What do international parents really want from UK boarding schools?

“”School rankings still matter, but ‘safety’ has also started to be mentioned more often”

It is so often assumed that international parents are only focused on one thing when it comes to selecting a boarding school for their child-rankings. So, if a school or college has outstanding A level results, then that school will go to the top of the list of possible schools parents and their children are considering.

However, things seem to be changing…

A recent article highlighting the rise of the ‘Panda Mom’ in China seems to indicate that parents, who have themselves been subject to the ‘Tiger mom’ regime of academic focus & extra-curricular tutoring, are wanting something different for their own children. “I don’t want that pushing too hard for my kids. I want them to be their own people”, says Nancy Xu, who has set up her own education consultancy to advise parents on a more balanced approach to their children’s education.

So what else really matters to parents? Well, in the first instance schools need to help parents by better differentiating themselves from the school down the road. As Gareth Collier, Principal, Cardiff Sixth Form College says; “almost all schools claim the same things: excellent academic provision; outstanding pastoral care; extensive extra-curricular programme.

With more schools opening their doors to international students, the choice is getting harder and the lack of differentiation more difficult to deal with. Parents are asking for more specificity in our messaging and to really shine a light on what makes us different and what makes each of our schools stand out from the crowd, not what makes us one of the gang”.

So how can schools make it clear to parents how they are different?

In RSAcademic’s ‘What drives parental satisfaction’ Ten Trends survey 2017/18 the top influencing factor for parents when considering the choice of schools was “the atmosphere and ethos of the school”. Therefore, clearly highlighting the mission statement and core values of an institution should always be on the school’s home page rather than hidden in the ‘about us’ section.

“With more schools opening their doors to international students, the choice is getting harder and the lack of differentiation more difficult to deal with”

Schools need to remember that in many cases overseas parents will not be able to visit their school in person, so how the school is presented on its web site home page is absolutely critical. The web site home page is the school’s shop window, it needs to make an immediate impact and communicate why it is different from other schools?

Showing an increased focus on pastoral care and pupil well-being is an important core value and many schools are now trying to communicate their focus on ‘whole child development’ but in ways that fit with their unique ethos, thus differentiating their offer.  For example, Felsted school has a focus on accreditation- the Wellbeing Award for schools as a way of showing its intent, whilst Taunton School International focuses on an ‘Enrichment Tracker’ which allows tutors to keep track of how their tutees are involving themselves in the extra-curricular provision at the school as a way of measuring their level of involvement and personal well-being.

UK Education Guide has also noticed a change in the questions parents and prospective students are now asking. Definitely school rankings still matter, but ‘safety’ has also started to be mentioned more often. A school cannot move where it is located, but stressing the safety of the school grounds and the safety of pupils generally is definitely moving up the list of questions parents are asking.

” To be truly bilingual requires schools to not only focus on excellent EAL support but also ongoing support for pupils to not lose fluency in their first language”

As Mike Oliver, Principal of Brooke House College, in Market Harborough says; “A small town environment does matter to parents. These are obviously ‘feelings’ rather than based on any empirical evidence, but nevertheless, they do impact on parents decision-making process when choosing a school for their children”.

Another increasingly important aspect of what international parents are looking for is Language support for their child, to ensure access to a top UK or US University.

“International parents want their children to be fully bilingual and gain internationally recognised qualifications to ensure access to top Universities”, says Caroline Nixon General Secretary of BAISIS. To be truly bilingual requires schools to not only focus on excellent EAL (English as an Additional Language) support but also ongoing support for international pupils to not lose fluency in their first language.

So, in an increasingly competitive market, schools do need to consider; making their core message to parents and pupils much clearer & not being afraid to stand out from the crowd…

About the author:  Pat Moores is director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.