Demystifying international school admissions

Finding and applying to schools for your child on can be a daunting prospect. This informative webinar talks through the process. It empowers parents to ask the right questions for their family.

Image of little boy fitting two pieces of jigsaw
Joining Relocate Global’s Fiona Murchie in conversation are two Relocate Global Award-winning international schools, which have made positive admissions the foundation of their school’s success. Claudine Hakim is the Head of Advancement, Transitions and Student Support, at the International School of London (ISL). Julia Love is the Director of Admissions at The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL). Both schools have received the Relocate Global hallmark of excellence for their admissions and transition work. They are therefore exceptionally well placed to share their knowledge and help guide parents through the international school admissions process, as well as highlight what parents should be looking for in the best international schools around the world.

Unlocking assignment success with the right school 

Finding the right school for your child in another country can seem like an overwhelming task, especially on top of the logistical challenge of moving home to further your career or for corporate relocation. In many cases, a move’s success depends on how well every family member settles in the new location. A great deal therefore rides on school admissions for everyone involved in the relocation: the child, the family and the employer, as well as the relocation supply chain and destination service providers.“We know parents and employers and relocation professionals view admissions with trepidation,” says Fiona Murchie, explaining the thinking behind this webinar. “It looks complicated and might feel like uncharted territory. “This aim of this webinar is therefore to allay everyone’s fears, highlight how admissions teams are the key to unlocking a school and finding out if your child is going to be happy and thrive there.”Says Julia Love of ISKL: “Often families think applying to a school is a daunting process – especially if this is the first time they’ve moved and they’ve never had to go through a process of applying to a school. What we want to do is break down any barriers. We’re in this together. We work together and we want what’s best for families.”
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Ensuring a positive experience for everyone

Both the International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) and the International School of London (ISL) have admissions at the heart of their school experience and community. This includes reaching out to all stakeholders during relocation, including employers, relocation and destination service expertise where applicable, as well as families and children.Recognising academic research, peer learning and the work of organisations like SPAN – Safe Passage Across Networks – into transitions in education, ISL and ISKL see a positive admissions process as fundamental to ensuring a happy child. A child whose social and emotional wellbeing needs are being met during transitions is then able to be fully engaged in their learning and school community and reap the many benefits of an opportunity to study abroad.“The basis of all of this is our awareness that student wellbeing and having a successful transition will be key to them accessing learning,” says Claudine Hakim. “Research shows that if your basic needs aren’t met, then you will not access learning.“It is so important to make sure every member of the community’s orientation and transition is taken into consideration. If we, as schools – where education is at the core of what we offer – want students to access learning, schools will have a transitions care programme that is clearly defined." 

International school admissions: the basics

Before going on to describe what a good transition programme looks like, Julia Love offered a practical guide to parents, HR and relocation professionals on what schools generally ask for during admissions.“I think every school will have their typical process and they are all going to be somewhat similar,” says Julia Love. “But what I think is important to note is that you can’t expect all schools to be the same. “I think families can be prepared to, at minimum, provide schools with previous school records and school references, health and basic family information. For instance, at ISKL we do expect school records, references from the school and health information. Because of visa restrictions into our country, we also require either an employment letter or a copy of a visa if that’s already been provided to the family. “Where it might differ is on timelines and sometimes schools will require assessments and interviews, for example, although most will follow a somewhat typical admissions process. “Here, schools may want to speak to the parents first or they may want to engage with the child first, or they may actually want to engage with the company first. So, we need to be aware that different schools may have different practices.” 

The impact of the pandemic on schools’ admissions

The past year or so has also underscored exactly how important it is for schools to focus on individual family circumstances – and the incredible support excellent schools’ admissions teams can offer families, even in the most unique of circumstances. This is already at the heart of the admissions approach at ISL and ISKL. Talking about ISL’s admissions process, Claudine Hakim explains how “first and foremost”, families need to be heard. “This can only happen if we listen to their needs and understand the situation. Each family’s journey will be different and so it needs to be tackled very much on a case-by-case situation.“The whole element of being flexible and agile is key throughout this process and continues to be the case during the pandemic. We’re still facing, certainly in the UK, transience. Some families are still being delayed because of visas or quarantine. Sometimes students are enrolled in two schools because they haven’t quite made it to the UK or been able to leave.” During the pandemic, ISKL also recognised the need to flex and support individuals, families, staff and partners, especially around their emotional and social wellbeing. “When you’re pulled apart and in this virtual world, we needed to find ways to stay connected,” says Julia Love. “Nurturing wellbeing is a fundamental component of our school-wide programme.“Our mascot is a panther and so we started our Department of Pawsativity to reach out to our community and stay connected through everything from family TikTok videos to cooking competitions. We took it one step further with our partners in the relocation world and our corporate HR partners and put together Panther care packages to say, ‘we know you’re going through this too and we’re in this together’. “If we’re addressing the needs of all the members of our immediate and extended community, we support the outcomes for our client companies because working parents can only do their job if their families feel settled – we know that.”

