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Minerva’s Guide to Choosing a Boarding School in the UK for International Students

Mr Levy of the Church and Gargoyle Scholastic agency, in that great English comic novel “Decline and Fall”, offers the book’s tragic hero, Paul Pennyfeather the following advice about UK independent schools. “We class schools, you see into four grades: Leading School, First Rate School, Good School and School”. “Frankly” said Mr Levy “School is pretty bad ……” While we at Minerva would not want to become too obsessed with the relative merits of schools, it is fair to say that different schools suit different pupils. Here one of our tutors offers you some advice on selecting a U.K. boarding school. 1) IS IT REALLY A BOARDING SCHOOL? This might, at face value, seem to be an absurd question but sometimes U.K. schools, particularly the smaller ones present themselves as “boarding schools” but only have a tiny number of full-time boarders Double check how many boarders there are in the whole school and how many of those go home at the weekend. In some schools there may be no Saturday lessons or activities, and little provided by the school on a Sunday. 2) DOES IT HAVE A TRADITION OF LOOKING AFTER INTERNATIONAL PUPILS? Some schools have a long tradition of welcoming and integrating pupils from all over the world. Others have less experience in this area. In one sixth form college I visited, I found that three-quarters of the students came from one area of the world. When I sat with the students in the dining hall it became clear that there was little social interaction between the different nationalities. Indeed, some were conversing with each other in their own languages. 3) LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION There are many factors which govern the choice of the location of a school in the UK. Geographical location is one of the most crucial for international parents. Alternatively, you may wish to select a school which is close to relatives or friends who are in the U.K. I would suggest that proximity to airports, particularly London Heathrow, should be a major consideration. Although this is a contentious observation, I might add that the schools with the strongest boarding communities tend to be in the south of the U.K. Be wary of claims on school websites. One school I visited a long way from London made the erroneous claim that it was only a two-hour railway journey from London. 4) LOOK BEYOND THE WEBSITE AND PROSPECTUS Some schools can be creative with their marketing. Talk to other parents you know who have sent their children to U.K. boarding schools. Mumsnet and other social networks can be quite a good way of getting beyond official school literature. For help with adapting to boarding school in the UK, contact Valerie Weston on: Email: Phone: +852 6156 5705. We would be delighted to hear from you.

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