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FAQs for international parents seeking boarding schools in the UK

Here you’ll find our international education consultants key FAQs for international parents who are considering the option of a British Boarding School for their child.

Our international education consultants are on hand to help and support you when choosing the right school to enhance your child's talents and happiness, find out more by getting in touch with us.

What Is A Pre-Boarding Preparation Course?

International applicants to UK based British boarding schools are required to have an adequate level of both spoken and written English to enable them to access all the elements of the UK school curriculum. It is usual practice for boarding schools which specialise in offering a supportive education for international children who do not speak English as their first language, to offer additional English language support in small group or one-to-one sessions. However, it is necessary for children to have some level of understanding before they start at the school, to ensure they are able to integrate and keep their head above water during lessons.

The level of English understanding required increases the older the child. Children aged 8 or 9 attending a small prep school need less English preparation as prep schools, by their nature, are small and nurturing, so they often offer the one-to-one or group teaching from a very basic understanding themselves. As children get older and are seeking entry to senior boarding schools, their initial grasp of English needs to be much greater.

If children have a limited understanding of English it is advisable for them to attend a specialist language school prior to boarding school where they will follow an intensive programme of English linked specifically to learning vocabulary and grammar to allow access to the UK curriculum subjects. This also allows them to get used to the English food and culture and to being away from home for the first time, in a small and nurturing environment, with specialist teachers who understand the requirements of children who live overseas and do not speak English as their first language. Courses at these schools range from one term to one year. These courses are commonly referred to as pre-boarding preparation courses.

Where can I find school league tables to help me when choosing an independent school?

Results in public examinations play an important part of evaluating the success of a school, however all parents should remember when considering potential schools for their children, that there is so much more to the educational programme of an independent school than simply their past examination results.

League tables should therefore only be a small part of the long list of factors that you take into consideration when putting together your potential school short-list. Independent schools provide an education which is not just about examination results, it is also about:

  • Acquiring knowledge and learning how to apply it effectively within the world of work.

  • Offering individual support to every child so that they can attain their individual potential in a whole range of curriculum areas, at whatever level that may be.

  • Developing the ability to think for oneself, challenge and question.

  • Developing communication skills, confidence and independence.

  • Developing a sense of community and awareness of others.

  • Engaging in a whole range of diverse experiences to find new hobbies and interests which can be continued into adult life.

  • Identifying potential careers of interest, as well as being advised on the best education pathway towards achieving them.

  • Developing an awareness of how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

  • Developing employability skills including those needed for presentation, interview, time management, reliability, responsibility, decision making and leadership.

When reviewing the educational provision of the schools you are considering, ask yourself do they provide a holistic approach to education through all of all the above and how?

Instead of focussing your research around league tables, it's better to seek advice from a consultant, who can not only inform you of the academic level of individual schools, but also tell you about the all-round education focus and feel of each school.

What does it mean when an independent senior school has a pre-test as part of its admissions process?

Public schools usually assess children for entry at age 13, via the Common Entrance or CE examination, which is taken at the child’s prep school in the June of Year 8. Some schools however have an additional assessment or pre-testing process to evaluate children before they go on to seek a place at the school through sitting Common Entrance. This is called the pre-test. Individual public schools differ in terms of timing and format for the pre-test so it is important to ask the individual school to which you are applying what their pre-test involves and when the process takes place so you can make sure that your child is well prepared.

The Head of your prep school will also be able to advise you. It is most common for this pre-test process to take place during year 7 and it usually involves a visit to the senior school for an interview (with a Housemaster or Housemistress if it is a boarding school) and some testing in either the core subjects and/or verbal and non-verbal reasoning.

The outcome of the pre-test will be that your child is offered a place conditional on achieving the required grades in the Common Entrance exam, a place on the waiting list again subject to Common Entrance results, or they will be declined the opportunity to sit Common Entrance for that particular school.

What is Common Entrance or the CE exam?

Common Entrance, often shortened to CE, is the collective name for the examinations taken at age 11 or 13 for entry into independent senior or public school.

Examinations are taken by all children in English, Maths and Science. History, Geography, French, German, Spanish, Religious Studies, Greek or Latin are also offered. The number and range of subjects taken depends on the entry criteria for the chosen senior school and the capability of the candidate. For example, children who do not have English as their first language are often required to sit fewer subjects, but this is dependent on how long they have been studying in the UK prior to sitting the CE exams.

The syllabus and question papers are set and monitored by the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) The exams are supervised by the prep schools and take place in November, January or most commonly June. The papers are marked by the parents’ chosen senior school and each senior school has an accepted CE pass mark, which they expect children to reach to gain entry.

A report from the Head of the child’s current school is also required. It is wise for parents to seek advice from the Head, to ensure that the senior schools to which parents are applying suit the interests and capabilities of their child.

What is an international school?

An international school is a school which offers a curriculum of study other than that of the country in which the school is located. For example there are schools in the UK which offer the American system of education. Likewise, there are thousands of International Schools all over the world which offer the British Curriculum, by way of GCSE, IGCSE and A levels. Some of these have close links with schools in the UK such as Harrow, Beijing, Shrewsbury, Bangkok and Haileybury, Kazakhstan.

International schools largely offer education options for the children of parents who are engaged in international business so live overseas from their normal place of residence, as well as diplomats who live around the world as placements dictate.

Where do I get help to apply for a visa to study at a UK based British boarding school?

If you are not a British or EU national and are considering choosing to educate your child at a British boarding school in the UK, it is highly likely that you will need to apply for a Child student visa. This includes any time spent studying at a pre-boarding preparation course, where they may be studying intensive English, prior to starting their long-term study at a boarding school.

The boarding school, to which you choose to send your child, must be registered as a sponsor and they will need to provide you with a CAS reference number for your application form. This represents proof that you have a valid confirmation of acceptance to study at that particular school. You will also need to have proof of sufficient funds to cover your child’s time spent in UK education and that you have the right care arrangements in place for your child, while they are studying.

It is important to seek advice from a licensed visa adviser or from the boarding school to which you are applying. They should be able to assist you in preparing your application form and gathering the right documentary evidence to support your application.


All of these abbreviations mean the same thing- English language support for international students for whom English is not their first language. Schools usually offer one-to-one or group lessons to support international children in their studies, to ensure they are keeping up with their curriculum knowledge and understanding. Some schools include these lessons in their termly fees, but some charge extra fees, so make sure you ask about this when you visit potential schools. Ask when these lessons will take place. Your child may have to give up studying French or another language such as Spanish or Latin to attend these lessons, or they may take place after school or at lunchtime.

Our international education consultants can help

We understand that every family is different so please get in touch with our expert international education consultants to discover what the best school option is for your child.

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