A unique alternative pathway to higher education: Q&A with Adrian Hallworth - Taunton School

Should families relocating to the UK this year consider A-levels or the International Baccalaureate for their teenage children? Or is there another way to get the qualifications needed for university? Taunton School International in Somerset now has a unique alternative pathway to higher education at English-speaking universities around the world. Fiona Murchie catches up with Adrian Hallworth, Principal of the school’s pioneering international section to find out more about how he is broadening the school’s offering to meet the needs of international families.

Taunton School exterior
FIONA MURCHIE in conversation with Adrian Hallworth, Principal of Taunton School International.

Q: Tell us what makes Taunton School’s offering different for international families?

A: We have extensive experience in welcoming international students here to Taunton School, dating back more than 100 years. Today, we have students from over 45 different countries who make up approximately 25 per cent of Taunton School’s cohort. From our rural base in the south west of England, we are so proud of our strong global links with families past and present who continue to be part of the Taunton community.
Taunton School schoolchildren
We consolidated our long association with international students back in 1996 by opening an international senior school here on site. I think it’s fair to say that we were pioneers in the field. That school - Taunton School International (TSI) - is now 25 years old and continues to go from strength to strength. Responding to demand we also opened an international middle school for younger pupils some years later.To mark TSI’s anniversary, we have further expanded what we offer by becoming the only UK educational institution to provide an alternative two-year pathway to university, alongside our A-Level, IB and BTEC qualifications.

Q: Tell us more about this new pathway. Why should families coming from overseas consider this option?

For 16 and 17-year-olds whose English is not yet proficient enough to take on the more traditional qualifications of A-Levels and IB, we now offer a tailor-made academic programme with modules in English, Maths, Business and Economics.It is ideal for the student who is thinking of studying any business-related subject at university – economics, accountancy, business studies and financial management. This course, which we call the Pre Foundation Year (PFY), prepares students for the globally-recognised NCUK International Foundation Year (IFY) at 17 or 18, which can also be taken here at Taunton. Taunton School building with schoolchildren walking
The attraction of this qualification, as long as it is completed successfully of course, is that the student is guaranteed a place at one of more than 40 universities in the UK, the US and Canada or Australia and New Zealand.Our first students to take the PFY/IFY combination have just completed their studies and are heading to universities in the UK and Canada!Both of these Foundation courses deliver a specialist module in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) which ensures students are fully prepared to take on the challenges of undergraduate level study.Students who choose this route are supported by our counsellors every step of the way. They advise which degree course might suit them best and help them with the application process.

Q: Why have you introduced these two courses?

A: It was apparent to us that international families, especially those relocating to the UK, can struggle with what options to choose for their teenage offspring to make sure they fulfil their potential. It is often a dilemma when a child’s English is not up to scratch, or qualifications from their home country don’t match those expected by universities in the UK. Teenage years can be difficult enough without extra pressures from courses like A-Levels and IB which they simply might not be fully ready to embark on. 
Student in classroom at Taunton School
Without top grades in A-Levels or the IB, families face another dilemma: suddenly a place at an English-speaking university is out of reach. Then what? Our alternative pathway of PFY or IFY – or both combined - is a great step towards independence for a teenager whilst giving them the opportunity to improve their English and adapt to British life and culture alongside their peer group.

Q: Most families who find themselves relocated to the UK will end up orbiting London. Why might they want to consider schooling in the rural South West for their children?

Living in London is costly and journey times to school can be lengthy and exhausting. That’s all before students get down to the job of studying! Parents who have relocated to London can also be leading stressful lives themselves with long working days as they settle in to a new lifestyle. Taunton School is only one hour and 45 minutes away from London’s Paddington Station. We are surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside while being on the doorstep of the bustling county town.Taunton School is like a mini-university campus with its 350-strong community of full-time boarders on a 56-acre site as well as having outstanding sports, performing arts and 24/7 healthcare facilities. Last December saw the opening by HRH Princess Anne of our new £4 million state-of-the-art dining hall where all parts of our community come together to eat and socialise. 
Taunton School gymnasium
With older students allowed greater freedoms, Taunton School is the perfect stepping stone between home and university and a staff student ratio of 3:1 means that international students settle in quickly. There is always support on hand if it is needed.

Q: What if a family has younger children or their child already has an excellent command of English?

At Taunton School we tailor what we offer to each individual’s needs. We call it our ‘triage’ system. We appreciate that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when students are coming from different countries with very different qualifications, expectations and abilities. Most importantly for us in this one-to-one assessment process is how well a prospective student speaks and writes English. We can then decide where that student would be best placed in our family of schools. Those who already have a high standard of English when they arrive move straight into our senior and prep schools to prepare for GCSEs, A Levels, BTEC or the IB. Students who need extra help to improve their English skills and with settling into life in the UK will spend time in our international senior or middle school where there is intensive support and wraparound pastoral care. Not many children arrive in the UK with an in-depth knowledge of British life! Our peculiarities and idiosyncrasies, House systems and strange sports, not to mention the unusual food we eat can all be baffling for someone just arriving here.Taunton School teacher and studentWe believe passionately that this kind of support is key to an international student staying the course at any school – not just our own. Allowing students to settle in gradually with lots of careful support and encouragement is the only alternative to a ‘sink or swim’ approach.Two students in a classroom at Taunton SchoolEverything we do from the first week of induction at Taunton is about getting students adjusted to British life and boarding. For the emotional and mental health of all our students, we believe this is the only way.

Q: Tell us a little more about Taunton School itself.

It’s a very exciting time for Taunton School, which was founded in 1847 and so next year it will be celebrating its 175th anniversary. On the one hand, Taunton is a traditional co-educational boarding school made up of five separate schools on site: senior, prep, pre-prep and nursery, international senior and middle.On the other hand, we are regarded by our community as a down-to-earth, very approachable, inclusive and friendly school where all students are given outstanding education and support. We have been shortlisted over the last two years in two separate categories for the Times Educational Supplement’s Independent Schools Awards.And this year we were ranked 7th out of the best 200 sporting schools in the UK in Schools Sports Magazine’s annual survey.  Every single pupil at Taunton represents the school at sport during their time with us. Some 63 different sports clubs field more than 270 teams across the school.Our performing arts scene has similar breadth, with numerous choirs, orchestras, theatre and dance productions on the go at any one time. Whatever a student’s interests, we have something here at Taunton for them. The campus is always lively!

Q: What is the admission procedure, and how can parents, relocation companies and employers find out more? 

A: Families who are interested in Taunton should contact me or our admissions team (admissions@tauntonschool.co.uk) for a friendly chat. They might like to check out our website where they will find more details as well as testimonials from former international students and get a feel for the fantastic global community we have here.As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations at the senior International School, we have also launched ten new scholarships for international students, known as the ‘Foxcombe 25’ Award, which families may want to consider as these offer a considerable reduction on the first year’s fees.With Taunton School marking its 175th anniversary next year, and TSI currently celebrating its 25th it is a wonderful time to join this historic school and become part of its continuing success story.All enquiries should be sent to Find out more about Taunton School and Taunton School International here: tauntonschool.co.uk

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