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28 January 2019
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

The Essentials #2: How to choose the right English boarding school

Hello from Oxford!
Today we would like to give some advice to families starting to look for a boarding school.
We want to give you five steps to help you choose the right boarding school for your child.
1. Be clear on your goal.
"What is your goal for your child's boarding school stay?"
This is the first question we ask our clients. The answer sets the direction for every boarding school search.
Why is having a clear goal important?
We know how easy it is to lose track of what a boarding school stay is ultimately supposed to achieve. Is it better English language ability? A more academic school environment? More structure and discipline? Or is it to have fun and make new friends and experiences?
These are just a few examples of goals and most likely it will be a combination. That is absolutely fine! Still, we recommend that you decide which goal is non-negotiable and rank other goals according to priority. This will allow you to hone in potential schools much quicker and enable you to discuss inevitable trade-offs along the way.
Bryanston School's reception hall
2. Pick your search criteria.
Goals allow you to set a general direction. However, often goals are too abstract to start a search. That is where search criteria come in. They relate directly to a goal, but are concrete and actionable.
An example: your goal is for your child to speak amazing English at the end of its stay. Possible, concrete search criteria would be a) the highest number of native English speakers at the school, b) the provision of the best possible English language course and c) the friendliest, most sociable English pupils that will befriend your child.
To help you structure your thinking, here are a few examples of common goals and associated search criteria. We hope these might help you structure your thinking.
Goals & Search Criteria
The entrance to Oundle School.
3. Get help identifying the right schools.
With goals and criteria in mind, you now know what you are looking for.
Now get some help from someone who can help you find it.
Hire a good educational consultant.
Yes, of course we would recommend this. It does make good sense though: an experienced educational consultant will help you zoom in on the sub-set of schools that are actually relevant for your child.
Said consultant will not only get to know your child's needs and expecations, but will also know which schools are full, which are good (and bad!), which allow for shorter stays, how to pass admissions tests, whether to wear a tie to the interview....
In short, getting help will save you a lot of time and hassle.
Eton's oldest classroom - original school benches from the 15th century!
4. Visit the schools
Now that you have a short-list of schools, we recommend you visit at least three of them.
The visits generally last two hours. They will tell you everything you need to know to decide for or against a school. You will get a tour through boarding houses, class-rooms, sports pitches and dining halls. You will meet pupils, teachers, house-parents and, very likely, the headmaster.
Afterwards you will _know_if the school is for you or not. Some families try to analyze schools with pros and cons lists. Our advice is: don't. Let your gut feeling guide you.
Visiting several schools will allow you to compare them. Being able to compare will make choosing one school a lot easier!
Ardingly's arts department
5. Get references
Once you are decided on one or two schools, talk to parents with children at these schools. These parent conversations are likely to be very balanced, giving you great insights into what works and works less well at a school. Often it is these conversations that will tip a decision for one school and against another.
At von Bülow Education we offer all our clients conversations with parents who have children at our clients' Nr.1 school choice.

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