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Ten things you should know when you move your child to the UK from overseas

By Janette Wallis


Airport carousel

The first time we moved to the UK from abroad I was so worried that my seven-year-old son would be behind his British peers that I invested a small fortune in revision workbooks, Kumon lessons and sing-a-long times-table CDs. So it came as a bitter blow when our favoured school announced it would plonk him in the bottom set. ‘We always do that,’ they explained cheerfully, ‘when children come from the States.’

We ended up declining that school and sending him to a different one that probably had the same policy. But at least they didn’t tell us.

The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants see lots of worried families arriving in the UK from all around the world. We work with them, advise them, fight for them … and occasionally talk them down off the ledge. Here are some of our top tips:

Make a shortlist of potential schools

Dumpton SchoolVisit schools during family sojourns to the UK. Stalk schools online. Grill British friends, family or work colleagues. Start an email dialogue with your chosen top schools so they know you are waiting in the wings, even if you don’t know exactly when you will be moving.

Don’t move to England or Wales when your child is entering Year 11 (age 15+) or Year 13 (Age 17+)

It will screw them up. They’ll arrive in the middle of highly-circumscribed  two year GCSE or A level/IB courses. State schools will curse and try to make the best of an ugly situation. Most independent schools will just say no. Ideal ages for children to enter the UK system are, for state schools, 4+ 11+, 14+ and 16+. For private schools, 7+, 11+ 13+ and 16+ are usually excellent transition points.

Register for fee-paying schools as early as possible

If you even suspect that you will one day want your children to attend a British independent (fee-paying) school, register them at a few schools early on – and then you can forget all about it for a while. The schools will write to you when you need to Do Things. Do not skimp on registration fees – it’s a false economy.

Get familiar with the rules of state school applications

If you’re aiming for a state school, you’ll need to be a resident of that school’s Local Education Authority (school district), or have proof of imminent residency, eg a rental contract. For very popular schools, proximity is prime - we’re talking metres rather than miles. You can usually fill in an application form online for a school place via the website of the relevant Authority. Be aware of deadlines: for primary entry at 4+ it’s January 15th before the September in which the child is due to start school; for secondary entry at 11+ it’s October 31st of the year before entry.

Ditto for faith schools

If you are interested in a ‘faith school’ (C of E, RC, Jewish, Muslim etc), make sure to polish your religious chops in preparation for your UK arrival. Bring a letter from your current cleric attesting to church attendance, Sunday school involvement, Hebrew lessons or the like. If your child has already been attending a faith school, make sure to shout it from the rafters – you can make a strong case for continuity of education.

Don’t depend on getting your child into a grammar school

Getting into a selective state grammar school from abroad is almost impossible. But don’t rule out transferring to one later.

Ask for help

Don’t be ashamed to ask for professional help. It can bring great savings of time, anxiety and couples’ therapy. Brazen commercial plug: Our consultants are the best there is, are unbiased, and will not cost you the earth.

Invest in some British maths workbooks and maybe an online tutor

If your child is over 7, consider perusing a British maths workbook with them in preparation for the move to Blighty. W. H. Smith is your friend – they have a big range of ‘fun-books’ (that’s what we called them when our children were young, wink-wink). Buy a couple if you are visiting the UK, or order them online. Galore Park is another good resource for maths, and other, catch up, particularly if your child will be attending an independent school. If your child is coming from an extremely different academic background, and is over the age of 10, consider online tutoring with a British-based tutor who knows the UK system.

Help your child make friends

Once you’re in the UK, be prepared for your child to stand out at first, whether owing to accent, geeky clothes or lack of knowledge regarding old world customs like football stickers or conkers. Look for opportunities for friend-making outside of school. Scouts and guides, local sports teams, drama, youth orchestras – all of these are great ways to meet like-minded children.

If all else fails…

If all else fails, and you’re loaded, or your office is paying, you can consider an international school where, with luck, they can carry on much as they were.

Getting help with an EHCP: The Good Schools Guide’s SEN consultants can talk you through the process of obtaining an EHCP, and direct you to solicitors and charities specialising in SEN law. Contact us at [email protected].

Have you moved your family to the UK from overseas? What hurdles did you face? Any advice for others? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #chalkandchat

Chalk & Chat 2019


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