Education consultants – Helping to navigate education reform

Can engaging a consultant help relocating families navigate the complex and ever-evolving education landscape?

choosing an education consultant

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See more about education in the Summer 2016 issue of Re:locate magazine, which includes a special Awards supplement. Find it on our Digital Issues page.


Much has changed in the UK education system in recent years. School assessment and final-exam systems have been overhauled, and there is increasing pressure on families to make the right school choices for future university admission. Rebecca Marriage explores the value of engaging a consultant to help navigate the complex and evolving education landscape and to ensure that families understand the implications of their choice of school.The UK’s education system is in a period of significant reform. Secondary-school qualifications are experiencing a massive overhaul, primary-school assessments are undergoing some of the biggest changes in years, and the government’s school performance tables are changing the criteria by which the quality of schools is judged.Coupled with the adapted university admissions procedures in response to exam reform and the increasing number of high-achieving applicants to university, these reforms mean that globally mobile families considering the future implications of their education choices have their work cut out for them.

Changes to primary-school assessment

This year has seen the first cohort of primary-school children to sit the new standard assessment tests (SATs), which have been redesigned to be more challenging and, the UK government claims, will result, at the end of primary school, in a ‘precise score’ by which families can judge how well a school is performing.Children in the last year of primary school in 2016 have been tested for the first time in the new Spelling and Grammar (SPaG) curriculum. The new curriculum has proved to be hugely controversial among education leaders and teaching unions, who have criticised the test for being unnecessarily challenging and inappropriate for ten- and 11-year-olds. At Key Stage 1, the test was abandoned altogether this year, owing to an online leak of the test paper.

Post-16 exam reform

Likewise, post-16 exams in UK schools (GCSE and AS/A Level) are undergoing a transformation. Curriculum and exam content has become more demanding, and examinations have moved to a linear structure, meaning that assessment will be mainly by final exams, with fewer opportunities for retakes and a reduced role of coursework in the final grade awarded.A new grading scale of 9 to 1 will be used for scoring GCSEs, with 9 being the top grade. According to the government, this will allow greater differentiation between students and help to distinguish the new GCSEs from previous versions.However, only the new GCSEs in English language, English literature and maths will be taught in schools in England from September 2015, with the first results issued in August 2017. The remaining courses will be introduced over the following two years.AS and A Level have witnessed similar changes. Like GCSEs, they are now linear, with more importance placed on the final exam. AS and A Level have ‘decoupled,’ meaning that the AS Level exams are standalone qualifications and will no longer count towards the A Level grade as they did before.But, like the GSCE reform, the changes will be staggered, with a timetabled rollout of subjects due for completion in summer 2019. For example, the new English language and literature AS and A Levels have been taught in schools since 2015, but the new mathematics exam programme will not be taught until September 2017.According to UCAS, the body that processes higher-education applications, these changes could present significant challenges for secondary schools and colleges in deciding what range of subjects and qualifications to offer.Some may wish to review their programme of qualifications once all the new exams are in place in 2017. In turn, the changes that will arise from the qualification reform will impact upon the advice given to young people about their choices post-16 and their subsequent move into further study at university.

School performance tables

As a consequence of the assessment reform, the school performance tables, which have become a useful tool for families looking for a school (particularly those who are conducting their research from a distance), will need to be examined with an expert eye to gather a useful picture of the last few years of results. The attainment levels required of children at the end of primary school have been changed so many times that comparisons are difficult to make from year to year and from school to school.For secondary schools, the picture is even more complex. In 2015, the GCSE results represented in the performance tables were altered radically; schools were no longer able to list the results of resits, and the results of many of the vocational qualifications that were, until recently, considered the equivalent of GCSEs were dropped from the tables altogether. This resulted in a significant downturn in the percentage of students achieving five grade A*–C GCSE passes including maths and English, and an apparent dip in school performance overall.From 2016, the performance tables are changing again. The government is introducing what is known as the Progress 8 measure, which has been developed to demonstrate the progress that children make from the end of primary school to the end of Key Stage 4 (GCSE level). The new measure will be based on students’ progress measured across eight ‘high-value’ arts, academic, or vocational subjects.

