Securing a place at a top UK independent school

As top public schools report long waiting lists and overseas students look to a British education as a stepping stone to a coveted university place, we investigate what families making an inbound transition to the UK will need to consider when making an application to a select fee-paying school.

Relocate Global Guide to Education and Schools in the UK 2019/20

Kingham Hill School

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Independent reports suggest that more international students than ever before are attracted to the UK by the quality of its schooling and the route into a highly-respected higher education which that schooling can provide.The Independent Schools Council (ISC), the body representing the UK’s independent schools, reported in its 2017 census that there were almost 27,300 overseas pupils studying in more than 1,300 British private schools.That figure represents pupils whose parents remain in their country of residence; also attending private schools are over 23,000 pupils with foreign passports whose parents live in the UK.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country experts

Registration and annual fees

According to the report, average fees for attendance at a British independent school went up by only 3.5 per cent last year. This was the smallest annual rise since 1994. However, fees are not inconsiderable, and they vary hugely across the regions and between schools. The average termly fee was £10,753 for boarders and £4,702 for day pupils.Regional differences can be extreme. For example, average fees at a day school in the North West are just under £3,400 per term, compared with just under £5,500 per term in London.As would be expected, the most sought-after schools have fees that reflect the quality of the education and opportunities available, with termly fees registering just above the average.Also worth considering are the registration, enrolment and overseas-pupil deposits that some schools require. Many of these are fully refundable on leaving the school. However, they are significant sums of money; an overseas deposit can be as much as £10,000 in some cases. Most schools will request a fee even before an application is made, to register the family’s interest in the school, but this is usually no more than a couple of hundred pounds.It will be helpful for professionals to be aware of some of the pitfalls for families when negotiating admission to fee-paying schools. Matthew Cook, managing director of Castle Consulting, which offers help to families looking to secure a place at a UK school, points out that, when parents accept a school place, they are very often agreeing to pay the first term’s fees, and could find themselves owing money to a school their child is not attending.“When it comes to accepting a place at a school, parents need to be mindful of responding in a timely manner and that a deposit is usually required,” says Mr Cook. “In accepting a place, you are entering into a legally binding contract and will be liable for fees whether your child attends the school or not. This can be problematic for families when a child is offered places at more than one school. It is also worth bearing in mind that there will be a notice period (usually one term) should you wish your child to leave the school.”Relocate Global Guide to Education and Schools in the UK 2019/20

Timing of application and entry

It should be noted that the timing of entry into some of the UK’s top independent schools is structured around the completion of entrance tests and assessment days.For example, many pupils join Sevenoaks School, in Kent, a coeducational day and boarding school for students aged 11–18, when they are 11+, in what is known as Year 7. The closing date for registrations is at the beginning of the previous September – a full year before entry. This allows time for children to sit a competitive examination in maths, English and verbal reasoning, take a group interview, and file a report from their previous school. For admission to Year 9 (13+), applications for both day and boarding places need to be made at least two years prior to entry, and entrance assessment takes place in the May of Year 7.

International schools

There are many schools in the UK that have a solid international academic reputation, offer alternative qualifications and learning programmes, and do not require such lengthy lead-in times.Based in Surrey, the well-established international school TASIS The American School in England operates a year-round admissions cycle. “We understand that changing school, home, relocating to the UK, or all three, can be both exciting and challenging for children and parents alike. We have a flexible, rolling admissions policy and welcome applications for students aged from three to 18 all year round,” explains director of admissions Karen House.TASIS is an international school that offers an American curriculum, including a wide range of Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the American High School Diploma, as well as the International Baccalaureate (IB) (IB) Diploma.The process of admissions at international schools is usually through an assessment of materials requested during the application stage. This often includes school reports and teacher references from the student’s previous school.Relocate Global Guide to Education and Schools in the UK 2019/20

Overseas admissions

For the many overseas students who will be facing an entrance test or a new academic programme of study, it will be worth making the necessary academic preparations to ensure a good chance of success.Some overseas students prepare for UK private-school entrance exams well in advance of taking the entrance assessments, engaging the help of a tutor in their home country.John Ing, director of Dukes Education Group, a consultancy that provides families with education guidance and private tuition, explains the value of obtaining expert advice before sitting entrance exams.“We have an extensive database of tutors who are experts in the various entrance assessments for different independent schools,” he says. “Some schools set their own entrance examinations, while others use standardised assessment tests, though there are differences between each school’s assessments, such as whether they are computerised or done by hand. Most include some form of numerical, non-verbal and verbal reasoning, as well as sections on English and comprehension. We arrange for tutoring sessions to take place at the child’s home, in our central London offices, or over Skype, making it possible for families living abroad to receive support from us in their home country.”Aside from the entrance examination, many schools also include an interview as part of their selection process, and families would be well advised to brush up on their interview skills in advance.“We conduct mock interviews over Skype,” says John Ing, “thereby enabling international students to have interview practice from their own home or in our London offices. Our mock interview sessions last an hour with one of our senior education consultants, and students receive comprehensive feedback after the interview to help them prepare for the next.”
Language requirements.Although support for pupils who do not speak English will be given in many schools in the UK, it is often a requirement that pupils are able to demonstrate a degree of competence in the English language.“Initially, it may be worthwhile looking for schools with dedicated English-language preparation programmes,” advises Matthew Cook, “and/or talking to schools about the support that they can realistically offer to students.”Even for pupils who have a limited grasp of the language, there is some flexibility. For example, the International School of London (ISL), is an IB World school with embedded mother-tongue literacy programmes in a range of languages in addition to English-language support. This helps students to develop literacy and fluency in both English and their first language. Many of its students go on to gain an IB Bilingual Diploma.Padworth College also recognises the benefits of the cultural diversity of its students within its own language programme. In a ‘language café’ environment, students are able to converse with native language speakers in student tandems. “This type of intensive fluency, which could only otherwise be attained through living abroad, is accessible here due to the incredible cultural range of students in our community,” says principal, John Aguilar.With figures from the Department for Education revealing that students from private schools are twice as likely to attend a top ‘Russell Group’ University and five times as likely to secure places at Oxford or Cambridge than state educated pupils, the international appeal of a British private-school education is not hard to understand.The academic preparation, rigid timing and level of fees involved mean that such an education will not be for everyone. As with all relocation-related school moves – whether international or domestic, state-funded or fee-paying – families will need knowledgeable advice and help with planning their child’s education if they are to ensure a smooth transition.This article was refreshed on 25 July 2019.
The Guide to Education & Schools in the UK is designed to help relocating parents make informed education choices.
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