British education expert Arabella Davies explains how to nab a top spot.
There have been recent changes to the UK application procedure. What’s the entrance process and when should parents start looking?
The entry system for UK boarding schools can vary considerably. At prep level (eight to 13 years) most schools run their own individual entry and assessment process which differs from school to school. For senior schools (or public schools), they have, until recently, relied heavily on a final common entrance exam taken at either 11+ or 13+. All the leading boys and co-ed schools still do 13+ common entrance, whereas most of the leading girls schools still offer an entry point at 11+ as well as 13+.
However, as of 2018, almost all of the leading schools will be adopting a new system of pre-testing children at the age of ten and 11. As a result, families need to be considering applying to these senior schools when their children are around nine years and registering their interest by the time their child is 10. Some schools now have a cut-off for registration at 10 years and six months.
How can children prepare for testing from Hong Kong?
Despite the introduction of these pre-tests, schools still require students to sit common entrance at 11 or 13 for streaming purposes. If children are currently being educated outside of the UK system, then most schools will be flexible on the subjects taken, but children will need to have final results in Maths and English as a minimum, with most schools also requiring science and a modern language.
Most of the leading schools now offer firm confirmed places to children up to two years before this final exam following pre-test, which includes a computerised test and an interview. These tests are designed to assess the potential of a child, not to see how many hours they have been tutored. Basic preparation can be useful by practising the online testing available on the internet – but more as a means of familiarising the child with the testing method rather than cramming them with information.
What about students who aren’t so strong academically?
There are plenty of opportunities for less academic children as well as children with special educational needs such as dyslexia. Most schools want a wide ability range amongst their pupils. The majority are looking for well-rounded individuals and children who are going to embrace the school. The new pre-tests mean schools are looking beyond just results and want to see the child.
How should families tackle the school search?
The British school menu is endless, and the search can be time consuming, costly and stressful. My advice is to decide if you want a co-ed or single sex school to narrow down the initial list.
Then take a look at individual school websites – a lot of information and a “feel” for the school can be garnered this way.
If the family is going to remain in Hong Kong while the child is in the UK, I also advise finding out if the schools are “full” boarding, or if they empty over weekends.
But my biggest piece of advice is to consider the location – find out the true journey time from Heathrow to the school and how this will be achieved.
Narrow the search to around half-a-dozen schools and then go and visit for a tour – if your child is over eight, I would recommend bringing them with you. Their perspective can be very informative to your final decision.
What questions should parents be asking?
Every family will have a different set of questions dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of their child. Look for inspiring heads and passionate teachers. Ignore the league tables as they often give an inaccurate view point. For overseas boarders, pastoral care is terribly important – who is actually going to be looking after your child, what is the structure of the day, what do current pupils enjoy about the school and what they would change?
What are the practical issues of managing a child boarding overseas that families should be considering?
School location is one of the most important factors, bear in mind many schools offer airport pick-ups.
Most full boarding schools have two or three exeats (a British term used to describe a weekend leave of absence from a boarding school) in the Christmas term and usually one or two in the spring and summer terms. They run from Friday to Sunday and students must vacate the school premises. There are also ten-day mid-term breaks, with some schools having a 17-day break in the Christmas term.
Certainly parents don’t need to fly in for exeats or mid-term breaks but schools will require a family member or appointed guardian to oversee and house the child during these times. So it might be wise to select a school within an hour’s drive of a relative or guardian.
All dormitories are cleared at the end of each term, but for overseas boarders, kit can be left for laundering by the school (there is sometimes an additional charge for this).
For more help, tips and advice on any of the points raised here, contact Arabella Davies at Their Best Years, theirbestyears.com