Preparation programmes for sixth form study, typically GCSE or iGCSE courses as a pathway to A-level or International Baccalaureate (IB) studies, are growing in popularity. “As the numbers of overseas students in British boarding schools increase, I think [students] are increasingly seeing the value of pre-sessional courses,” Victoria Eastman at the girls-only Moreton Hall School in Oswestry, Shropshire, highlights. “They generally have high expectations they want to get into high-ranking universities so [they] need high A-level grades.”
And “demand has continued to be buoyant” at d’Overbroeck’s College in Oxford, as Andrew Gillespie attests. Students on the programme, established 10 years ago to help high-achieving students reach top universities, can take between five and nine GCSEs, he says, adding that subject options range from mathematics to art to German. “The success rate is exceptionally high, both in terms of A-level results and university destinations,” he says. “[This is] because [students] have managed to study GCSEs in a different language in less than a year and have benefited from a transitional period that has built the study skills and confidence for the next stage.”
Meanwhile, Eastman believes that Moreton Hall’s A-level preparation course is “perhaps different, in that it prepares students for boarding school life in addition to providing them with academic tuition”. She adds, “Students are expected to fully participate in school life.” The course can last up to a year, and there are four main entry points. In terms of structure, “The programme consists of 30 hours of lessons per week around 15 hours of English and 15 hours of other core A-level subjects: physics, maths, economics, business studies and chemistry,” she explains. The programme is particularly appealing to Chinese students, she reveals, “As their linguistic competence tends to be lower when they first arrive in the UK than European students’.”
At Sidcot School in Winsombe, Somerset, Marina Jonas reveals that since the introduction of the one-year Sixth Form Foundation programme in 1998, “the course has changed, as the profiles and demands of the students have changed”. The current programme is now a “two-stream course preparing students for sixth form study either A-levels or IB”, and students with “higher” level English language abilities leave the course with five GCSEs and an iGCSE. Students with “standard” level English, on the other hand, finish with four GCSEs, a PET certificate, an Ielts General score and an AS module. “The course is rounded out by an internally assessed Introduction to Business Studies, Economics and Accounting Course, a British Culture Studies and Study Skills course and Physical Education,” she adds.
Jonas notes that the course is particularly appealing to German students, among others. She explains, “German students like the flexibility the course allows them in terms of being acceptable at their German schools should they only be looking for a one-year education experience in the UK.” At Bellerbys College in Brighton, meanwhile, Lee Markham reports that the A-level preparation course is also popular with Germans, as well as with Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Malaysian, Spanish and Mexicans. “Students study five or six GCSE subjects on a three- or four-term programme,” Markham informs. One of the selling points of the programme is the course intensity; this, in combination with small class sizes, “enables students to complete a two-year course in one year”, he enthuses.
At Padworth College in Reading, the students, aged between 14 and 17 years, can take as little as two GCSEs or as many as nine, as Linde Melhuish affirms. “The programme offers considerable flexibility on course content,” she says, adding that the institution tailors the course to individual needs. “Where they stay with us to do their A-levels or Business Foundation course, they have the benefit of ongoing English language support throughout their studies with the same EFL teachers,” she says. “For these reasons, [the course] is increasingly popular with international students.”
Similarly, at Moreton Hall, “weak English does not necessarily prevent the student from being accepted, as we know that a year at the International Student Centre will improve their linguistic skills dramatically”, says Eastman. Most schools accept students on the basis of their school results and an English test, with Markham reporting that Bellerbys College applicants need an Ielts score of 4.5.
In terms of recruitment, Melhuish informs that Padworth College’s focus is “on educational agents who recruit students on our behalf in over 40 countries around the world”. She adds, “We also attend educational fairs organised by the agents, and the website is becoming more and more important as English-speaking parents do their own research and make their applications directly.” Meanwhile, at d’Overbroeck’s College, staff attend a number of exhibitions a year. “However, we continue to get a relatively large number of direct enquiries often due to personal recommendation,” Gillespie relates.
View from Suzanne Rowse, Director of the British Boarding Schools Workshop (BBSW)
“I know that there are a growing number of these pre-A-level or pre-IB courses on offer I have noticed this since running the BBSW which started in 2006. I think schools are listening to agents and adapting to market needs. For some markets, students want to come to the UK at the age of 15 or 16 years, and this is year 11 in the UK, the second year of GCSE.”