An Overview of Boarding Schools in the UK

An Overview of Boarding Schools in the UK | The Red Pen

One of the oldest and most elite education systems in the world, the UK has always been a popular choice for parents considering a boarding school for their child. Mixing tradition with modernity, these schools aim to provide quality education in contemporary classrooms with the latest technology and high-quality staff. However, with over 500 boarding schools to choose from, across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, navigating the boarding school landscape in the UK can be a bit confusing, even for those who have done their homework.

Here are some important points to consider when looking at independent boarding schools in the UK for your child:

1) Academics:

The boarding system in the UK is split into three levels–the primary (ages 4-13), secondary (ages 13-16) and what is referred to as ‘sixth form’ (ages 16-18). In secondary school or high school, your child usually will study for GCSE qualifications, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Programme or Intermediates in Scotland. In the sixth form, they would take the IB Diploma Program or A levels and in Scotland move to Highers. Most boarding school class sizes tend to be small, ensuring that your child gets individual attention from teachers.

2) House System:

Most boarding schools in the UK follow a house system, which will be your child’s home during their time at school. The number of houses varies according to the school. For example, The King’s School, Canterbury has 13 boarding houses, six for boys and seven for girls, while Charterhouse has 15 boarding houses, 11 for boys and four for girls. Each house has its own head, a matron and supporting staff to ensure their welfare. Typically, younger boarders share their accommodation with others, while older boarders may have the option of getting their own room. Besides accommodation, these single-sex houses also have common areas where your child can study, spend time with their fellow house students and even cook. Depending on the school, your child may have the option to choose their house, else, one will be allocated to them.

3) Education Requirements:

The education requirements in the UK are extremely school-specific. Students entering the sixth form will most likely be required to sit the UKiset–an online test that measures ability in non-verbal reasoning, mathematics and vocabulary. Some schools, such as Oakham, may offer your child a place in the sixth form solely based on these exams, school reports and personal interviews while others, such as Malvern and Sevenoaks, may ask your child to sit their own entry papers in addition to the UKiset. These entrance exams are based on their choice of subjects such as English, maths and science. These tests are held on specific dates at the school, however, if your child can’t attend, the school may make arrangements to have the assessment sent to the student’s school or a recognised testing centre, for instance, the British Council. Apart from this, the school may ask your child to take an English proficiency test as well, such as the IELTS. Once a school has confirmed that your child can manage the academic expectations, previous grades and marks matter less relative to their overall profile.

4) Application Process:

Since each boarding school has its own application form and procedure, your child will have to apply directly to the school through their website. Boarding schools in the UK require your child to register and apply at least one year prior to attending, however, some schools may require this two years in advance, depending on the grade for which the student is seeking entry. Prior to applying, most schools encourage you to attend an open day with your child to meet with the headmaster, members of staff and tour the school with current students. Apart from filling out the application form, which will ask for some basic details, your child’s academic transcript for the past three years will need to be sent. For example, if a student is applying to grade 11, transcripts from grade 8 onwards may be required. Some schools may also request your child to attend an interview either online or in-person to get a better understanding of their interests and academic background. Your child may also need to write a personal statement or essay, which addresses why they want to attend boarding school and then, why that particular boarding school. Once your child has applied, the school will contact their current school for an academic reference. All students, including international students, would require a legal guardian in the UK to attend school in the country. Note that overseas families can avail of guardian services.

5) Fees and scholarships:

The average fee at a boarding school in the UK is approximately £10,000 per term. This fee encompasses education, accommodation, sports facilities, extracurricular activities and dining. Most boarding schools have ‘extras’ which the student will be expected to pay for separately including private music or dance lessons, additional outings or dry cleaning. Scholarships for international students are rare, however, your child can participate in open scholarship examinations where the exam papers are sent to British Council offices across the world.

6) Visa requirements:

If your child is between 4-17 years of age, they would need a Tier 4 child student visa. For this visa, your child must have a confirmed acceptance to the course/school, consent of a guardian, financial support for course fees and living costs and not be from a country in the European Economic Area or Switzerland.

With a diverse mix of international students and local day pupils and boarders, attending a boarding school in the UK is sure to leave a lasting impact on your child. Sending your child far away from home is a difficult decision and one that requires a lot of time and thought. A great way to decide if this is the right decision for your child is to visit the campus to learn about each school’s unique offerings, location and suitability for your child’s interests and aptitude. For more information, get in touch with us.

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