In Britain there are state schools (free) and independent schools (fee paying). The best academic and all round education is to be obtained in the independent sector and England especially has a world famous tradition of old-established institutions (misleadingly called “Public Schools”) which turn out the best educated youngsters. They are also smaller schools which work along these traditional lines.
These independent schools provide academic success, which enables progression to the best universities, with a well-rounded education and a vast array of activities beyond the classroom. It is the commitment of independent schools to nurture each child to achieve his or her full potential that continues to attract so many families year on year.
Typically, pupils from independent schools account for 7% of pupils taking GCSEs but they gain over 25% of the A* grades. They make up 14% of those taking A levels but 32% of those obtaining A* grades.
Most independent schools are not academically selective. There are a few well-known schools that are very over-subscribed, very selective and who achieve outstanding results, but equally impressive are the great majority that barely select at all and still achieve very good grades.
The good results are a product of instilling very good discipline. The schools do not tolerate poor behaviour but rather foster an environment where the children are well supported and expected to work hard.
The UK Curriculum…
The most common senior curriculum is the A Level, which is commonly taken over a 2 year period. Typically in the first year (age 16) a pupil chooses 4 subjects and at the end of that year takes examinations for AS Level (=Advanced Subsidiary). In the second year (age 17) they typically drop one subject and end up taking three subjects at A2 Level which then gives them their 3 A Level passes. A Levels have a number of UCAS tariff points allocated to the exam grades obtained which can be from E up to A*. In our league tables we only measure the three top grades A*, A and B because if you want to get into a top 30 UK University you will need one of these top grades. Indeed to get into Oxford, Cambridge or Medical School you ideally need at least A* + A + A . There are well over 40 possible A Level subjects, but most boarding schools offer between 20 to 25 subject choices – but it does not matter what you want to study, we will find you somewhere which offers it!
The IB Diploma Program is becoming much more popular because it is highly rated by UCAS and it is transferable from one country to another. Like A level it is a 2 course but with exams taken only after second year and requires pupils to take one subject from 6 groups although this choice must include maths, English, a modern language and science. It is allocated higher UCAS tariff points than the equivalent A level subjects.
Concern that the A levels have been “dumbed down”, The Cambridge International Examinations (CIB) devised a new syllabus called the Pre-U Diploma. Again the exams are taken only at the end of the second year and again higher UCAS tariff points are allocated. Choice of subjects, however, remains free.
Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers
Scotland has Highers and Advanced Highers, which are roughly equivalent to AS and A2 Levels. They are equally valid for entry to Universities. Indeed you can get into many Universities just with Highers alone. Additionally many schools in Scotland allow pupils to take a mixture of Highers and A Levels. Note that Highers are accepted by all Universities, such that there is no reason to disregard them. Additionally, Scottish Universities are less expensive than English Universities!
University Foundation Programs
Foundation Programs are post-16 qualifications but, because they are as not academically demanding as other curricular, caution is recommended as the top 30 UK universities will not accept them for entry.
From 14 to 16 – GCSEs or the IB Middle Years Program
The vast majority of UK Boarding Schools teach the GCSE curriculum for a 2 year period between age 14 and 16. However, grade inflation in normal GCSEs have persuaded most Boarding Schools to switch to IGCSEs, the international version which has a more robust curriculum. Note that it is extremely difficult to transfer into a UK school at age 15 midway through GCSEs. We can sometimes find alternatives in Private Sixth Form Colleges who often run 1 year GCSEs. However, a student will usually be restricted to a maximum of 6 subjects, whereas it is common to take between 8 to 12 on the normal 2 year basis. The only real alternative to GCSEs is the Middle Year Program of the IB. However, be aware that the vast majority of UK private schools do not rate the IB MYP as a robust curriculum. Of the 70+ IB schools only 6 offer the MYP and only one of those has boarding. We advise most parents of 11 to 15 year olds seeking an IB school to start with an IGCSE school and switch to the IB DP at 16. If you really insist on seeking a Boarding School with the MYP you may be better served by going to another country.
Curriculum for Under 14s
Private schools will teach a broader curriculum than that found in the state schools. This will usually include modern languages, even Mandarin. It is important to verify that a school streams pupils into sets to enable the faster to progress quicker and the slower to receive tuition commensurate with their needs.
When considering a Preparatory School it is important to see how well the school prepares its pupils for the Common Entrance examinations for entry at 11, 12 or 13 to their senior schools.Parents will find it more satisfactory to consult us about the details of the various curricula to suit their child. Note that it is difficult for a child to join in “half way” through a 2 year GCSE course as their previous curriculum may not match that of the different exam boards. Invariably we can find solutions to this problem.