Sometimes international students are propelled into sixth form before they have the language skills, study skills and academic confidence to flourish,” observes Andrew Gillespie at d’Overbroeck’s College, an independent school for 11-to-18 year olds in Oxford. Welcoming students worldwide, he adds that the dedicated international study centre (ISC) on site offers an essential first year of study before students progress onto A-levels. Students can enrol on GCSE or iGCSE programmes at the ISC in a wide variety of subjects including maths, French and history.
Educating girls from the age of 11-to-18 and boys from the age of three-to-11, Moreton Hall in Shropshire established a stand-alone, purpose-built ISC in 2005. Catering for roughly 50 students at a time, the centre is on the same 100-acre site as the main school but operates independently, explains Victoria Eastman. But while ISC students are taught separately from the main school, there are plenty of opportunities for domestic and overseas students to mix, she affirms.
Alexanders International School, part of the Skola Group of Schools, is a dedicated ISC in Bawdsey on the Suffolk coast. With a student body of internationals only, it provides a firm foundation for students to build their language skills while introducing them to a different culture, relates Dave Stacey. Offering foundation courses, one- and two-year GCSE and iGCSEs, Stacey explains that students are aged from 11-to-17.
International College, Sherborne, is another purpose-built centre established in 1977. Facilitating up to 160 girls and boys from non-British, non-English speaking educational backgrounds, it has three aims for all students, asserts Anne-Marie Slack: improvement in spoken and written English; academic preparation in English for curriculum subjects; and a good introduction to the study skills necessary in the British school system.
Slack observes that “classes are small, with a maximum of eight students so that the staff-to-student ratio is high and all students benefit from individual attention. All teachers are experienced specialists in their own subject, and also have EFL qualifications.”
Offering one- and two-year GCSE and iGCSE programmes, Slack notes, “The college prides itself on excellent results 88 per cent high grade passes in 2011. Such excellent results help most students enter good English independent schools should they wish to continue their education in the UK.”
Like International College, Sherborne, Alexanders International School is not attached to a mainstream independent school, but students can go on to a mainstream programme at its affiliated partner institution: International Community School in London, notes Stacey. “Very few students have moved from Alexanders to the London school, which delivers the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum up to diploma level,” he adds. “The main focus of our school is to improve the English level of students and help them move on to the most suitable school. The main focus of international study centres attached to a school is to move the children on to the main school which might not be the most suitable for their needs.”
However, as Eastman highlights, there are distinct advantages of attending a school with an ISC on the premises. “If [a student] moves on to a place at [one of our] main schools we have a partnership agreement with, they only need one visa,” she says. Similarly, if a student is struggling with mainstream curriculum they can easily undertake an ESL programme at its ISC, she adds.
ISC students at d’Overbroeck’s use some of the same facilities as main college students, and this lends itself well to immersion at the school, notes Gillespie. “This is important, particularly for those staying with us for A-levels. The ISC has its own location in the centre of Oxford and this helps students develop a sense of community with others on the same course. British sixth form students benefit from a more global perspective of issues.”
Chinese is the main overseas student nationality at Moreton Hall, followed by Spanish, Russian, Thai, Korean and Japanese. “Girls with a low level of English attend the ISC first, particularly if they wish to enter the sixth form,” asserts Eastman.
“Demand is especially high from China and Eastern Europe, but we try to maintain a good balance of students,” notes Gillespie. There is a good transition rate from the ISC into the main sixth form, he adds, with many ISC students preparing for A-levels or the IB. He notes that 40 per cent of students are international, with 38 nationalities represented.
Schools providing specialist preparation for secondary education are in constant demand, and schools rely on a variety of methods to ensure these services are marketed internationally. At Alexanders International School in Bawdsey, Dave Stacey relates that they employ a Search Engine Optimisation company to ensure the school website attracts attention from overseas. Face-to-face meetings with agents and students are also valuable. Talking about new agent enquiries he notes, “Whenever a new agent expresses interest in working with us whether we met at a workshop or having sent an email we ask them to provide references which we then check out.”
Student recruitment is mainly through a worldwide network of agents, asserts Anne-Marie Slack at International College, Sherborne. “The college marketing representatives also support agent workshops and fairs and regularly visit agent offices,” she observes. “A termly newsletter is sent to agents and regular e-zines are sent to update on latest student vacancies,” she adds.
The word-of-mouth factor is an important recruitment advantage at d’Overbroeck’s College in Oxford, affirms the school’s Andrew Gillespie. However, if looking into new source markets he identifies agent workshops as a way to discover new possible partners. “Our aim is to build key, long-term relationships with partners so they understand which students thrive in our environment.”