Entering the UK education system can be a daunting prospect for some, especially for younger international students, which is where academic/summer preparation courses at secondary level come in. As Fran Henson, Principal at Bishopstrow College in Warminster, Wiltshire, asserts, there is a multitude of benefits to enrolling on such a programme. “The feedback we gain from schools our students enter is that the period of time spent on preparation is reflected in the ability and confidence of the students to assimilate into school more quickly,” she says, adding that this ultimately impacts their academic success positively.
The academic preparation course at the school runs a four-term academic year rather than a traditional three-term one to cater for international students’ needs. With students able to enrol for a minimum of one term and a maximum of four, “Each of our four terms offers identical academic subject courses, taught by the same academic staff as the rest of the year,” says Henson. “Approximately 50 per cent of the course is intensive English with English taught through a core of subject disciplines, designed so that students can demonstrate competence across a wide range of subjects,” she adds.
With demand at Bishopstrow growing over the past three years, the course is popular with Japanese students, as Henson relates. Meanwhile, Rishworth School in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, is popular with Spanish students as well as other European nationalities, says Alastair Gloag, Headmaster. The school runs a four-week course during the second half of the summer term for international students looking to familiarise themselves with the British education system and improve their English. “Because of the nature of the course being an opportunity for children to dip their toe into a British school education, we will take most pupils,” he says, noting that enquiries have decreased lately which he suspects is down to economic troubles in the eurozone. “We have tended to operate alongside a particular agent from Spain; we have therefore not broadcast the course far and wide.”
Cats College Canterbury is another provider offering a less traditional academic preparation course called the UK Education Taster Programme. Giving students an idea of what studying for an International Baccalaureate in the UK is like, the three-week course allows students to discover which subjects are right for them, develop critical thinking skills and learn brain training and memory recall skills, according to Francesca Oldham at the school. “Students may not want to commit to a full academic programme in the UK; a summer course will add something to their CV without requiring this commitment,” she says. “It shows a breadth of education and cultural insight, which can improve a student’s chances of getting into a top university in their home country.” For those who want to enrol on a long-term programme in the UK, the programmes are fitted to the students’ needs. “If a student hopes to study economics they are taught the relevant language they will need to enter this course of study,” she says.
Like Bishopstrow, London International Study Centre (LISC) is independent from any secondary schools and offers preparatory programmes up to A-level. “Courses can be based on English plus culture and study skills only, or this with academic subjects,” says Grazyna Anna Sutherland at the school. With benefits including a wide scope of subjects on offer and a personal tutor system, the school also has strong relationships with many UK boarding schools. “We have schools referring students to us, having noticed how much better their students perform once they have completed one of the LISC courses,” Sutherland adds. “Study skills and family integration play the biggest part in good pre-sessional preparation for school entry.”
Entry requirements for the academic preparation course at LISC include Skype interviews with Tier 4 students, language assessment and subject assessment for academic programmes. And at d’Overbroeck’s College in Oxford, a co-educational independent school for 11-to-18-year-olds, students have to fulfil similar criteria and need to have an intermediate level of English.
The summer course includes group work, says Andrew Gillespie at d’Overbroeck’s. “The summer programme is very distinctive for its theme-based approach,” he says, with students spending two days of the week studying a subject such as business and marketing, art and design or innovation and change. “The interactive nature of the course and the ways lessons interlink mean there is a clear sense of progress,” he adds. “The courses remain relatively small because we are focussing on quality, not volume, but there has been significant growth since we started... A significant number of students come back to us to study for iGCSE or A-level.” email@example.com
Marketing and recruitment techniques
At Cats College Canterbury, Francesca Oldham relates that agents are a part of their recruitment strategy. “We provide fam trips for our agents... and we advertise in Study Travel Magazine which has a large readership within the international education agent community,” she explains. Staff also meet prospective students at recruitment fairs, and have links with schools in a number of key markets. Rishworth School in Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, also markets academic preparation courses through agents and is happy to respond to agent enquiries, according to Headmaster Alastair Gloag.
Andrew Gillespie from d’Overbroeck’s College in Oxford, meanwhile, says, “It is a pleasure working with experts [agents] in different countries and using their experience and expertise to promote our school,” adding that the academic preparation programmes also receive a significant number of direct applications from friends or relatives of previous students. Grazyna Anna Sutherland from London International Study Centre and Fran Henson from Bishopstrow College in Warminster, Wiltshire, also relate that word-of-mouth marketing is an important part of their centres’ recruitment strategies.