The role of the education consultant

With the complex nature of the recent changes, it makes sense to bring in an expert to help relocating families to navigate the system and make informed decisions. Fortunately, there are plenty of education consultancies that can assist them to unpick the data and offer advice based on a long-standing relationship with, and understanding of, individual schools.One such agency has cemented its place at the centre of the relocation sector after securing this year’s Re:locate award for Excellence in Employee & Family Support. Sarah Teasdale, managing director and lead consultant of Educatus, accepted the trophy at the gala dinner in front of hundreds of influential global mobility specialists. After helping to set up relocation management company Sterling’s in-house education consultancy, Sarah Teasdale saw the growing need to offer relocating families assistance with international school moves, and established Educatus to meet demand. She and her team have successfully placed many families in good state schools in the UK, but they are mindful of the obstacles that parents must overcome.“A record number of primary and secondary state schools are now full,” says Ms Teasdale. “Factors such as the rise in immigration, a baby boom in the UK, and the recession-fuelled exodus from private schools have contributed to this. Parents wanting a state-school place for their child must plan carefully. Local education authorities in the UK will only accept applications from families living in the area with proof of residency, and even then there is no guarantee of a place at a preferred school.“This usually means that a family must select a property without knowing if they will be able to get their children into a school. Added to this, some schools now have responsibility for their own admissions, and trying to understand the system can be quite confusing for the incoming parent.”Educatus works directly with families and relocation management companies, offering a fixed-fee arrangement which helps both parties to budget effectively.Moving from an international location to the UK can present significant challenges for families, who may not be used to the style of learning in British schools and will certainly be baffled by the programme of exam reform in England.Enjoy Education, a London-based schools advisory and private-tuition company providing advice and learning support for families in, and relocating to, the UK, was shortlisted for this year’s Excellence in Employee & Family Support award. With a strong international presence in key territories, including China, Russia and the Middle East, the company has seen a rapid increase in demand from international families.Enjoy Education quickly identified the need for overseas families to rise to the demands of the ever-evolving British education system, and developed a home schooling programme for children in their country of origin before the family moves to the UK.“No matter where a family lives, we can organise the best home schooling programme,” says Sophie Stead, business development manager. “Tutoring before a family arrives in the UK can really help to boost a child’s knowledge to the level required in the British school system, and will make them much more confident and relaxed when they start their new academic life in the UK. Whether face to face or online, support is provided at every step of a child’s education, from birth through to university and beyond.”

Moving into further and higher education

According to UCAS, the decoupling of the AS from the A Level in England and the staggered timetable of exam reform mean that secondary schools and colleges are likely to offer an increasingly diverse programme to their students, making the choice of college after GCSE even more challenging.And, until the exam reform is complete, there will a significant number of students applying to higher education with new qualifications and new combinations of qualifications. Universities and colleges are already reviewing their entry requirements to reflect the changes that are in progress.At this year’s annual Council of British International Schools (COBIS) conference, Dukes Education, a school and university admissions consultancy based in London, led a session for international schools trying to navigate the new examination landscape in the UK.“Now is a time of particular change for sixth-formers applying to university,” said John Ing, director of Dukes Education. “With increasing numbers of high-achieving applicants, changes to the A Level system, and the subsequent adaptation of admissions systems by universities, it is becoming more challenging to enable students to stand out.”A good education consultant can help families to make informed decisions about appropriate further-education choices to help students gain an advantage when it comes to applying for university places in the UK.Barry Webb, formerly an admissions tutor at Oxford University, is now an adviser at Dukes Education. He believes that the competition for places at top UK universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, continues to grow as more candidates attain high grades at A Level, making it all the more important to seek expert advice.Dukes Education provides guidance and support for students through their application to Oxford and Cambridge, but, says Barry Webb, “Nobody is offering that ‘secret formula’, because none exists. What is on offer is a wide range of expertise to help you play to your strengths.”Engaging an education consultant at any stage of a family’s move, from nursery school through to university application, can help to unpick the complexities of an evolving education system and remove much of the stress of an international move through expert advice and local knowledge.

Finding the right education consultant 

  • Choose your education consultant carefully, and make sure they are familiar with supporting relocating families. Those who deal specifically with relocation clients will understand the time frames and requirements of a move, including home search, orientation, removals and visa issues. They will be used to dovetailing their support with relocation management companies and destination services providers
  • It is important to feel that your consultant understands the needs of your child and any particular education requirements. If your child has special educational needs (SEN), for example, establish that the consultant you engage has experience of settling children in appropriate schools and understands the schooling options and support available
  • If your child has a medical condition, ensure you have the relevant information to hand. Again, reassure yourself that your education consultant has the expertise to support your child’s needs
  • Education consultants usually offer a number of services, with different price points depending on the level of support you require. This can range from supplying basic information to a complete handholding service where school appointments are arranged and you are accompanied on school visits. Fees vary considerably from country to country and between local areas. Consultants specialising in obtaining school places in top fee-paying schools may be very expensive, but be prepared to negotiate. You should be able to obtain an idea of basic fees from the websites of most reputable consultants, or via your initial enquiry

Getting the best from your education consultant

  • When appointing an education consultant, check their knowledge of school systems, curricula and state, private and international schools, and make your choice accordingly. Ask them to tell you about clients they have helped in similar circumstances, and request testimonials and references
  • Establish a rapport with your consultant, and ask questions around your child’s particular requirements. Be wary of anyone who promises that their organisation can deliver school places, particularly in popular locations
  • Your consultant can guide you through the application process. You should compile a comprehensive folder of information about your child’s education and achievements, to pass on to a new school and to help with the application. Remember to ask your current school for records as early as possible. If a school is closed for the holidays, they may be difficult to obtain
  • Be prepared to work through solutions with your consultant, and be open to exploring other options if you can’t secure your first choice

Relocate Global’s new annual Guide to International Education & Schools provides a wealth of advice to anyone searching for a new school in the UK and in an international setting, and offers insights into what it takes to make the right school choice. 

For more about education in the UK and across the globe, visit our Education & Schools section.

To find education consultants, go to our supplier Directory.