On education in Europe and the USA

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Parents United Kingdom Schools Kirill Delikatnyi Popular

What Parents Should Know When Sending Their Children Abroad

The decision to study abroad comes at different ages. The main entry points are nine, thirteen, sixteen, and eighteen years, as these are entry-level ages for the classic path of studying in the UK. There are schools that tend to children after nursery and through to university; however, few private schools take this path. The more common system follows the prep school, college (with possible entry at sixth form), and university route with respective entry ages. This route is set out so because of examinations that students must take at respective ages: Common Entrance at thirteen, GCSE at sixteen, A-Levels, and other university entry exams at eighteen. For this blog, we will disregard any ages above these as older adults will most probably have full responsibility for their choice of education abroad. Yes, this is a blog for our dear parents.

Whether the call comes from your child or not, the parent will always be central to deciding as they are involved financially and emotionally. Children studying abroad means distance, autonomy, indirect upbringing, independence, and a huge range of other factors that mean that your child will get to grow up early. Let’s break them down.


The decision to send your child to study in the UK is appealing primarily because UK education is regarded as the best in the world.
This reputation comprises multiple components rather than only what happens in the classroom; more on that later. The child’s experience of what happens in the classroom will vary depending on the age they switched schools. When I came, at the age of nine, the curriculum covered in class seemed so far behind what I studied in Kyiv, so I spent most of my time focusing on learning English, acing all the tests. After about two years, I was all caught up. However, when I visited my home at sixteen and later years, my curriculum seemed to have advanced beyond what my friends were studying. Just before I left for summer, having done my GCSEs, I remember my teachers telling me to enjoy it because the curriculum will advance quickly and become significantly more complex when we return. In the UK, the last two years at college (post-GCSEs) usually cover the curriculum of the first two years at universities abroad.
In this aspect, relocating early gave me a certain advantage, as I had time to up my English skills - I cannot imagine how hard it must be for fresh foreigners trying to orient themselves around the language and handle the workload at sixteen.
Believe me, English lessons at home do not work at all, no matter how long you take them for. I did see many of my friends struggle with this. If nine is too early a decision for you, take summer school directly before starting your studies. Throwing your child (with a yet very adaptive brain) into a language-speaking country is the best way for them to pick up their speaking skills.


Depending on where your home country is, you will have a different experience with the teaching techniques in class. The UK is renowned for its focus on independent learning and developing critical reasoning skills. Teaching at prep school felt similar to home: we had to remember textbooks word for word, learn key terms for the relevant subjects, and practice proper calligraphy. This was all in preparation for the Common Entrance Exam - the test you must take to be admitted to college. Understandably, this was an appropriate approach to teaching as you must have a foundation in understanding of the subjects you will explore further and criticise at college.
At college, the first year is usually designed for children to inherit the school culture, learn the names and faces around them, make friends and get settled in. The next two years prepare them for GCSEs. During that time, children can discard a few subjects they find themselves not to be interested in and narrow down their expertise. Personally, I believe that this is an advantageous approach compared to other countries as it grooms children toward their further field of interest and does not span their attention across unnecessary subjects.

Post-GCSEs, at 16 years onwards, the college asks children to drop all but three subjects (allowing four). At this point in time, the college will discuss with the student, and their parents, the path they wish to chart in life, orientating around university course choices. When applying to university, courses will have requirements for the subjects students must sit during their A-Level (or equivalent) exams. For example, for my (neuroscience) course, I must have studied psychology, biology and mathematics. There are, of course, alternatives such as IB or other school-designed examinations for those that have not yet decided, but not all schools offer these.

As you can see, there is a trend toward children starting to make big decisions at an early age. Although it may not be the best solution for those not ready to make these decisions, this approach allows young minds to rigorously explore subjects they are interested in and consequently become more knowledgeable than their peers at home.

Ways in which boarding schools substitute parents

Sending your children to study abroad, in many cases, is opposed by parents as they cannot go with them. The argument against that is boarding schools. Boarding schools are designed to be a second home for students; nevertheless, they are homes with different “parents,” upbringing and culture. So finally, beyond the classroom.

Boarding school culture will vary depending on the country you find yourself in and the school itself. In Britain, boarding schools have rich histories, and their values are deeply rooted in the country’s traditions. Beyond the classroom, you are taught proper British attire, ways to address your elders, sports you can play, protestant Christianity, manners, etc. For some parents, having their children adopt these values is a dream; for others, it may be a conflicting thought (for example, religiously). Moreover, most British schools are still gender-segregated, and this is either a problematic or a highly desired scenario for families.
Beyond this Victorian culture surrounding students, boarding schools put significant weight on fostering independence in children.
From a young age, they are taught how to make their beds, how to eat appropriately, how to interact politely with their peers and teachers, how to form orderly queues, how to maintain their living spaces clean, how to appropriate their time correctly for studying, resting, physical activity and socialising. The values that students adopt are culture- specific; however, they still shape children into active participants in society. A boarding school is a small simulation of the real world: one that is safeguarded and not as rough. This is what I mean when I say children get to grow up early at boarding school.
Within this community, schools do their best to simulate parental structures for children. Students’ living quarters will have a housemaster/mistress that looks after their “home” in an administrative role and a matron who will tend to things like illness and laundry. Each student will have a personal tutor who advises them in their academic progress. The school’s chaplain is usually warm and can tend to troubles of the faith, soul and heart. These individuals are, of course, not limited in their line of advice and are always welcoming of any queries; children can even be personal with their favourite teacher. However, although these figures try their best to simulate parental guidance, they take care of at least 20 students at a time, and it is hard to feel personal with them like with one’s parents.

