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10 Things to Look for When Choosing a UK School

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(With thanks to Ellesmere College for the beautiful photographs)

It can be difficult when you are starting out to know what to look for when you are choosing a school in the UK. Every school has a different feel and they all have their individual highlights and specialties. One place to start is the league table for GCSE and A-Levels results. However, with a high number of UK boarding schools and colleges producing outstanding results, you will need something else to help you make your decision.

1.Pastoral Care

Pastoral care is how the school looks after your child as a person. Are they not only educating them but also nurturing them? If your child needs emotional support, is this available? Is there someone they can go to when they need to talk? Pastoral care can help your child get the most out of their education – a happy and confident child will perform to their full potential.

2. Levels of Progress

Levels of progress measure how far individual students have come since they entered the school. If you are looking at a high school, it is worth inquiring about the levels of progress children make on average throughout their time at the school. This is not always obvious as the final results of the pupils is what the school will probably be showcasing, but you can ask. Levels of progress give a much more accurate picture of how well the school is educating the students.

3. Personalization

Each child is different. This means that good educators take responsibility for adapting their teaching to the individual pupil to ensure every child can access the learning taking place. This might mean a student with a visual learning style is provided with highlighters and notes for a lesson, whereas a child with dyslexia might be provided with reading rulers and coloured paper. Ask the school about how they personalize learning for the individual, the best schools will be able to give you a range of strategies and examples.

4. Accommodation

Accommodation can vary from school to school. If you are opting for ‘boarding’ (where pupils stay on site) rather than ‘day school’ where they go home, or to a host family after classes, it is important to consider where your child will be staying. Find out how many others they will be sharing with. Do they have their own space for study? Their own space for belongings? If you have a young child they are likely to be happier sharing with more children for company, whereas an older pupil will need more privacy and space for quiet study.

5. Extra-curricular

UK schools are well known for their excellence in extra-curricular sports and activities. Depending on what your child is interested in can depend on which school can cater for their extra-curricular interests. Look out for sports league tables, orchestras and clubs (either student or teacher lead) when choosing your school.

6. Soft Skills

Soft skills are skills which are more about emotional intelligence and how we interact with people. Soft skills also cover things such as working independently, being resilient to failure, working respectfully as part of a group, leadership skills….and more. These are things for which there are no qualifications, but at the same time, they are skills which are essential for success in adult life. Ask your school about how they teach and develop these skills in their students to ensure a fully rounded education.

7. Staff Stability

When meeting and talking to staff, it is a good idea to ask about staff turnover. Ideally, you want to staff at the school to stay for a long time. Yes, new staff and young teachers fresh out of university bring new ideas and vitality to a school, but children need stability. Too many changes in staff can unsettle student both academically and emotionally. How long have the staff worked for the school? Would they send their own children here? This can give you a good indication of how happy and committed to the children the staff are.

8. Marking and Feedback

Ask to see some examples of books. Are the teacher notes substantial? Do the children take pride in their work? Is the majority of the work marked or acknowledged? Does the teacher use the student’s name and give specific feedback for that child? Studies have shown that marking and feedback, when it is done well, is one of the most effective ways to help children learn.

9. Talk to the Students

How do the children feel about their school? Do they enjoy their learning? Do they respect the teachers? Talking to students can give you a good insight into what life is like at the school. Children are very honest and have no hidden agendas. The most simple questions can give you a very clear picture of the school. For example, which piece of work are you most proud of this year? What do you hope to achieve by the time you leave the school?

10. Gut Feeling

What it your instinctive reaction to the school? Sometimes it is worth considering what you feel, emotionally about the school from what you have seen. Often we subconsciously pick up on aspects of school life which influence how we feel about a school without being able to put it into words. All of the above areas are definitely worth considering and looking out for, but your gut feeling can sometimes tell you more than you think. Therefore, my final piece of advice for you today when choosing a school is: trust your heart.

