the Atlantic and recognises the importance of regular contact with universities to keep right up to date with their programmes.

A key factor is making sure the process for university selection is started as early as possible to not miss any opportunities. The timescales for international and UK university applications are not the same and so university options need to be considered right at the start of Year 12, ideally, and not left until later in the year, as some avenues may well be cut off by then.

Agents and guardians can also fulfil a vital role in offering continuity to families during the university selection process. An agent who has already worked with a family to place a child at a boarding school and maintained contact with the family is in a unique position to help ensure that the knowledge gained about the student is directly applied in helping identify the best university options. An active agent or guardian can help support both parents and school in this important decision-making process and those with knowledge of multiple, international higher education markets are in the best position to provide this support.

Communication is at the heart of this issue – all parties need to pool their knowledge to work together to find the best outcomes for each international student. Each player brings a different perspective, but most important of all is that the student is at the centre of all these conversations to get the best possible outcome for each individual.

Pat Moores is the Director of UK Education Guide, an independent resource on UK secondary schools options for UK and international families.

Originally posted at Study Travel