Rolling admissions and the importance of transitions programmes

Another area where schools are catching up with those like ISL and ISKL is around rolling admissions. Entry at any time of the academic year has become relatively commonplace, especially as lockdowns and quarantine requirements have caused plans to change and some families to relocate at very short notice. This is another great example of how international schools are supporting relocating families. “Rolling admissions is a term we use for students who can enter the school at any time during the school year,” explains Julia Love. “Typically, schools have an entry time at the start of the year and in the second half of the year, which is August and January for us. But rolling admissions truly means there are intakes of students throughout the school year. “We each have a high percentage of expatriates in schools, so rolling admissions is something ISL and ISKL have been doing for years. I think the pandemic has forced other schools who perhaps have traditionally only had one entry point to really rethink how they can accept students in-year.“We all have to meet families where they are. It is no fault of theirs that they are getting short notice and having to make these moves. So again, in our school, we allow our students to come in up until the last four weeks of school, for a range of reasons. “But I think, ultimately, if schools have good systems in place, if you have solid, best-practice admissions happening in your school, it doesn’t matter if you have a two-week notice period or a year notice-period for a family. That experience should largely be the same in a rolling admissions process. It’s about being open to changing circumstances, and our world being open to our schools being easily accessible, no matter where you are.” 

Admissions teams the key to unlocking successful assignments

Describing how ISL, which offers 22 languages as part of its pioneering work to integrate mother tongue languages into its international curriculum, has continued to adopt this family-first approach during the pandemic, Claudine Hakim shows how international schools’ admissions teams have a critical role in successful, family-focused assignments. They are a valuable link in the relocation chain. “Working in partnership with the family and seeing where they’re at, or with the relocation agent who’s representing the family, is key,” says Claudine Hakim. “During the first lockdown, we had a family join the school because they were in lockdown in their previous school but knew that they were going to be coming to the UK. They made it into the country, but we all had to be in quarantine and self-isolate. “The student, who spoke absolutely no English, was joining our school having never seen it. We needed as a pedagogical group and admissions group to come together and work out how best to integrate the new student into our community as soon as possible.”The teams worked together to get a laptop to the student. They also made time to ensure the student was able to use the technology and learn English during an extended two-week orientation period, as well as consider how the family could be introduced to the wider school community through online socials. “I really think that admissions has to be very much case by case,” emphasises Claudine Hakim. “We look at the parameters we have to work with and utilise all the tools, taking into consideration that family’s needs in feeling part of the community. They belong at the forefront of any decision making and planning.”

What should parents look for in admissions? 

The admissions process therefore sets the tone for how families and children are welcomed into the school community. What signs can parents, HR and relocation expertise look for?“The schools need to be clear about its admissions process so that there’s no confusion about what steps the family needs to take and make it a positive experience,” says Claudine Hakim. “Parents also shouldn’t be scared to ask the school ‘what are you going to do to support us with this transition point?’“Equally, the school needs to carefully identify the needs of the prospective family. For example, our head of admissions meets virtually or in person with every family. We encourage every member of that family to be part of the interview process.“If a student has a particular interest, it’s so important that the school try and link that student perhaps with the head of that department. This is very much a two-way process for both parties to see whether the school is the right fit and it can only happen if you put the students’ needs first.”“Families should be challenging schools and asking those questions around transition programmes,” agrees Julia Love. “We should be expecting schools to have these. I truly believe that. I think that the message to families is to expect it, ask and find out what the schools are doing because the best schools have strong transition programmes.”As this webinar makes clear, no matter what the circumstances of an international move – whether you are moving on their own, following a career in another country or region or following an international assignment programme, or being localised – the admissions teams in the best international schools are there to help and provide a strong foundation for a successful assignment.

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