UK independent schools are still widely regarded as among the best in the world, with top flight schools such as Eton remaining highly sought-after.
It's not just the quality of an English education that is attractive it is the opportunities to network, the doors that will remain ajar for life, friendships and acquaintances bound inextricably by the 'old-school tie' and the chance to have a piece of a quintessentially English tradition - a boarding school education.
Their oft gilt-edged fees a small price to pay for the huge benefits to be gained even when international supplements are added. Education options are limitless but how do you decide what is best?
We offer our top-tips to ensure you get your decision right.
At what age and for how long?
Some children study at UK boarding schools from a young-age (become absorbed in the language if they are not native speakers) and live a British boarding school life. Others come to the UK for as little as one term.
European students are increasingly opting to spend a years sabbatical in a British boarding school. Growing numbers of overseas children opt to take an intensive English language course and gain a few recognised qualifications at the same time by spending a year at an international Study Centres located within a reputable private school. Beware those that are too newly established, and make sure to ask for a full list of the schools that pupils move on to.
Many British schools really are among the best in the world and offer a breadth of education that is unobtainable elsewhere. However, make sure to take your time, talk to as many people as you can, and follow our advice.
Our top tips for overseas parents
- Subscribe to The Good Schools Guide online (or buy the book). it is quite simply the best source of information on Britain's Good Schools. We independently research, visit and write about schools - we even include the information school marketing departments don't want you to know.
- Use an independent and reputable consultancy service. The Good Schools Guide can offer expert advice on schools at home, international schools and university options - at home and overseas. Our advisors charge you for the service but they do not take any commission from schools - you are assured they have your child's best interests at heart. Beware of agents who promote schools from whom they earn commissions. There may be nothing wrong with the schools they tout, and they often provide a useful service-sorting out visas, summer English courses, etc - but keep in mind that such agents may not give you unbiased advice.
- Beware of 'education fairs' populated by a seedy academic fringe of English language schools, boarding school preparation courses, struggling boarding schools and tutorial colleges: some of the institutions on offer will be excellent, but do scrutinise what they are offering.
- The British Council can provide useful contacts and, in some countries, eg Russia, provides a full school placement service, but do not allow their advice to replace your own judgement.
- Always try to visit a school to which you will be sending your child before you commit yourself.
- Have finances in place. Keep in mind that for your child to qualify for a visa to study in the UK, you will need to provide evidence that you can financially support him throughout his stay.
- Schools will always find places for brilliant pupils. If your child is genuinely towering above the scholars in his current school, and you have evidence for his or her impressive intellect, do make schools aware of it and don't settle for less than a top academic school.
- Use UK text books to prepare your child for the British School system.
- Learn the language. The majority of schools in this country are not geared to teaching the English language to pupils who don’t know it. Beware of schools which have a high proportion of foreigners, but no real way of teaching them English. Schools which have very few foreigners in the school are another matter – being immersed in a language without the option can sometimes be the quickest way to learn, particularly for younger children but can be very difficult for older children who have shown little aptitude for learning a language.
- Be wary of academic schools which pay lip service to ‘potential’ but in reality are only interested in performance on the day of the entrance exam. It’s no use explaining your child is trilingual and English is their fourth language if they do not want to take the risk or have the bother.
Selling your soul?
Be prepared to ‘sell’ yourself a bit to the school. Private schools in the UK have a tendency to ask what you can do for them, rather than what they can do for you. This shocks parents from other countries, but it is a fact.