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Why should international students consider studying at a UK independent school?

Posted on: 14 Oct 2014
Posted by: Matthew Burgess

For international pupils outside the European Economic Area (EEA), the choice of schools in the UK is limited to independent schools.

Matthew Burgess, General Secretary of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), looks at what independent UK schools can offer these pupils and provides some tips to help parents choose the right school for their children. He is speaking on this subject in Hong Kong today.

Independent schools in the UK are recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as being among the best in the world. They offer a rigorous and thorough academic education and stimulating extra-curricular opportunities, as well as a professional approach to pastoral care.

There are various types of independent schools

There are more than 1,250 independent schools in ISC membership, with more than half a million pupils in the UK. There are many types of school including selective and non-selective schools, single-sex or co-educational, with 485 schools offering the opportunity to board. Many are set in historic towns or in the heart of beautiful English countryside and offer an extensive array of facilities and activities, from horse riding to sailing to golf, as well as, of course, traditional sports such as football, rugby and cricket. Classes are small, allowing plenty of interaction between teachers and pupils.

There are also specialist schools that offer education for children with special needs and there are a small number of specialist schools for children with talents in music and dance, such as the Royal Ballet School or the Cathedral schools, which offer the opportunity to sing in a cathedral choir.

Pupils at UK independent schools do well academically

There are currently 24,391 non-British pupils at UK independent schools, whose parents live overseas. Parents from all over the world are drawn by the academic success pupils enjoy and the focus on traditional difficult subjects – maths, sciences and modern foreign languages – that many prestigious universities seek.

ISC schools offer the very best advice on applying to university, as well as outstanding careers advice. Our schools understand how to help each pupil make the strongest application they can and are well-versed in ensuring pupils make the best academic choices throughout their school career.

There is a focus on sports and other co-curricular activities

There is also great focus on the development of the whole child through a range of co-curricular activities, whether in sport, music or drama. In traditional sports, such as rugby, football, hockey and cricket, schools offer excellent coaching, great facilities and regular fixtures. Many independent schools also offer more unusual sports, such as sailing, rock climbing, golf — you name it. Our schools also offer the opportunity to take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, the Combined Cadet Force and many other stimulating activities.

Many independent schools such as King’s College School, Wimbledon, run conferences to address the needs of pupils’ well-being and to consider ways to help pupils deliver resilience and grit. Many schools will offer counsellors for your child to talk to should they need, too.

Choosing the right school

So how do you choose which school might be best for your child? Location may be your first concern. Do you want a school in the city or in the heart of the countryside? Are there good links to airports or stations? After initial research online or with school prospectuses, visit the school either on an open day, but do also make an appointment to look round the school when it is a ‘normal’ school day. Make sure you meet the head, or the head of admissions, to hear their views about why you should choose that school. Does their vision chime with what you are looking for?

Consider your child’s interests and preferences and weigh up how well the school can meet those needs. Try and chat to teachers if possible, as you tour the school and get a clear picture of what daily life would be like for your child. Consider the types of universities and courses that children leaving the school usually go after sixth form. Look at the school’s inspection report to examine strengths and any weaknesses.

What to check before applying to a UK independent school

If you are thinking of applying to a UK independent school, check they have a sponsor licence. Any education provider in the UK wishing to sponsor students from outside Europe must be registered with UK visas and immigration under Tier 4 of the points-based system of immigration. There are around 650 ISC schools with the requisite licence. Parents should therefore contact the school directly in the first instance or speak to one of the many education agencies that help place students in schools.

You will also need to check the schools admissions policy as these do vary from school to school. Your child may be expected to take an entrance exam, or provide references. Evidence of proficiency in English language is also likely to be required, particularly where admission is sought straight into the mainstream school rather than joining a foundation course to bring English up to scratch.

Hong Kong is the single largest market for UK independent schools in the world. Invited by the British Council in Hong Kong to speak on this subject in the city on 9 October, Matthew Burgess will give practical advice on how to choose a suitable independent school and the benefits of a UK school education.

First published on the British council website

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About Matthew Burgess

Independent Schools Council - General Secretary