Choosing a new school

Relocating with school-age children is one of the biggest challenges a family can face. Our guide suggests questions to ask on a school visit and gives advice from the schools themselves.

Below is an extract from this article published in Relocate's Guide to Education & Schools in the UK. Click below if you are interested in receiving a full printed copy of the guide.

When it comes to a successful relocation, finding the right school is often ‘make or break’. Throw into the mix a new house, a new job and even a new country, and just thinking about the to-do list becomes exhausting. However, careful planning and good advice can help to take the pain out of the process for assignees and their families.

Research

First things first: parents need to roll up their sleeves and get down to some serious research. Casting the net wide to start with can help families to understand what they really want from a home and school, and what they would be prepared to compromise on.“Because there are so many excellent schools to choose from in the UK, international parents approaching the system for the first time can find it hard to know where to start,” says John Ing, director of Dukes Education Group, a consultancy that provides families with education guidance and private tuition.“When we work with international clients considering education in the UK, we always suggest they begin to shortlist their options based on a number of core logistical components.“Parents should first make decisions based on where in the UK they will be living, considering whether an urban or rural environment would be more suitable, whether they are looking for a day school, boarding or a flexible plan for accommodation, and whether they are seeking a single-sex or coeducational system.”[…]
Box Hill School
Catherine Stoker, of education consultancy The Independent Education Consultants, advises families to take the whole school offering into account when making a decision.“Some parents are primarily concerned about academic standards,” she says, “but many are as concerned about other factors that can make all the difference to their child’s happiness and wellbeing at school: the pastoral care; scope for developing a particular enthusiasm, such as rugby, design technology, drama, art, fencing or even polo; or the availability of extra tuition for a child who, while brilliant at football, has previously studied little French or is mildly dyslexic.”The first step is to prepare a wish list of the ingredients that will make up a perfect school – for example, proximity to home, availability of sports facilities, music or theatrical opportunities, or just good and consistent exam results.“But,” says Nigel Lashbrook, headmaster of Oakham, a coeducational independent day and boarding school in Rutland for boys and girls aged from ten to 18, “parents are, in the main, looking for something more than just high-quality exam results. In my experience, they want a genuinely holistic education. They want their children to be able to access a broad range of opportunities and experiences. They also want the skills, attributes and character traits that aren’t quantifiable but are vital for employability and future happiness.”[…]

Further UK Guide articles:


Once they have established their wish list, it’s time for parents to start gathering prospectuses and brochures and browsing websites.“Many independent schools have a wealth of information available online,” says Michael Spens, headmaster of Fettes College, a private coeducational independent boarding and day school in Edinburgh, “so it is worth taking a look before contacting the admissions office, just to ensure it is the school that is going to meet the needs of your children and your family.”At this point, it may be worth suggesting that parents compile a spreadsheet of schools available to them and the information that can be gathered before visiting, including the facilities, the curriculum taught throughout the school, details of exam performance, the latest inspection rating, the pupil-to-teacher ratio, and the numbers, types and costs of extracurricular classes.Families will then be able very quickly to eliminate schools from the long list of those available to them and start to create a shortlist of those that appear to meet their child’s needs.
International School of London

Visit the schools

No matter how much information parents gather about their shortlisted schools, there is no substitute for visiting a school in person.“The best way to find out what a school is really like is to arrange a visit,” says Gemma Gray, marketing manager of Fettes College. “That way, you will be able to gain a real sense of the pupils and staff, the facilities and the ethos, and get answers to all the questions you will have. On these visits, you will normally meet the headmaster and a housemaster or housemistress, and be given a tour by a current pupil.”Catherine Stoker, of The Independent Education Consultants, agrees. She suggests that, in order not to become overwhelmed by numerous school visits, parents should attempt to streamline the process as best they can. “Make a shortlist of no more than four schools to visit,” she advises, “and take along a list of things you need to ask while you are there.The main points for parents to consider on a school visit are:
  • Do they feel welcome as they enter the school?
  • Are the staff friendly and confident?
  • Are pupils involved in the school tour? Are the children friendly, polite and confident?
  • Are the school resources well treated and respected?
  • How long has the headteacher been in post? This provides evidence of stable leadership
  • Can parents visit during break or at lunchtime to see how the pupils interact? Do children have a good relationship with staff?
  • Are the administrative staff friendly and helpful? They are the people with whom parents will be communicating on a daily basis
  • How does the school communicate with parents? Does it produce regular newsletters? Can parents see copies?
  • What are the displays on the walls like? Are there photos of children engaging in lively, interesting activities, such as field trips and community involvement?
  • Will the child have an orientation visit or be given a buddy to help him or her settle in?
  • What extracurricular activities are available, and how many of them are free?
  • How much scope is there for involvement in a parents’ organisation? Does the school offer programmes and support for accompanying partners?
  • Ask if the school provides options for prospective parents to talk to current families. This enables parents to ask candid questions about the school environment, as well as offering a potential network of essential support after the move
On the final point, Catherine Stoker sounds a note of caution and advises parents to remain objective. “Discuss the pros and cons of each school after your visits,” she says. “There may be a couple of front-runners that you feel need a second visit. Remember, gut feeling is usually the right one. Stick to your decision, and don’t allow school-gate and dinner-party banter to confuse or change your mind later.”[…]Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit