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September 2005 issue

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Ready for school

Not all high schools offer overseas students the same level of preparation to join mainstream lessons. Agents must know what is available and counsel clients according to their needs. Gillian Evans reports.

Studying at high school in a foreign country can be a daunting prospect, and ensuring the student's language skills are up to scratch is paramount to a successful and enjoyable school experience overseas. As Helen Miller at St Bees School in St Bees, Cumbria, in the UK, says, If [overseas students] cannot understand, then they cannot learn!

The provision provided for international students at high schools varies from one institution to another. The majority of institutions, such as St Catherine's College School in Wellington, New Zealand, provide English as a second language (ESL) lessons which are taken in addition to mainstream classes. Yanling Guo, International Coordinator at St Catherine's, explains, We normally give students level assessments on [ESL] and maths when they arrive. Then we decide on how many hours they need for ESL and put them in the right academic class. There is no limit as to how long these English language classes can continue, according to Guo, just as many years as needed.

At Avonside Girls' High School in Christchurch, New Zealand, students must have pre-intermediate level English before starting at the school, although Director of International Students, Rosalie Johnson, states, We do have up to eight hours per week of [ESL] classes for new students.

Scotch Oakburn College in Tasmania, Australia, provides anything from two to nine English language lessons a week, depending on the students' needs. For those who require more English support and are unable to join the mainstream classes, students can take an English course off-site. If a student's level of English precludes them from going into normal classes, we offer them full-time ESL for a period of time which we deem appropriate, explains Caroline Deakin at the college. Anything from one week to six months, depending on the students, but one to three months is usual. The students are accommodated in our boarding house and attend ESL classes at the University of Tasmania, located nearby.

Some schools, however, offer more than just English language support. Saint Michael's College in Tenbury Wells, UK, prepares its overseas students through either a one-term course or eight-week summer programme. According to Janine Faulkner, International Admissions Officer at the college, the course includes English for academic purposes, cultural studies and study skills modules.

Dedicated study centres
One of the most significant developments in the high school sector is the proliferation of international study centres. These are usually attached to a high school to enable overseas students to mix with mainstream school pupils, but also provide them with specialist support and tuition until they are ready to join mainstream lessons. Maryam Kisray at St Mary's Hall in East Sussex in the UK, which opened its study centre in 1998, explains, The centre offers students whose first language is not English the opportunity to develop their language skills in small groups. The aim for the great majority of our long-term students is a seamless integration into mainstream teaching.

St Bees' study centre, which opened its doors almost 10 years ago, has a similar remit. According to Miller, it was launched to enable the school to cater for overseas pupils who were academically able but whose English was insufficient to join lessons taught in English. The curriculum comprises half of English language teaching leading to Cambridge exams, and the other half focused on core subjects – taught in English – such as maths and science. Miller explains, International Study Centre pupils mix with the main school for sports, music and other extra-curricular activities.

St Mary's Hall offers a selection of courses to meet the needs of international students. It provides a year-long academic programme for students aged eight to 11 and another for those aged over 11. It also offers a three-year modular foundation GCSE programme, for 14-to-16 year olds, and a foundation A-level course for students over 16. For those just wanting a taste of British boarding school life, there is a six-week residential course, where students learn English but join mainstream lessons too.

Safe and comfortable living
Aside from the lessons, accommodation is an important part of life for high school students. Some schools organise host family accommodation and a guardianship service, provided either by the school or via a specialist provider. However, many schools offer residential accommodation and some have recently been upgrading their residences. At St Michael's College, new residences have been developed with en-suite facilities and, according to Faulkner, such facilities are becoming more of a priority when choosing a school.

Deakin believes that residential accommodation enables the school to provide a secure environment. We have a well-appointed boarding house and this is our preferred method of accommodation, she says. In the past, a few overseas students have chosen homestay accommodation but this is not satisfactory from the school's point of view. We are the guardians of under-18 [year old] students and, if they live in homestay, we are not always able to provide proper care.

Looking ahead
Demand for high school education in another country continues to grow, and there is a documented study boom among younger students in Korea (see Language Travel Magazine, August 2005, page 7). Marsha Bernstein at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA, in the USA, underlines the attraction. [Studying at high school] enables students to adapt to the US educational system, she says, and gives the students much more guidance than he/she would receive on the college level.

Deakin in Australia says that the market is going from strength to strength, although Johnson in New Zealand notes that competition in this sector is hotting up. Miller observes a worrying trend at St Bee's, whose students are all currently Chinese. I do feel that the Chinese are now wanting to try and get straight into schools rather than taking the preparation year and the majority are simply not good enough to achieve top grades at GCSE and A-level. If [parents want their children] to achieve the best possible results then [the children] must have a good level of English.

For agents, it is important they educate their clients as to the benefits of preparation and to be up-to-date with what sort of provision and experience each institution can provide.

Studying at high school in a foreign country can be a daunting prospect, and ensuring the student's language skills are up to scratch is paramount to a successful and enjoyable school experience overseas. As Helen Miller at St Bees School in St Bees, Cumbria, in the UK, says, If [overseas students] cannot understand, then they cannot learn!

The provision provided for international students at high schools varies from one institution to another. The majority of institutions, such as St Catherine's College School in Wellington, New Zealand, provide English as a second language (ESL) lessons which are taken in addition to mainstream classes. Yanling Guo, International Coordinator at St Catherine's, explains, We normally give students level assessments on [ESL] and maths when they arrive. Then we decide on how many hours they need for ESL and put them in the right academic class. There is no limit as to how long these English language classes can continue, according to Guo, just as many years as needed.

