I had an interesting conversation today, which I thought I’d share with you. The topic we were discussing is how and where to get the best boarding school advice and what’s the difference between advice from an education agent, an online or printed education guide and an education consultant? There’s so much advice and guidance on the internet, in print and offered in-person, it’s tricky to decide who is the right person to guide you towards the right boarding school choice?
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The industry is largely unregulated and new agencies are popping up all the time all over the world, pertaining to be experts in advising parents about their British boarding school or university choices. British international schools are now many and diverse all over the world, often sharing their names with well-known British boarding schools – how do parents decide where to best access British education (in-country or in the UK) how do schools differ, who are the best Company to talk to for quality, independent advice that doesn’t cost a small fortune?
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A journalist interviewed me several years ago for a piece she was writing for a glossy magazine annual boarding schools guide. She had spent a whole day talking to advisers who specialise in offering advice and guidance to parents, trying to understand how their services work and what value they offer to parents, so she could share tips on how and where to find the right advice. A worthwhile and helpful article in my opinion. I was the number 7 interviewee of the day, and she was running out of steam. We chatted about my approach to guiding parents for about 15 minutes and then she suddenly paused. She said, you know Catherine, talking to you has been so refreshing after a long day. You are the first person that I have spoken to who has shown how well you get to know the families you work with and how your support is focused on what’s right for the child. She said, “it’s clear your ethos and company values are all about doing all you can, often over several years, to support and guide each family throughout their school and university journey. You are clearly passionate about private education, with chalk-face experience of working in boarding schools.” She said, “I know you are running a business, but that doesn’t come across in the way you speak. You care about the families you work with and want to help them to choose the best school for their child, for them to be happy and therefore fulfil their potential, even if that isn’t the most commercial avenue for you.”
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Whilst I sadly wouldn’t win any entrepreneur or businesswoman of the year awards, this feedback was music to my ears, as an educationalist and a consultant. What she said, in my opinion, defines the difference between an education consultant like myself plus all the associate consultants I am very proud to call part of the TIEC expert team, and other types of boarding school advisers around the world.
I am not a well-known journalist who writes witty and engaging reviews of schools that make excellent reading as a much-valued part of a parents’ initial boarding school research. These stimulate lively dinner party conversations, adding the thoughts and experiences of other parents into the mix. Used in the right way, this can be very helpful. It can also lead to confusion and move the focus away from your child as an individual. I once read an amusing cartoon in one of the glossy annual guides which had a drawing of a child at boarding school playing in a hockey match with lots of parents along the side-line. The caption was, Mrs Brown-Huddleston was so busy discussing Edward’s goals, she missed Edward’s goal. If going down this route for your advice, be sure to keep the focus on your child, and where they will be happy and hence fulfil their potential. The right school for one child could be a completely wrong choice for another.
I am not an online marketing specialist who knows all the tricks of the trade or pays Google to get more website traffic to their online school directory of key facts, generating leads to families, who they refer to boarding schools as part of a commercial relationship. This can be a highly useful and cost-effective tool for your initial research if you have plenty of time ahead of your boarding school start date. There are lots of useful comparison tools online and you can certainly focus on your area or location if this is important to you. However, there’s no substitute for talking to a consultant who will get to know you and your child, before talking about possible boarding schools. A person is a lot quicker way to access experienced advice if you are short of time. Ask yourself am I reading the information, or is this quality, targeted, up-to-date advice?
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I am not an education agent based overseas with a list of perhaps 20 schools I know, so I can meet with parents and ask them which one they would like their child to attend. There are many truly excellent education agents based overseas with extensive knowledge and experience in boarding schools – we are proud to call one of them our partner office in Tokyo. However, if you’re talking to an education agent, ask lots of questions about their experience, length of time working with boarding schools, and how extensive their boarding school knowledge is, and even talk to other parents who have used their services. Word of mouth is the best vetting process in my opinion.
I am however an educationalist – a qualified teacher and a Housemistress with years of experience working in boarding schools. All our associate team have worked in boarding schools – talking to parents daily, living and working alongside their children, over many years. Our team has built a wealth of experience in boarding schools, giving us the perfect perspective on what makes a child happy at school and hence, what makes the perfect boarding school for them to fulfil their true potential. In a second career as a consultant based in the UK, we’ve talked with many hundreds of families over the years. We visit schools often, helping parents to make the right decisions.
Choosing to work with an education consultancy will not be the cheapest option, though we have an ethical approach to fees, keeping them as low and accessible as feasible. We don’t have an office, so all you are investing in is people with the right experience and knowledge to share with you. An education consultancy brings together education professionals, who are passionate about education and focused on the happiness and success of your child. How can you put a price on that?
So, if you find yourself in need of some specialist advice about choosing the right boarding school and are not sure where to turn, you can click here to read how we can help you. You are likely to be talking to several companies, deciding which one has the right service for you and your family. If you’re comparing services, make sure you are comparing like for like – ask yourself these questions:
Am I being charged a consultancy fee for advice? If not, the adviser is probably working as an agent for boarding schools, supporting their marketing activity as part of a commercial relationship. This can be a cost-effective option if your budget is small. However, they may not be independent advisers and hence are not likely to be sharing all your possible boarding school options with you. This works well for many families, but ask is it right for you?
Are they a career educationalist who understands all the crucial elements that will come together to ensure your child will be happy? Online guides and information about schools, as well as engaging school reviews in guides and glossy magazines can be a truly valuable part of your boarding school research phase, giving you an all-around picture and general understanding of a boarding school education. But if you are planning to invest in specialist advice, ask yourself if would you pay a plumber to fix your roof?
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