Brexit relocation? Advising families on education choices

As Brexit uncertainties continue, how can businesses help relocating employees to manage their children’s education? Nathaniel McCullagh of Simply Learning Tuition provides some expert advice.

Brexit relocation? Advising families on education choices
As employers make contingency plans to support post-Brexit access to the EU how can businesses help relocating employees to manage their children’s education? Nathaniel McCullagh, founder and managing director of independent education company Simply Learning Tuition, winner of Relocate’s Excellence in Employee & Family Support award 2017, offers his perspective and expert advice.Since the UK voted to leave the EU last year, there has been no overnight change; negotiation of the relationship is going to take years. In the meantime, there is much chatter, confusion and concern over what future rules about the free movement of people will be.The knock-on effect of this is that many employers are making contingency plans to support access to the EU by moving business out of the UK. Others will think twice about moving staff into it.The climate of uncertainty makes this an anxious time for employees and their families, particularly those with children, who are naturally very concerned about schooling amid all the other considerations about relocation.

Advice for HR directors

Many businesses will have more than one employee needing to uproot and relocate a family. While it can be useful to use one agency for all employees, it’s important to establish that the agency has the necessary capacity, as small set-ups may struggle to deal with the workload.Even where you may allocate a ‘batch’ of employees to an agency, don’t expect to find a one-size-fits-all solution. All children are different, and need careful placing. Parental expectations will be different, too – particularly in the case of London-based parents, who may be used to cherry-picking different schools for three or four children rather than enrolling them all at the same local school.Be wary of consultants who work with schools on a commission basis, as their advice will not be impartial. It’s better to choose a company that charges the company or the client and takes nothing from the school.

Be prepared for the education options available

So far in the Brexit negotiations, not much is clear. The situation regarding London’s financial industry is just one area in which things are unsettled; for example, will banks continue to trade in the City and Canary Wharf once the UK is outside the EU?It could be that, when decisions are eventually made, they will be swift. No one wants to be faced with moving their children out of school unexpectedly, but particularly not during a key stage such as the run-up to an exam period, especially pre-university exams like A Levels or the International Baccalaureate.So my number-one piece of advice for people for whom a move is possible but not confirmed is to prepare and do some research now, even if there is only a small possibility of a move. Spending just an hour or so speaking to a consultant will allow you to run through viable options.
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Having a conversation as a family may also pay dividends. Otherwise, a short-notice move may mean there is little time to make a well-reasoned decision. I believe that Brexit uncertainty is the main reason we are seeing a massive increase in enquiries about UK boarding schools.Our general enquiries are up by 50 per cent at the moment, with many UK-based families who would traditionally have sent their children to a day school now considering boarding as well, so that the children will have continuity of care and education should their parents need to move abroad.

Advice on how to choose the right school overseas

Culturally and historically, UK boarding schools have been a brilliant education route. This year, we have seen many more families consider boarding schools on an equal footing with day schools. After all, UK boarding schools are already geared up to look after children whose parents are overseas, and they are world renowned, both academically and for their pastoral care and proxy parenting.Given the right fit between child and school, many excellent boarding schools are often able to find places at short notice, though they may not advertise this. Nevertheless, it’s good for parents to be prepared well before an application may be necessary.Our general advice is to make time to visit the schools as early as possible. A visit to a boarding school needs planning and is not something people want to be slotting in at the same time as wrapping up life in the UK and finding a home abroad.An education consultant can save time here, by speaking with the family, meeting the children, and conducting an academic assessment, face-to-face or online. He or she can then recommend options that suit the child’s needs and fit with the family’s ethos, and advise on a shortlist of two or three (rather than six or seven) schools to visit.It is vital for at least one parent to visit a shortlisted school; ignore anyone who says otherwise. This will give you a gut feeling (as when you view a potential new home) about whether your child would be happy there or not. Some parents will want their children to accompany them to the new location. These parents usually choose an international school or a British school with an overseas partner operation, such as Malvern College Hong Kong or Dulwich College Shanghai.Along with Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt, Amsterdam is a key potential Brexit path location and likely to be a major beneficiary as financiers look for a new home in the EU. Again, an educational consultant can offer plenty of advice.

Education choices for families relocating to the UK

Although we have recently experienced situations in which families planning to relocate in the UK have cancelled their plans in the light of Brexit, others may have no choice but to continue.In these cases, we can help prepare the way for the children by providing transitional tuition. This is a great solution for helping children to settle in to a new country and a new school. It can be short term or last for a full academic year. The precise offering depends on the child and the family, as it is totally bespoke, but it generally includes language and cultural, as well as curriculum, preparation.Such tutoring is not used because children are struggling, but to help them hit the ground running – because even where the new school follows the British curriculum, students may well be working through it in a different order, or with different emphasis. It’s possible to take advantage of transitional tutoring online, via FaceTime or Skype.Maths and English are particularly easy to study long distance, just requiring a strong and reliable internet connection and an experienced tutor who will show a child the best platform to use to ease communication. I’ve seen time and again how such tuition improves the chances of children making a successful transition to a prestigious school, and, in turn, allows parents to focus on helping the family settle into their new neighbourhood.We can also arrange for children to take mock exams and learn interview technique from a London prep-school headteacher, to help prepare them for entrance examinations. Though many schools don’t advertise the fact, there are often places for families moving to the UK at a time other than the start of the academic year. These are known as occasional places or chance vacancies. A well-connected consultant can provide the lowdown.

Moving within the UK

Domestic relocations are frequent, too. Here again, it’s great to support employees by including help with children’s schooling as part of the relocation package. Most recently, HSBC offered this help to staff relocating from London to its new headquarters in Birmingham. Other popular relocation points outside London include Cambridge and the South West.

Negotiating university systems across the world

Although university applications seem a long way off for families with primary-age or prep-school-age children, it’s important to think ahead.Following the introduction of tuition fees in England, increasing numbers of families began to consider US universities. This year, international families are also considering further education in mainland European locations, particularly Germany, where there is good, free university provision.But applying to universities in the UK, the US and Europe involves negotiating three different university systems and is a huge amount of work – a big ask for the typical 17-year-old.We always recommend that students explore as many options as possible and use the support offered by their schools. But this can often lack the personal focus, and it may be useful to include an educational consultant in the process. While many schools will be completely on top of an Oxbridge application, they are often less au fait with the top universities in Germany or those in the US that are outside the Ivy League.
Relocate Magazine front cover Autumn 2017
Read more about international education in the Autumn issue of our magazine
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