Many boarding schools in the UK offer English language courses, and these have traditionally been long-term courses with the specific aim of preparing students for their mainstream secondary schooling in the host country. However, while some boarding schools have offered short-term language and activity programmes in the summer months, an increasing number are opening their doors to students during term time too for short academic study opportunities. “Short-term courses can be used as a ‘taster’ for students looking to undertake longer term courses in the UK both for the English and academic content and also to experience boarding school life in general and what studying in the UK is all about,” explains Dave Stacey at Skola Group, which offers high school education at Alexanders International School on the Suffolk coast and the International Community School in London.
Westbourne School in Cardiff has been offering short stays of a term and upwards for the past year, says Amy Lee, the school’s Director, IB and International Development. “We introduced them after receiving a couple of enquiries asking if we did offer them and have found that demand has increased since.”
Emma Randall at Bearwood College in Berkshire reports growing interest for their short-term programmes, with September 2011 enrolments up by almost 30 per cent on the previous year. “I think the reason for the popularity of this option is that it is a more effective way to get a taste for UK boarding than a language school course or homestay visit, and we do find a number of pupils staying at Bearwood beyond the length of their initial commitment,” she relates. “The fact that the short-term boarders are fully integrated into the college, the curriculum and the extra-curricular programme gives them a real sense of belonging.”
Another advantage of these short-term courses, according to Skola’s Kasha Handcock, is that “students who come regularly every year for, let’s say, a term, do not lose a year in their home country and are normally ready to join the regular class when they reach diploma age. Or at least they will not need as much preparation in academic English as students who never studied subjects in English.”
Most short-term boarding school courses retain their emphasis on high school academic preparation. At Etherton Education in Somerset, Alan Etherton says that their summer courses “provide over 30 hours of lessons per week, and aim to prepare students in every way possible for succeeding at a British boarding school”. Gary Wright at Adcote School, Shrewsbury, maintains that although the language learning component of the course is “a crucial part of any international student’s experience in the UK”, these programmes also give students “a taste of the wide range of activities and opportunities that attending a school like ours brings”.
While short-term boarding school courses attract a wide range of nationalities, they are particularly popular with Chinese, Russian, and Western Europeans. Stacey relates that students from Asia and Russia choose these programmes because “they are interested in long-term education in the UK and see these as an opportunity to see for themselves before finally committing and also because they are encouraged by parents and schools to undertake ‘time out’ which is seen as a positive gain of experience and skills rather than a loss of time at school”.
Randall at Bearwood reports a rise in student numbers from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Spain and Germany. “I think the growth of the short-term boarding market is driven by the European students as the logistics of travel arrangements are much easier for them,” she surmises. “It is possible that visa issues for students in countries further afield are contributing to the change.”
Overseas education advisors are crucial in the marketing of these short-term courses, according to many industry sources. Lee says, “We market through a combination of student fairs, educational agents and directly through our website. Currently, the most popular way for short-stay students to contact us is through educational agencies.” Alexandra Hankinson at Moreton Hall in Shropshire emphasises the importance of the advisor partnership. “A good relationship with a good agent is invaluable.”