In my last post, I clarified the difference between “public” and “private” schools here in the UK—particularly for Americans making the London move who have a different understanding of those concepts—as well as listed various types of state and semi-independent schools England has to offer. I also mentioned that a number of expats tend to go the independent school route, and to international and American schools specifically.
Today, I’ll discuss why that is, as well as provide some recent developments in UK education and resources for your school search if you’re a parent or teacher.
American schools are obviously appealing to US expats because they teach an American curriculum. American teachers can instruct within a familiar system and environment, and students can still work toward a US diploma (and earn AP credit toward higher education). Some American schools also offer the International Baccalaureate (IB), the rigorous program followed by international schools and recognized by universities in almost every country.
International schools, then, are comprised of a diverse expatriate community and don’t cater to any one particular national curriculum. Rather, they foster cultural awareness and a more global mindset that equips students with a comprehensive, versatile education whether they’re returning to their home country or moving on to another new nation. Promoting diversity, adaptability, and high levels of critical thinking and other “soft skills,” international schools are also sensitive to the specific needs of expatriates, addressing vulnerabilities and providing services like ESL/EAL language-learning and year-round rolling admission to accommodate the varied time frames of London moves.
In addition to American and international schools, expats relocating to the UK from the EU or elsewhere can also explore European schools (where they can earn the European Baccalaureate) or other foreign national schools where instruction is given in the respective native language.
At this point, let’s turn inward and determine whether, if you’re a parent, international independent schools are right for your family. To start, how old are your children? How well do they adapt to change? Do they speak English? Where will you be living, and how long do you intend to stay in the UK?
The younger the child, the better they’ll probably adapt to a London move. They might therefore get on well at a state school as a lower-cost option, whereas an older child might resist changes in curriculum/environment or fall behind in British educational requirements. Regardless of age, if English isn’t your child’s first language, then their level of mastery in that tongue could dictate whether they go British or international.
In addition, where you live could dictate where your children will go to school—or, more likely, where your children go to school will dictate where you live. Your length of stay in the UK could likewise determine whether it’s best to just continue your children’s education via an international/American school or, if your London move is a long-term one, immerse them into the British system.
If you do consider the British school route, the latest educational news making headlines this week is that the English Baccalaureate Certificate is replacing the GCSE. Standing for General Certificate of Secondary Education, GCSE is a subject-specific qualification that students take at ages 14 to 16. They’re available in a range of academic and applied (vocational) areas and studied full-time at school.
Regarded as outdated, however, GCSEs are making way for the English Baccalaureate, which is modeled after the European Baccalaureate and similar qualifications in Asian countries. They’ll entail a single end-of-course exam overseen by a single exam board and involve a more rigorous program of instruction. GCSEs won’t be entirely phased out, however, for several more years—the baccalaureate changes will first roll out in 2015 and in only three core subjects (Math, English, and Science), with GCSEs still offered in other content areas. The first English Baccalaureate Certificates will be awarded in 2017, which means students beginning secondary school this year will be the first to earn them—something to bear in mind if you have a teenage child and your London move coincides with these first years of changes. Likewise, if you’re a secondary school teacher, both the baccalaureate and GCSE programs will be essential to understand.
Speaking of teachers, this one’s for you: anyone with a valid certificate to teach in their home country should be able to teach in the UK—but only up to four years without UK qualification. Qualification can require an involved evaluation process, but, as of spring 2012, educators from the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand can automatically attain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) after their London move. You just need to fill out and submit an application (along with a letter from your local department of education) to the UK Teaching Agency for accreditation.
Information on QTS and the overall UK education system is available at the Department of Education website (www.education.gov.uk). Additional info on education and learning can be found at Direct.gov.uk.
The Good Schools Guide (www.goodschoolsguide.co.uk) is an excellent resource for researching any type of UK school. They also offer The Good Schools Guide International (www.gsgi.co.uk/site) for expats.
For Americans not wanting their London move to disrupt their children’s education, a list of American schools in England (such as ASL, TASIS, or ACL) is available on the London US Embassy website (london.usembassy.gov/american_schools_uk.html).
You can also look into private (independent) schools at The Independent Schools Council website (www.isc.co.uk) or Allaboutschoolfees.com.
Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ll have a lot of questions as you embark on this process—but one thing’s for certain: no matter what school you end up choosing, your London move alone will be an education!