The process that agents go through when choosing boarding and secondary school partners involves many factors to ensure the relationship is strong and lasting. Marion Gottschalk from Intercultural, Brazil, says location and facilities are crucial factors. “Location is important when thinking about safety and access to leisure activities, facilities are important when thinking about students’ interests like sports,” she says.
Once that relationship is formed, Gottschalk says that communication is “paramount” in keeping up rapport between agents and boarding schools, and adds, “When an agent and school have a good communication channel in which requests, information and other daily dealings flow well, the partnership has a big chance of being successful and lasting for many years.”
Janka Kulessa from Töchter und Söhne, Germany, stresses the importance of a “perfect match” between agent and school. “The needs and expectations of the families and children who seek our advice are as manifold as the schools we work together with. Internationalism, a high academic standard and well-equipped facilities do matter, but what is even more important is the spirit of a boarding school.”
A close dialogue, trust and honesty are all important factors too, explains Kulessa. “Continuous dialogue and regular visits are essential for a good working relationship. For example, when there are changes in the German school system relevant for a stay abroad or for the recognition of foreign degrees, our partner schools are the first to know. Vice versa, they will keep us informed about academic and extracurricular developments on a regular basis.
Larry Field of Overseas Personal Development Services, (OPDS), an agency based in the UK and China, agrees that communication is important in ensuring working relations are good between agent and school. “The initial meeting is for both parties to fully understand the needs of the other. Both parties should meet and communicate regularly to monitor and review working procedures.” Field also believes that education is about personal development, so OPDS seeks schools which have a range of extra-curricular activities. He says if students get involved with clubs and workshops, then it “will improve their social skills, language competence and boost their confidence”.
OPDS works closely with many secondary schools and Field explains that they are “very conscious of school rankings”. He continues, “We feel it is more important to match the student with the school, so we seek a wide range of schools.” Dr Albert Lu of Englong Education in the UK believes students look for traditional British schools, and says, “We work with schools which put students’ academic and personal development at its heart.”
Regarding applicant trends, Gottschalk believes that Europe could be the next trend, although Intercultural’s pool of students is worldwide. “The trend some years ago was certainly the USA, nowadays it is Canada, and we see growing requests for countries in Europe. Semester programmes are still the most popular among Brazilian students.”
Kulessa says, “We see a slight shift from the UK market to North America, which is probably due to the general globalisation of our society. Distance and different time zones are not seen as such great barriers any more. Schools offering the pre-IB have an advantage, as most of our students want to join a boarding school when they are in year 11/grade 10. This gives them one year of preparation before they continue on with Sixth Form a benefit for both schools and students.”
Studying in a boarding school abroad also gives children a “holistic approach” and the “chance to experience education not only within the classroom but beyond”. Kulessa adds, “The interpersonal skills and the open-mindedness acquired in an international boarding community are as important for a future career as his/her academic results.” Kulessa also believes that more students are seeking something different when choosing a school. “Specialisation in certain areas such as sports (e.g. golf, tennis or soccer) or support programmes for dyslexic students is another way of standing out from the crowd and something many of our clients are searching for.”
At OPDS, Field says that they have noticed a trend in subjects. “Although there is still a high demand for maths and business orientated subjects (economics, accounting, etc.), we have noticed that more students are wishing to do art, design technology, fashion and photography in the past five years. As many students require improvement in their English to maximise their grades at both GCSE and A-level, there seems to be an increasing opportunity for such courses and the establishment of quality International Study Centres.” email@example.com
Challenges in the boarding sector
Although the secondary school study abroad sector is thriving worldwide, agents in some countries point out that they still face some challenges that need to be overcome. One issue for many agents is that a number of British schools now have campuses overseas. Figures from the Independent Schools Council in April this year show that almost 18,800 international students now study at 29 British schools in their home countries. Dr Albert Lu of Englong Education, UK, expresses his concern with this trend. “Fast growing ‘British Education’ locally will attract more and more students to stay locally to pursue A-levels, IB or GCSEs [rather than study overseas],” he says.
Larry Field of Overseas Personal Development Services in the UK and China, also points out that perceptions of difficulties regarding visa rule changes can also be harmful to the sector. “I guess many schools would mention UKBA rules and regulations, ‘making visas harder to get’. If this perception spreads throughout China it could have a long term deleterious effect, especially if other countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia are perceived to be easier to enter,” he says.