September 22, 2016 / by / in
Olympic Prospects at UK Boarding Schools

Pupil ridingU15 & U15 Midlands Lacrosse tournamentRio de Janeiro - Britânico Adam Peaty leva ouro nos 100m nado peito nos Jogos Olímpicos Rio 2016,  no Estádio Aquático. (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

“Sport will always provide the opportunity to learn about yourself, especially when under pressure.” 

David Faulkner, Millfield School, Director of Sport.

Millfield School, with alumni such as Olympian James Guy, is renowned for its sporting education. They are not alone: UK boarding schools are well known for their excellence in sport.

Facilitiestable of facilities

Sporting facilities in schools are on the rise too. The Independent School’s Council (ISC’s) figures show more and more schools are improving their facilities and pupils are spending more of their free time training and keeping fit. Julie Robinson, the ISC’s general secretary, says “It’s both heartening and reassuring to see the numbers of schools at such healthy levels, providing choice and excellence to pupils and their parents.”

To give you an idea of what facilities to expect, opposite are the results of a survey taken by the ISC showing the number of schools with the following facilities. (More info.) This is excellent news if you want your child to have plenty of opportunities for success outside of the classroom.

Olympic Success

More than 40% of British athletes who won medals at London 2012 were schooled privately in the UK. Examples of privately UK educated olympians include: Chris Hoy; Ben Ainslie; Jessica Ennis; Mo Farah; Greg Rutherford; and cyclist Victoria Pendleton. (Source: Owen Gibson)

And it doesn’t stop there, in Rio 2016 we are racking up the medals thanks to athletes who were educated at boarding schools across the UK (see where GB medalists went to school). Recent Gold Medal winner, swimmer Adam Peaty, trained at the independent boarding school Repton School. UK Boarding schools provide facilities and encouragement which enables students to realize their sporting dreams.

The Benefits of Sport

Not every student can become an Olympian, however. For most pupils sport is an opportunity to keep physically fit, interact with other pupils, represent the school, develop a team-sport ethos and increase their self-esteem. Taking part is extra-curricular sporting activities can help your son or daughter to learn leadership skills, organisations skills and it can be a great release allowing them to feel more refreshed and work harder in the classroom. Exercise, of course, is known to improve mental health, and with this comes greater academic achievement. Boarding schools in the recognize the importance of this and make sure every child has the opportunity to take part in sports.

I will leave you today with a thought from ISA Sport (Independent Schools Association). ISA believes that “experience in extra-curricular activities increases self-esteem and builds fellowship among pupils” as well as supporting academic work as “both act in tandem to promote high achievement”.

August 19, 2016 / by / in
Are Co-ed Schools Good or Bad?

UK Boarding Schools St Francis' College-6 Brown_Blazers_outside_St_Antonys

Single-sex schools are often the first choice for parents who want their child to study without distractions from the opposite sex. But it is important to remember there are advantages and disadvantages to both co-ed (mixed sex) and single-sex schools. There are academics on either side of the argument ready to say that their option is best for your child.

Pros for Co-ed

The strongest argument for sending your child to a co-ed school is that boys and girls can learn from each other and establish a sense of comradeship in each other. For the sake of this debate, let us generalize about the tenancies of boys and girls. The coarseness of boys can be tamed by the presence of graceful girls, and the self-critical nature of girls can be dispersed by the more mellow boys.

Critics of single-sex schools will also argue that there is not academic benefit of splitting the sexes up. They also believe that co-ed schools reflect the professional world in a more realistic way, thus preparing your son or daughter for adult life more thoroughly, where men and women work together daily. Co-ed schools can help your child to avoid gender stereo-types and mix with the opposite sex through friendship.

Another point to consider is that if your child has brothers or sisters of a different sex, co-ed schools enable both siblings to attend the same school. A brother or sister at the same school can help children settle and strengthen their sibling bonds through shared experience.

Pros for Single-sex

Single-sex schools are the traditional way to educate young people in the UK. For many years educators have recognized that boys and girls learn in different ways and that personalized learning is much more effective when the educator is making provisions for a single-sex class.

