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Need advice on UK Boarding Schools for International Student

(76 Posts)
alifewelllived Tue 17-Jan-17 04:07:11

We are Australians living in Vietnam & my eldest child (daughter 13yo) has asked to go to boarding school in the UK so she can have more opportunities to develop her passion of sport (currently plays U15 football in boys team, plays mixed rugby, swims, & plays tennis & badminton and also be exposed to an education that will help her flourish (currently one of the best students in the French School in Hanoi). I am fully supportive of her dream - we have a very close relationship & I will send her off knowing that she is fully capable of thriving in boarding school. She also has British heritage, loves travel and is keen to play football in Europe, so for this & other reasons we have decided on the UK rather than Australia.
We are working with an agent to select the schools and have narrowed it down to 5 whom we have submitted applications to:
Bishop's Stortford
Kings Ely
We are booked to head over to the UK for school tours and entrance tests the week after next but I am really wanting to narrow our selection before we get there as I feel that sitting tests for 5 schools in a week (plus inspections etc) is just going to be too much!! However I am struggling to cross any of them off the list as they all look fabulous. I understand many people take a couple of years to make these decisions, tour the schools before submitting applications etc, but unfortunately our expat life has not allowed us this time! So am seeking your very honest feedback on these choices. What is a priority for us is a warm, nurturing environment that encourages independent & out of the box thinking, supports the students to excel whilst making them global citizens (ie. not just concerned with their own success, but rather the success of all), and that has a fabulous sports program. Also its important that the boarding experience is a very positive one for her ... (ie. not a place where the school empties out over the weekend). As far as I can tell from the school websites, they all score pretty highly, so I need your help to make this decision!! Many thanks in advance.

Needmoresleep Tue 17-Jan-17 09:45:43

If she is really keen on football you should read through the ISFA (Independent Schools Football Assn) website and note the schools that consistently feature in the later rounds of the competition or supply kids to regional and national teams. Kings Taunton and ASC Cobham are the obvious ones, though the latter is American and, I think, also offers IB.

Kings Taunton, I understand, has a great reputation for achieving soccer scholarships to US Universities.

alifewelllived Tue 17-Jan-17 10:10:03

@Needmoresleep - fabulous advice! Thank you very much. This is very useful.

LarkDescending Tue 17-Jan-17 11:32:22

The only one on your list I know is Oakham, and I'd think it would very much tick your boxes. It has a long tradition of full boarding, though there are now flexi options too. The flexi boarding is in dedicated houses, so the full boarding houses do not empty out at weekends. It has always had fantastic facilities and offers an array of opportunities. A sporty girl would thrive, I would think.

alifewelllived Tue 17-Jan-17 11:47:01

@larkdescending - thanks for sharing. It does help so much to hear personal opinions. We'll keep Oakham on our list. Much appreciated!

LIZS Tue 17-Jan-17 11:52:17

Bedes is sporty/performing arts but less strong on academics. Also not sure of full boarding vs weekly ratio. Does it have to be coed?

bubbleandbubble Tue 17-Jan-17 12:06:51

My 12 year old daughter started at Kings Ely in September. We also live in asia. So far so good, she's very happy (although it did take longer for her to settle than anticipated). There are not masses of boarders in her year (year 7, so in the junior school) but I think the number increases as you go up the school. It is most definitely warm and nuturing, and academically she seems to be thriving. Most of the boarders are international and so around all weekends which really helps. Would be worth checking about football though as I don't know how much they play in the senior school. We are pretty happy with it all , so much so that I'm jumping on a plane in an hour to take my second daughter to look round and sit her tests!

alifewelllived Tue 17-Jan-17 12:40:13

@LIZS - Yes we do want to be co-ed because she's always attended mixed schools and really enjoys the balance. Plus she finds boys good competitors on the sports field!

alifewelllived Tue 17-Jan-17 12:44:29

@bubbleandbubble: Good to hear from someone also living in Asia! Can I ask what you think was the reason was behind her she taking longer to settle in than expected? Also did you look at other schools? And ultimately what were the factors that led you to choose Kings Ely? Good luck with your travel and your second daughter's tests!