At Avonside Girls' High School in Christchurch, New Zealand, students must have pre-intermediate level English before starting at the school, although Director of International Students, Rosalie Johnson, states, We do have up to eight hours per week of [ESL] classes for new students.

Scotch Oakburn College in Tasmania, Australia, provides anything from two to nine English language lessons a week, depending on the students' needs. For those who require more English support and are unable to join the mainstream classes, students can take an English course off-site. If a student's level of English precludes them from going into normal classes, we offer them full-time ESL for a period of time which we deem appropriate, explains Caroline Deakin at the college. Anything from one week to six months, depending on the students, but one to three months is usual. The students are accommodated in our boarding house and attend ESL classes at the University of Tasmania, located nearby.

Some schools, however, offer more than just English language support. Saint Michael's College in Tenbury Wells, UK, prepares its overseas students through either a one-term course or eight-week summer programme. According to Janine Faulkner, International Admissions Officer at the college, the course includes English for academic purposes, cultural studies and study skills modules.

Dedicated study centres
One of the most significant developments in the high school sector is the proliferation of international study centres. These are usually attached to a high school to enable overseas students to mix with mainstream school pupils, but also provide them with specialist support and tuition until they are ready to join mainstream lessons. Maryam Kisray at St Mary's Hall in East Sussex in the UK, which opened its study centre in 1998, explains, The centre offers students whose first language is not English the opportunity to develop their language skills in small groups. The aim for the great majority of our long-term students is a seamless integration into mainstream teaching.

St Bees' study centre, which opened its doors almost 10 years ago, has a similar remit. According to Miller, it was launched to enable the school to cater for overseas pupils who were academically able but whose English was insufficient to join lessons taught in English. The curriculum comprises half of English language teaching leading to Cambridge exams, and the other half focused on core subjects – taught in English – such as maths and science. Miller explains, International Study Centre pupils mix with the main school for sports, music and other extra-curricular activities.

St Mary's Hall offers a selection of courses to meet the needs of international students. It provides a year-long academic programme for students aged eight to 11 and another for those aged over 11. It also offers a three-year modular foundation GCSE programme, for 14-to-16 year olds, and a foundation A-level course for students over 16. For those just wanting a taste of British boarding school life, there is a six-week residential course, where students learn English but join mainstream lessons too.

Safe and comfortable living
Aside from the lessons, accommodation is an important part of life for high school students. Some schools organise host family accommodation and a guardianship service, provided either by the school or via a specialist provider. However, many schools offer residential accommodation and some have recently been upgrading their residences. At St Michael's College, new residences have been developed with en-suite facilities and, according to Faulkner, such facilities are becoming more of a priority when choosing a school.

Deakin believes that residential accommodation enables the school to provide a secure environment. We have a well-appointed boarding house and this is our preferred method of accommodation, she says. In the past, a few overseas students have chosen homestay accommodation but this is not satisfactory from the school's point of view. We are the guardians of under-18 [year old] students and, if they live in homestay, we are not always able to provide proper care.

Looking ahead
Demand for high school education in another country continues to grow, and there is a documented study boom among younger students in Korea (see Language Travel Magazine, August 2005, page 7). Marsha Bernstein at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA, in the USA, underlines the attraction. [Studying at high school] enables students to adapt to the US educational system, she says, and gives the students much more guidance than he/she would receive on the college level.

Deakin in Australia says that the market is going from strength to strength, although Johnson in New Zealand notes that competition in this sector is hotting up. Miller observes a worrying trend at St Bee's, whose students are all currently Chinese. I do feel that the Chinese are now wanting to try and get straight into schools rather than taking the preparation year and the majority are simply not good enough to achieve top grades at GCSE and A-level. If [parents want their children] to achieve the best possible results then [the children] must have a good level of English.

For agents, it is important they educate their clients as to the benefits of preparation and to be up-to-date with what sort of provision and experience each institution can provide.


Promotional issues

Visa problems and economic hardship can have a severe effect on demand for high school places overseas. According to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in the UK, overseas student arrivals at independent schools in the UK were down by 10 per cent in 2004. In a statement, ISC said, Recruitment is being damaged by a doubling both of visa charges and of fees from the British Council for promoting UK schools.

Visa issues have affected Chinese numbers at Warminster International Study Centre (WISC) in Warminster in the UK. According to the centre's Director, Jonathan McKeown, Chinese, Russian, Taiwanese and Japanese are their top nationalities, but visa issues affected numbers from China during the past year, which caused overall student numbers at WISC to decline.

WISC is in fact closing this year, with reasons cited by the school's governors including a difficult financial year last year, although this was not the only reason.

Marsha Bernstein at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA, in the USA, reports a steady demand for places at the academy from international students. We have had more applicants in the past two to three years than previously, she says.

Deakin in Australia puts their recent success in attracting international students down to the fact that they have begun marketing in Hong Kong, China and Europe. Their marketing strategy has included attending exhibitions, creating sister school relationships and forging partnerships with in-country agents.

Agents play an important part in the international recruitment process for high schools. Faulkner reports that they rely on agents for 90 per cent of business – we have representatives in most countries. Deakin in Australia says that they use agents in China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Germany. We have established very good relationships with our agents through regular visits, she relates. We provide lots of feedback and regular reports on each [of their] students. Regular contact with the agents is really the best way of ensuring good service.

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