Guide to finding the right school for your child (Part 1)
Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions any parent has to make. It is never easy but when the school is thousands of miles away in a foreign culture it is harder still. Visiting schools is rarely practical and agents are not always impartial, so most parents rely heavily on reading websites.
Here are some positives to look for and some red flags (warning signs) to avoid.
English language teaching
The majority of parents underestimate how much help their child will need to bring their English up to a level where they can study maths or history in the language.
- Several extra English lessons each week
- Students do not have to miss other subjects to fit English into the timetable
- EFL staff have specific qualifications; Trinity Cert TESOL. MA TESOL, CELTA, DELTA or similar. Time spent teaching in China is a bonus.
- The school prevents international students from taking GCSE or A level exams if their English is deemed too poor. This is common because failures lower the schools average grade. Schools don’t tell you about such policies but it matters because without GCSE and A level passes your child will not be able to go on to a British university. Ask questions.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of this. Success in Western schools requires very different study skills. There is far less emphasis on rote memorization and far more on independent research, active reading, critical thinking, group work, participation and discussion in class, presentations and writing. Students are expected to take responsibility for their own learning. Almost all Chinese students will need help to develop these study skills. The best schools know this and provide that help.
- The school has been admitting Chinese students for many years. The longer the better because it takes time for British school leaders and teachers to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese education system.
- The website talks about specifics e.g. writing classes or personal tutoring not just vague promises. If you are not sure e mail the school and ask questions.
- Website is vague or the school/agent will not answer questions.
The location and history of the school
In Britain, the poor generally live in cities and the rich live in small towns or rural areas where the majority of good schools are. Small towns are generally much safer and more friendly than big cities but Chinese food and translators may not be available. Loneliness and culture shock can be an issue.
- The school is in a safe area. Check the local crime statistics available online
- The school provides transport for students. Remember can be very expensive in Britain and there is often no public transport in the evenings or at weekends.
- The school makes arrangements to meet students at the airport on arrival.
- The school provides good pastoral care for students suffering from homesickness.
- The school buildings are in several different locations. This is not uncommon in urban schools especially new ones. Travelling between locations can be expensive and is not always safe especially for girls.
- Students do not live in school but are boarded with local families. Check carefully that the host family will provide transport.
All British schools must publish their GCSE and A level exam results. They are usually on websites but they can be difficult to interpret.
- Results are higher than similar schools. The British government publishes league tables of these. Good schools will tell you their position in the league table.
- High rate of passes at A*, A and B grades. These are what universities want. Be careful schools often lump together the percentage of students who pass A levels at all grades. This is meaningless. Passes at Grades D and E are more or less waste paper.
- Good passes in a wide range of subjects and additional qualifications in music, art, IT etc. suggest a school which values excellence and has a wide range of qualified staff.
- Exam passes do not correlate with fees charged or the age of the school.
- Good schools advertise their success in exams. If pass rates are vague or hard to find on the website assume the worst.
- Most schools publish lists of alumni (famous people who used to attend the school). Be careful. Many of the names mentioned are long dead or celebrities from sport or the arts. They are usually irrelevant to the academic quality of the school.