How to make the most of a UK school Open Day

As school Open Day season kicks off, we highlight key things to look out for when researching and viewing new schools in the UK.

Box Hill School England UK

Box Hill School

With the autumn term well underway, it is that time of year when thousands of schools around the UK hold Open Days and school tours. This is the perfect opportunity for employers of globally mobile families and relocation professionals to encourage families to visit as many schools as they are able to get a feel for the performance, facilities and ethos of a school.With so many excellent schools to choose from, international families can often feel overwhelmed with choice. Making an initial shortlist based on practical matters, preferences and things you are willing to compromise on is a good starting point. Examples include independent v State, day v boarding, single-sex v co-ed, International or British school syllabus. Another option is to engage an education consultant, who will help you with finding the right school and the application process. Katie Haigh, director of education at Simply Learning, winners of Relocate’s Excellence in Employee & Family Support Award 2019, says, “In the UK, many more families now have both parents working full time, which as well as being part of the reason for the growth of private tuition, means that there is less time for one or other parent to do the homework of choosing new schools and supporting their children through the transition."Very often, the whole family is flat our getting through their day and does not have time to formulate strategy or do research on new schools. Our school placements are more efficient and cost-effective than ever before but we still serve every client with the personal touch that is so important.”
Watch our short video to find out more about our Guide to Education & Schools in the UK:

Finding the right school

Researching a school has never been easier; with online directories and parent forums, there is an overwhelming amount of information online. Many national newspapers, such as The Times, publish their own directories of state and independent schools, ranking them according to academic achievement and other factors.Inspection reports by Ofsted or the Independent Schools Inspectorate can also be useful. Schools may publish their results and leavers’ destinations on their websites.
Advice on how to apply to a school
No matter how much information parents gather about their shortlisted schools, there is no substitute for visiting a school in person and hearing what pupils and teachers have to say about school it. Many schools hold set open days – typically twice a year, in spring and autumn – but they are likely to welcome families and prospective pupils for a private tour at any time during the academic year.Anna Hughes, marketing and communications at Janie Richardson UK Education Consultants advises, “The British Education System is defined by diversity and complexities. Janie Richardson School Search recognises the key is for parents to be fully prepared and remain focused throughout. Investigate ALL options available to ensure the school chosen suits the needs of an individual child and their family. Methodical research is absolutely vital knowing what schools are available, when is best to attend heavily subscribed open days and what are admissions and examination requirements for each individual school.”

Get a feel for your chosen school

There is no better to way to learn about a school than to visit it. You can choose to take a private tour with a teacher, registrar or student, or attend a school’s open day. Note down any questions you may have before visiting the schools. For example, what changes has the headteacher made since taking up their role? What extra-curricular activities will be available to your child and how are these balanced with the academic focus? Are parents expected to be involved in school life? Simply Learning Tuition recommends using this opportunity to talk to families with children currently attending the school; they can give you an accurate idea about the school environment.When looking around a school, the main points to consider are:
  • Do you feel welcome as you 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 you will be communicating on a daily basis
  • How does the school communicate with parents? Does it produce regular newsletters? Can you see copies?
  • What are the displays on the walls like? Are there photos of children engaging in 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 for relocating families.In addition, many schools offer taster sessions that give the child first-hand experience of life at the school and can help families to decide whether a school is a good fit. These are particularly useful for families who are considering boarding options.One such school is Vinehall, a co-educational boarding and prep school in Sussex. “We offer taster boarding – this can be anything from a couple of nights up to two weeks so that students can get a really good feel for boarding life at Vinehall,” explains Quelli Coles, Vinehall’s housemistress. “This is really important for pupils so that they can be confident that they have made the right choice of school.”

What to look for in an international school

There are several international schools in the UK, and for families not familiar with international schools – what they offer, how they work – it can be hard to know what to look for and how to identify the best school for your child. Mark London, head of marketing at ACS International Schools, explains, “With schools based in both the UK and in Qatar, at ACS International Schools we advise parents to plan well in advance and find out as much information as possible about different options – look at school websites, previous inspections and reports, and school directories.” 
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Mr London adds, “Virtual tours of school campuses are useful too, but be sure to visit each school and talk to teachers, staff and existing families in person to get a sense of its true atmosphere. There is a lot to be said for following your gut feeling about where your child will be happy and thrive.  “International schools are also especially well placed to support relocating families on arrival, with resources such as expert school counsellors for each division, family transition teams and ‘buddy’ programmes.”

For the latest education news, articles and practical advice, see our Education & Schools section. 

The Relocate Guide to Education & Schools in the UK is a helpful tool for any family trying to negotiate the UK school system. It covers State, independent and international schools and helps you explore your options or to aid an employee who is trying to determine theirs. You can access it here.

Upcoming open days

ACS International SchoolsACS Cobham, SurreyAll School (Ages 2–18) – 28 March 2020 ACS Egham, SurreyAll School (Ages 4-18) – 16 January 2020 and 14 March 2020 ACS Hillingdon, MiddlesexAll School (Ages 4-18) – 27 February 2020 and 21 March 2020 Web: www.acs-schools.comBox Hill School, SurreyTours by appointmentWeb: www.boxhillschool.comInternational School of LondonTours by appointmentWeb: www.isllondon.orgKent College of Canterbury, KentTours by appointmentWeb: www.kentcollege.comKingham Hill School, OxfordshireTours by appointmentOpen Days –1 February 2020 and 13 June 2020Web: International School, SurreyTours by appointmentWeb: www.marymountlondon.comMerchiston Castle School, EdinburghTours by appointmentWeb: International, CambridgeOpen Door Events and Tours by appointmentWeb: Oratory School, ReadingTours by appointmentOpen Morning – 29 February 2020Web: School, KentIndividual tours by appointmentGroup Visits – 18 January 2020, 29 January 2020, 1 February 2020, and 8 February 2020Open Morning – 13 June 2020Web: www.sevenoaksschool.orgTASIS The American School in England, SurreyTours by appointmentWeb: www.tasisengland.orgSubscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory

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