EleanorRigby123 Tue 17-Jan-17 13:17:05

For overseas boarders you want to be aiming for a majority of full boarders. Otherwise most kids will go home at the weekend and Saturday night can be very dull for those left behind. Marginally less important at 6th form - but still makes a difference. Look at the ISI reports for the schools you have selected and see what the ratios are. Discount all those with a majority of weekly and day.

Do take into account things like whereabouts of guardian and any fixed exeats/half terms if your DD will not be going home. You will need UK guardians - family members/friends are ideal otherwise it can entail substantial extra costs. Also factor in travel to and from airports at start/end of term and half terms. If you are shelling out £150 each way for a taxi 6 times a year it will quickly mount up.

Do remember that agents get paid by the schools if they send a student - so they have no incentive to push schools with whom they have no relationship/ schools which are over subscribed and do not pay agents. Also, ALL schools look great in the ads. Those on your list are all very different schools. At 16 with a clever child I would suggest you need to be focussing on the academics rather more than the football.

If I was pruning your list I would drop Bishop's Stortford because there are not that many full boarders and Bedes because, while the sport is great, it has not traditionally attracted a critical mass of academic children.
Oakham has lots of full boarders, is fairly academic and good girls football.

Have you looked at Sevenoaks? Lots of sixth form boarders, very academic and international and good girls football.

alifewelllived Tue 17-Jan-17 13:35:39

@EleanorRigby123 - what a gem you are! Thank you so much for taking the time to write me with all of this information. I hadn't even considered the cost to and fro airports adding up, but of course you are right. I do have a couple of potential UK guardian family members/friends but the agent had recommended not to be tied to their locations as the best school/child fit was the most important consideration & they provide a guardian service to support this end. I do agree to a certain extent, but with what you're saying, I need to be mindful that this option could be expensive.
And yes, ALL schools look good in the ads! Hence my dilemma & decision to turn to Mumsnet for help! (Good decision I must say!)
I had been leaning towards cutting Bishops' so your suggestion is reassuring.
And I will have a look at Sevenoaks too.
Many thanks again!

GinGarden Tue 17-Jan-17 15:12:12

Oakham would be the best choice on that list. Have friends with children at Felsted and they have mixed views about the academics.
Oakham is the only one there with a decent amount of full boarders but was still not our choice as there are not enough full boarders and many local children who flexi or weekly board, leaving only full boarders in school at w/e.
However, Oakham is in a lovely town, not too far from London and is smaller than its well known neighbours Uppingham & Oundle. It is known for being good at sport.
Just for the record I have no connection with Oakham, have just done my research when looking for my own DC, as another poster mentioned, agents will steer you towards the schools that they will get commission from.

user1484679195 Tue 17-Jan-17 19:49:40

I live near Bede's and know a couple of day pupils who go there. The general view around here is that it's a great school for a sporty child but not for an academic one. I wouldn't imagine there are many full boarders there. Sports facilities are fab though and the pupils seem to be very happy.

alifewelllived Wed 18-Jan-17 04:27:07

@GinGarden - thanks for your comments. Out of interest, if you liked Oakham, but still rejected it because there are not enough full boarders, what school did you choose & why?

alifewelllived Wed 18-Jan-17 05:00:00

@user1484679195 - thanks for your post. I have heard that Bede's is not strong academically but interestingly the statistics on the academics suggest that it is on the improve. On the UK.Gov compare school's A Level results page , in the last report from 2016 Bede's got higher average student mark than Oakham! Oh my head is swimming with all the different information I need to digest!

sendsummer Wed 18-Jan-17 06:21:02

As EleanorRigby said, you need a school with a critical mass of full boarders for your DD.
From previous threads with similar requests I am cynical about how agents recommend schools and certainly the known critical mass full boarding schools are not included in this list (except Oakham which is borderline). Do you know which other ones they excluded after contacting as there are definitely no places?
Does your DD definitely want girls football (as that may be a compromise for academics) or a sporty school with support for top academics even if not very selective? If football is the priority King's College Taunton seems your best bet but even they have very few football fixtures for girls. She could do better with a boarding school that would support her attending a local town football club.
If there are places and she would settle for no football in school but a good range of sports as well as academics, I would add Shrewsbury School (football for boys at school), St Edwards in Oxford, Clifton College and Cheltenham College to your list.

