On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
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How to Best Prepare For Relocating to Britain

This article is aimed at preparing families for a smooth transition to the British education system. There is no doubt that the first hurdle on everyone’s mind and the biggest challenge that you are faced with upon landing in Heathrow is the language barrier. Although you may be fine asking for a coffee on the plane after so many years of memorising language textbooks, hopes start to break down as soon as you are asked your ‘purpose for staying in the UK’ by the border guard. I will say it over and over again that your home school lessons or private tutoring will work to minimal effect if your goals are to achieve fluency in the language. I will tell you the useful hints that will better prepare you for assimilation into the UK.

Start making decisions early

Transition to private school or university in the UK cannot be a spontaneous decision. The conversation around this move must happen a few years in advance - primarily because most UK private schools have waiting lists of up to five years! An early sit-down with the family is the best way to give children some time to evaluate their feelings on this proposition and give the family some space to test the water. When pros and cons have been weighed, and the direction has now been set, you can start to think what is the easiest route to take.
As you now know, applications for UK private schools should be made approximately two years in advance. Once you have submitted your children to a few of your selections, you will now need something to boast about, something to show that your child deserves a place among the elite. It would be a mistake to think that schools won’t make decisions based on parents as well.

International Schools

No doubt international schools are the taste of the real thing. British education, regarded as one of the best in the world, is not only limited to the island itself, but has spread as inspiration for many businesses around the world. Some British schools have partner institutions abroad, some universities have international colleges and many independent businesses will try to simulate the British educational environment. As a result of this, such establishments will have native speakers for teachers, exams from British providers, and consequently a similar curriculum to the one in the UK. Do not be fooled that public and private education are even somewhat similar, even in the UK these are two totally different models. In order to get an insight into what awaits you at the kingdom, International Schools will be your best shot. They will be the closest thing to replicating a British setting - understanding the criteria for admission in the UK better than anyone, they will train your children in sports, extracurriculars, manners and knowledge to UK standards.
However, outside of class, your children will still be surrounded by their friends who speak the home language, their native culture, their local news, their parents, original films, TV series and books; and not everybody may have the resources or will to transfer their children to an International School right away. How can you overcome these challenges?

Simulating the UK environment

The answer is: if you are preparing to move to Britain, make Britain come to you first.
TIn the years leading up to enrolment on your studies, it is best to tick off all other aspects of relocation so that they do not get in the way when you finally make the move.
Transferring to UK education is so much more than an educational choice, it is a lifestyle choice.
Here, you will encounter political discussions amongst friends, literature reviews from your peers, movie references, a unique sense of humour, and local customs. In order to not be withdrawn socially, children need to be aware of the system they are relocating to. Therefore, local news channels you watch at home need to be replaced by BBC or SkyNews; favourite authors need to become Jane Austin, Dickens and George Eliot; films need to be watched only in English; sports streams need to be Cricket, Tennis, Rugby and Football; even the smallest things like phone settings need to be switched to English. Parents need to make the effort to speak English at home, and if you have family friends whose children already study abroad, organise more meet-ups with them and encourage your children to speak in English only. Undoubtedly, church will become a big part of your children’s lives at UK private schools, so familiarising them with the hymns. Prayer and anthems are also a bonus.
Learning British history is not only fascinating, but it will give great insight into how British culture originated among the conquerors of the seas.
Britain needs to be all around you, and the best way to do this beyond efforts at home, is to actually pay a visit.

Summer schools and tourism

Before I moved to the UK, I had learnt the language for four years. Upon coming here, I have lost all that knowledge from the first second. I encountered distinct accents, slang, a fast-paced tongue, and even latin (private schools love to have local terms stolen from latin to make them seem sophisticated) - all of which broke down my expectation that my biggest concern will be grammar or knowledge of how to order tea. With my mind wiped blank, I picked up the language in about two months, and in two years I developed an indistinguishable British accent.
Therefore, I advise that children should be faced with this same challenge to push them to learn the language much faster and better.
Although this may seem like an anxious approach, you will be surprised at how children in the UK are supportive of foreigners. Summer schools are a great opportunity that does not place heavy responsibility on children academically, and give children the chance to adopt the language through fun activities, games and social events. However, if you have already secured a place at a school, sometimes, the school itself will be willing to accommodate children for a final few weeks in the summer term before the end of the academic year. This way, children will not only have all the benefits of summer schools, but will also have a chance to already make friends with peers they will be studying with, as well as become familiar with the facilities, teachers, regime and culture at the school.
Tourism is also another opportunity to explore the country from within. Although it is most likely that children will only be with their native speaking parents all the time, it is still a great chance to visit museums, become familiar with the infrastructure, appreciate the architecture and finally practise ordering tea. Moreover, travelling to the UK prior to starting your educational journey, parents will have the chance to prepare their visa in advance, which will undoubtedly come in handy when visiting your children at school.

Closing thoughts

I want to stress that although it is children that are making the move, parents need to make every effort in supporting them. This goes beyond administrative stuff such as visas, reserving places at colleges, budgeting and buying equipment; as I hope you have realised from this article, relocating to private education in the UK is not solely about education, but about making a lifestyle choice.
Therefore, I want to point out that in order to change your children’s lifestyle, you need to make this transition smooth, rather than sending them to an absolutely foreign and unfamiliar environment unprepared.
A combination of the described techniques will surely make the whole family’s journey to the kingdom easier.