I hardly ever felt a close connection with any of the staff at school, but what replaced my parents best were my friends. I actually found it quite freeing to learn and grow with my friend group - nobody advised me against bad decisions, and nobody restricted me in my actions (although they tried to). So, I made my mistakes for myself or learnt from others who have made them for me, and I have come out of it stronger and more skilled in life than many of my peers. I felt as part of a wolfpack, and it was truly a character-building experience.

Friends, guardians and parents

If your child comes to the UK to study away from home, school will become their life. This entails not only class and campus life; their college of choice will affect their life out of school bounds - on holidays and short weekends away from the grounds. This is the time when school does not have control over children’s independence; when they are exposed to the real world. Now, the school’s yearly cycle will have long holidays over Christmas and summer when students have around two months away from campus and usually can come back to their home countries; there are also ‘half-term’ breaks that last one to two weeks and ‘long weekends’ when students are encouraged to leave campus from Friday to Monday. During these shorter breaks, not all families will have the availability or the funding to fly their children back home. I knew students that would fly home just for one night; however, if this is an unlikely scenario for you, you can read on.

Three options are available to families when their children are attending boarding school. 'Full boarding’ means that students live at school for the full duration of their attendance; ‘semi boarding’ means that students can choose the days of the week that they live at school, and others that they stay at home; ‘day boarding’ means that students sleep at home, but attend school as normal.

I was a full boarder, with limited availability to go home even during the half-term breaks, let alone long weekends. When I first came, my parents’ friends acted as my guardians, and because of my natural homesickness, I could not stand them. As I adapted, I moved on from staying with them to having my friends accommodate me during these breaks. This is the time when independence really lived up to its full meaning. I had no authority to come back home to, I was free to roam anywhere I wanted, to make any mistakes I wanted and rather than hide them from my parents, brag about them to my friends. If, reading this, you suddenly want to shield your children from trouble, you are missing the point. Your children will make mistakes anyway; no point worrying about that. Imagine a boy among students who fly home for a night, asking them to sleep over every weekend (or for weeks at a time, or asking multiple friends to stay a couple of days here and there). This hardly sets a boy up for a good reputation at school. Luckily I was in good company, but it was still a very anxious experience.

In light of everything considered, I want to highlight the most important aspect to consider when deciding to send your children to study abroad:

The emotional toll on your children

If you decide to send your children to study abroad at the age of nine, you have the goal for them to adopt the British lifestyle, become settled and rooted in the country and have their life be Britain. Sure enough, the only reality in which this will be true is if you are relocating with them. I have friends who relocated at nine, and none of us wish to stay here; I have friends who moved here at sixteen, and there is no place they would rather be. They all moved here alone, and the reasoning behind the thinking of my sixteen-year-olds is that they have already seen and grown up in one environment, and Britain was the better alternative for them. They were just at the right age when they were ready to be independent and have received enough parental attention. Nine- year-olds would not have, which is why they would always want to return home - they have been missing it from a young age.

Sixteen is the perfect age for relocation. Your children have grown up to understand that the education or the environment they find themselves in is probably lesser to the one they will experience in Britain. They have matured enough to be sensible and cautious in conducting themselves, making fewer mistakes when presented with so much independence. They have grown up enough to be tired of living with their parents and will still gain the advantage of maturing earlier in life than their peers at home. Reflectively, parents will feel less worried about sending their children at this age than when they are still almost babies. With enough preparation to overcome the language barrier, this transition can be made very smoothly at this age. However, it must be considered that the conversation around this transition must happen a few years prior.

The language barrier issue must also be considered if you are considering moving to Britain for university. However, there are further complications that you will be faced with. A-Level examinations that you prepare for post-GCSEs are your only route to direct entry into the first year of your course. Overseas students wishing to transition at this age will be required to take a foundation year, which is a preparatory year before university that is supposed to prepare you for your studies and up your English skills (although they could be more effective in this). It is better to prepare your child for studies at university, and later life in Britain, through sixth form at college: this way, they will make friends easier, become familiar with the culture, and learn the language better. The college will force this onto them (in the good sense of the phrase), whereas, at university, it is easy to become unnoticed if you are anxious about such a wholly new environment.

Closing thoughts

At whatever time the idea comes to you, you must consider the administrative aspects of the move and the emotional toll relocation will have on your children. Whereas your purpose is just a good education, adopting the lifestyle or a short course, the idea may sometimes seem better than the reality will turn out. Most importantly, whatever your aspirations are, it is your children that will be living through these changes. Although you may be the central decision maker financially, your children must have the final say.