What might an international pupil expect from a Sixth Form UK boarding school education?
Gone are the days when a UK boarding school education might have been associated, rightly or wrongly, with the strictest of rules, regulations and routines that only the most rigid conformist might hope to navigate unscathed.
However, today’s UK boarding schools are kind, nurturing communities where individuals are cherished and supported to follow whichever path brings them academic success and all-round
fulfilment. Integration between pastoral and academic support is seamless with every pupil having a
bespoke network of people to guide them through their Sixth Form years.
Pupils and staff working together within UK boarding schools
Collaboration between pupils and staff, even at the most senior levels, is very much the way forward. Pupils are gaining the independence of habit and thought that is so necessary in today’s adult world. Pupils’ voice is stronger than ever with forums on everything. These stretch from the food that is served to the development of the curriculum and social programmes.
Elizabeth Bennell, Head of Sixth Form at King’s Ely, comments, “We are, for example, in consultation
with our pupils about how to integrate the messages emerging from the BLM movement into all that
For Senior students, in particular, opportunities for leadership abound. Whether through
mentoring younger pupils, serving as school prefects, leading their boarding house or coaching sport
and music. The development of leadership skills and the self-awareness that goes with it are integral
to the all-round education provided by a wrap-around boarding experience.”
Everything is set up to help Sixth Formers to develop their character and the vital soft skills desired by future employers and reinforce the belief that an individual is never defined solely by the academic grades they receive at the end of their time of school.
Academic Requirements and Expectations
Academic rigour remains, nevertheless, at the heart of all education and UK boarding school
teachers set the highest expectations of their pupils. The extraordinary dedication of those who
choose to work in such an environment means that academic support and extension, as well as co-
curricular opportunities are regularly provided beyond the school day. Many of these activities taking place in the evening and at weekends.
Of course, this includes the chance to experience elements of the culture that we think of as quintessentially British, whether a game of cricket, a plate of fish and chips or, for those at King’s Ely, a visit to nearby Cambridge with its superb museums.
The provision for gaining proficiency in English is second to none and the ‘full immersion’ provided by a boarding experience, along with the IELTS programme, is absolutely the best way to achieve the fluency required by many of the world’s top Higher Education institutions.
All such experiences subsequently take place within an education system that challenges students to think for themselves, and which enables flexibility and choice.
UK Boarding School Experiences
Studying within the UK offers the most authentic experience. Students are immersed in the culture from which their examinations have emanated. The nature of the curriculum places an emphasis on the application of knowledge to novel situations and the requirement to approach responses analytically and critically.
Schools in the UK also stress the importance of learning beyond the A-Level syllabus. They offer a wealth of opportunities for all students to choose from. For example, Roedean School’s Pathways Course offers elective seminars and lectures led by industry experts within four pathways:
- STEM; Business,
- Economics and Mathematics;
- Creative and Performance Arts.
Students are able to select courses from within one pathway or across several pathways, depending on their personal interests. Each enabling the student to build a portfolio of experiences that can feed directly into their university applications.
UK Boarding Schools Expectations
Boarding schools in the UK know that all of their students, whether day or boarding, thrive within a
community with global perspectives, with friendships developed between students from so many
countries. The opportunity to learn from others and to share one’s own culture enriches the
experience of all.
Sixth Form balls with student-chosen themes held throughout the year. The celebration of Chinese New Year with student-inspired menus, celebratory activities and fireworks.
An annual International Women’s Day Festivals filled with inspirational and thought-provoking
speakers. These all enhance the A-Level studies of Sixth Formers at Roedean. The community of Old
Roedeanians (ORs), regularly return to the school in person or virtually to speak to Sixth Form
students about their personal career pathways. They offer tips and advice on how to embark upon and
progress in a vast range of industries, as well as often offering work experience opportunities.
When asked more about the relationships to be found within boarding communities…
Gemma Hannan, Director of Sixth Form at Roedean School
says, “The depth of friendships that are
experienced within a UK boarding community are quite exceptional. Sixth Formers at Roedean speak
with an incredible warmth of their friends who they get to know best once lessons are over and with
whom they are living and studying side by side in the evenings and at weekends. The development
of a sense of independence and learning the essential skills of living away from home are also at the
forefront as students manage their washing, receive cookery lessons and – most essentially –
manage their own studies.”
Coming from an international background, having a ‘place’ that enables both dynamism and
tranquillity is so important and yet refreshing in an educational establishment, and boarding schools
in the UK offer this with abundance. As the world continues to reflect in the light of the Coronavirus
pandemic one of the things that have emerged as being so important for our young people is the resilience that stems from a balanced approach to life.
UK boarding schools are in an exceptional place to be able to offer this to students from around the world, with their promise of a holistic experience that places curiosity and student wellbeing at its heart, and which is based on an understanding that academic success comes from having a strong sense of purpose, the freedom to choose from a wealth of opportunities, and from feeling that you belong within a community who accepts you for who you are.
UK boarding school experience as an international student
For an international student more than any other perhaps, the experience of a boarding education
has changed enormously over the last few decades. Boarding schools in the UK are not in the
business of trying to ‘anglicise’ international pupils. Britain itself is an increasingly international
and multi-cultural place.
We firmly believe that the diversity of experience and cultural richness brought by our international pupils is of the greatest benefit to all. Our schools strive for their pupils to be outward-looking and open-minded, tolerant of alternative perspectives.
For example, how much more worthwhile is a debate about fake news and the role of the press when you can call on the experiences of students from China, Turkey, America and Nigeria than one where all pupils have grown up within the same system of government?
Elizabeth Bennell observes, “This is exactly what I witnessed during one of our Year 12 Extended Learning sessions last year. Yet what pupils gain from learning, socialising and living alongside each other is so much more important than just a celebration of difference, wonderful though our Chinese New Year or International Language Day festivities might be. Surely the most crucial lesson we all learn is that we all have far, far more in common than we think.
This can only be a good thing when you consider the global nature of the political, environmental and medical challenges we face now and will continue to face in the future.”
Impressions of a UK boarding school
This is not to say, however, that an international pupil will leave UK boarding schools unchanged or uninfluenced by their experience. They will leave with a network of friends and connections which spans the globe, with the independence to view the world with a critical eye and the confidence to challenge and right the wrongs they see.
With thanks for their contributions to Heads of Sixth Form at The English Education’s Guaranteed Placement member schools, Roedean School’s Gemma Hannan and King’s Ely’s Elizabeth Bennell.
If this is a subject of interest to you, make sure to also attend this webinar that The English Education is running on October 2nd.
Jimmy Beale will be chairing a panel of Heads and running a Q&A session on boarding schools and international pupils.
The Author – Founder of The English Education
Jimmy Beale is the Founder of The English Education and has worked in the UK private education sector for twenty years. He gained his teaching qualification at Bristol University.
Jimmy worked in both single-sex and co-educational day and boarding schools. His last two roles were as Deputy Headmaster of a large co-educational senior school, and then as Headmaster of a leading co-educational prep school, Taunton Prep School, where he was a Founding Member of the PSB (Pre-Senior Baccalaureate) curriculum and an Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI) Inspector.
Jimmy retired from his role as Headmaster in 2013 in order to pursue a career in business, now leading the education services arm of Constellation Group.