Critics of co-ed schools believe mixed education establishments actually re-enforce gender stereo-types, making children draw gender comparisons from young age and therefore feeling social pressures to conform to these. Girls in single-sex schools, for example, tend to achieve higher in subjects society views as ‘male subjects’ such as science and maths.

Some researchers believe boys and girls actually perform better in different temperature environments. If this is the case, a single-sex school teacher will be able to adapt the classroom temperature for optimum learning, whereas in a co-ed classroom this is not possible.


There are clearly arguments for and against both learning environments, therefore, your decision is very much about your child and their needs. Some families feel straight away that one option is right for their child, others will consider both routes until they find the perfect school for them. If you are considering a co-ed boarding school, living arrangements, and the proximity of the opposite sex, can often be a concern. Most schools house boys and girls separately, although ‘separately’ can mean separated by a hallway, floor or a building depending on the school. If this is a concern for you, make sure you check with the school about the details of the accommodation arrangements.

Whatever route you choose for your child, the UK has plenty of outstanding schools to offer, whether they are co-ed or single-sex. Browse our Types of Schools pages for more information, or use our search bar on our homepage to explore your options.


(Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of single-sex school – article by the BBC)

August 8, 2016 / by / in
UK School Children Show Belonging and Satisfaction

Teacher Teaching Lesson To Elementary School Pupils Y washing down his coat chances for the animal to bring contamin Two boys and one girl visibly happy playing along

As well as academic success, as parents, we are concerned for our children’s sense of belonging and satisfaction. This is bound to be high up in the list of criteria when considering education options. For all those considering the UK as their country of choice for their child’s education, there is good news.

How do we Know?

A study by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) showed that students studying in the UK ‘reported a high sense of belonging and satisfaction with school’ compared to other countries. Students were asked to agree or disagree with a variety of statements, such as ‘I make friends easily at school’ and ‘I feel like I belong at school’. In the UK, 72% of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement ‘things are ideal at my school’ compared to only 61% of students in agreement in other countries.

What does that mean for our children? The research suggests UK schools have got it right in terms of well-being. Statistically speaking, your child has an improved chance feeling content with their school if the are studying in the UK. After all, nobody wants their child to feel lonely, or out of place at school.

What about Academic Progress?

If course we cannot forget academic progress. Some may say comfort is all well and good, but they need their children to be challenged, prepared for life, academically stretched. Do not fear. PISA believe children are ‘expected to learn more if they feel comfortable with their environment’. Besides, children love challenge. They seek out challenge. Challenge is a key part of a child’s psychological development and comes hand in hand with satisfaction.

Where is the Research?

Certainly, it is clear from Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that unless a child’s psychological needs (as well as physical needs) are met, they cannot reach their full potential, or in Maslow’s words, reach ‘self-actualization’.


maslow hierarchy satisfaction in school‘Self actualization’ refers to the desire for self-fulfillment and our ability to put into action whatever we set our minds to, and forge our own uniquely successful lives. Maslow believes (and I am inclined to agree) that unless our children are fed, watered, cared for, loved and content, they cannot progress to the higher levels of the hierarchy.






Whatever the future holds for our children, whether they are the next Steve Jobs or J. K. Rowling, we want their lives to be successful, influential, but above all fulfilling. This begins in the classroom.

Click here for more information about Abraham Maslow and his research.

August 1, 2016 / 1 Comment / by / in
Is boarding school right for my child?

One of the worries many parents will have when considering boarding school is whether it is the right option for their child. Not every child is the same – so how do you figure out if it is the right choice for your child?

There can be various reasons why parents choose to send their children to boarding school. Of course, academic advantadge is one of the first ones that we think about. But there can also be other considerations:  concerns about local schools or schools in your home country; specialty programs or special needs considerations; or just being able to provide a stable location for your child when parents have demanding jobs with lots of travel.

To decide whether your child would be right for boarding school, think of your child’s personality, and consider the following things:

June 10, 2016 / by / in