alifewelllived Wed 18-Jan-17 06:45:26

@sendsummer - I'm grateful for the emphasis that others have given the full boarding scenario - if the school empties out on the weekend, it is not going to make for a nurturing experience for her. Apparently Felsted has 81% boarders which makes an appealing choice, plus they are starting girls' football this year and also offer IB. I don't know what other places the agent did not include because they were full - I'll run that question past them today.
Football is a must! She's a passionate player and does not want to give this up. So of course, the ideal would be a school that has a girls football team & strong academic support. At this stage, considering this and looking at all the latest exam results I think my best choices are Oakham, Bede's (who compete well in football & whose academics are improving) & Felsted.
I have been looking also at Sevenoaks that EleanorRigby123 recommended. Despite applications needing to be in 2 years in advance, I'm going to contact them anyway because she does have excellent academic & sporting references & reports. So if anyone can give more thoughts on this school too, it would be much appreciated!

sendsummer Wed 18-Jan-17 07:13:56

I have quickly checked the latest Felstead ISI inspection numbers 2016. According to those numbers 50% are full boarders. However as with many schools a lot will go home on Sunday.
Sevenoaks is an excellent school, again fewer full time boarders before sixth form, entry is very competitive so chances of last minute places without being filled by waiting list are slim. Always worth asking though

sendsummer Wed 18-Jan-17 07:20:05

Also don't overestimate the level of girls' football in most UK private schools. Most girls will not have played football seriously. As your DD is very good she would probably have to train with the boys to continue improving unless as I said she was able to attend a local club.

alifewelllived Wed 18-Jan-17 07:32:55

@sendsummer - thanks so much! I will certainly be much better prepared with the right questions when we are meeting with the schools next week (& the week after). I will be make sure to ask the level of football played. Needmoresleep's advice of looking at the ISFA's website to see best football teams was great too - I discovered that Oakham & Bede's both have a player each in the ISFA squad and they appear to compete regularly on a high level. Felsted may not be at the same standard yet.
I have just sent off a letter to Sevenoaks with lots of supporting docs, so we'll have to wait and see!
And I've just completed an analysis of all the schools' academics too & of the 6 schools I'm now considering, Bishop's Stortford are second best (after Sevenoaks) for GSCE & A Levels ... I was almost ready to cross them off my list but it seems they're actually have a lot to offer! Still waiting to hear back as to whether or not they have a girls' football team. Anyone else able to advise? King's Ely do not fare well in our selection with the lowest GSCE levels ...

sendsummer Wed 18-Jan-17 07:37:28

Finally smile when you look at exam results ask about the number of pupils with at least two A* at A level or IB score of above 38. For a good non selective school St Edwards in Oxford is a useful comparator.

abitwrong123 Wed 18-Jan-17 07:44:45

I live in the stortford area and I would discount it if I were you. Lack of full boarders and the sporting side is ok but not to the standard it seems you are looking for.
Mount Kelly in Tavistock in Devon is fantastic for sport, amazing facilities and has full boarding. There is a decent number of pupils in school each weekend, I think a lot of the pupils stay at weekends because of the sport.

homebythesea Wed 18-Jan-17 07:49:07

Have you considered / discounted Millfield which is widely recognised as the best sporty school?

alifewelllived Wed 18-Jan-17 08:22:34

Thanks again sendsummer for helping me find the best ways of working with all the exam data. The schools do get very creative in the way they present their results don't they?! I did consider St Edwards - but crossed it off the list earlier for a number of reasons.
@abitwrong123 - I appreciate you sharing your local knowledge with me. That's really what I need here - the glossy school websites all tell pretty much the same story! On your recommendation I've just looked up Mount Kelly which also seems fabulous but far away from London which will makes it less convenient and more expensive for me to drop in for a quick visit or for her to fly home at breaks. Also they don't appear to have a girls' football team. Thanks in any case for broadening my search!
@homeby the sea - just had a peek at Millfield who also don't appear to have a girls' football team. Oakham is looking like the pick of the bunch so far!

cathyandclare Wed 18-Jan-17 08:31:46

Have you thought of Rugby?
It's full boarding, big new girl intake for sixth form, pretty academic and sporty ( not sure about football though)
Dd has absolutely loved it and flourished.

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