Top Tips To Prepare For Admission To An International School
Choosing the right school for your child can be a difficult decision at home, but when you are living and working overseas there seems to be much more to take into consideration in addition to all the normal ‘choosing the right school’ selection processes.
With so many options and teaching styles available nowadays, how can a parent know what is the best international school for their children? Trends come and go, but the need to ensure the best education for your child never changes. Considering that the learning environment is only one part of a larger spectrum, a parent also has to consider the pedagogic support of the teacher, the management of the school, the facilities available, the school ethos, and how your child will be encouraged to grow.
Depending on the desires of the parents, choosing a school can be a minefield. A parent may well want a bilingual school, one focused on the arts or sports or something altogether more modern. How do you know how best to navigate this often confusing and frustrating area? Here are some pieces of advice that may help you to decide.
Visit the school with your child's needs in mind
It sounds like common sense, but you would be surprised how many parents skip over visiting the school, preferring instead to focus on the recommendations of others. When you do visit the school, always keep your child’s personality and perspective in mind. For example, will your child enjoy the activities that the school incorporates into its extra-curricular programme, or is the school held in high esteem for a specialist curriculum area, such as the arts, or sport for example?
If your child is shy and the school puts an emphasis on drama, it might be a little uncomfortable for them. The same can also be said if the school has many sporting activities but your child isn’t keen on participating. Obviously, education guides students to try new things and introduces new skills that make take children out of their comfort zone, but it is important to strike a balance that you and your child are happy with to ensure positive learning outcomes are achieved and a happy, well rounded young person is formed.
The most important question to bear in mind is do the children already at the school seem happy, motivated, and engaged? Of course, let’s take into account that it is a school and children are there to learn, so it is normal there are some clashes, but overall, are the children healthy, stimulated and content? This will help to guide about how your child will settle in there. It is also worth asking about the policies that the school uses in its governance, such as curriculum planning, health and safety, discipline, etc to make sure the school management and your beliefs dovetail -these can sometimes be an important factor further down the line, so make sure you are happy with them from the start. Do not be afraid to ask to see the school policies, if the school is hesitant to share them with you, then this should sound some alarm bells for you.
Go over the curriculum with a fine toothcomb
You do not have to be a teacher to understand a curriculum and how it will impact your child. It is well worth comparing curriculums between schools and doing some research on what the national or international standards are in your country. Some questions to ask are what type of curriculum does the school follow, how do examinations work and are they standardised, and what type of pedagogy does the school utilize? It might also be worth asking how students perform generally in exams and how many go on to university. Most importantly, consider how the curriculum meets your child’s own needs and what provisions the school provides to cater for any specific learning differences. Make sure to ask about extra-curricular activities, such as language classes, sports, and community events as this could well tip the balance in favour of one school over another.
Get the lowdown on the finer points of the school and teachers
It is incredibly important to know about the background of the school and the teachers there. What is the typical certification of the teachers and do some specialise in certain areas? Does the school have a good reputation? How does it perform compared to others? Does the school invest in professional development for teachers and in its own facilities?
This is another reason why visiting the school is paramount, as you can see first-hand how modern and well-maintained the facilities are. You can also see the relationship between teachers and students, and how the teachers respond to learning material and classes. Are they friendly and enthusiastic, or bored and stressed?
Class size is another important point. Too many children in a classroom could be catastrophic for your child’s learning capabilities. Ask yourself how the teacher divides their attention and how do they manage their classroom?
Finally, do not forget your own role in the school. An involved parent can help their child to advance exponentially and the sense of community between a school and a family can be priceless. Do not be afraid to ask questions and do not be afraid to exercise caution. The school environment will frame your child’s life for the foreseeable future, so the decision must be the right one.
So, you’ve made your choice, now for the admission process…
Deciding which international school is the best for your child can be one of the most stressful decisions awaiting expat parents and it doesn’t get easier when the admission process begins. Interviews for children as young as three years old is not unheard of and it makes sense to know exactly what to prepare your little one for.
Here are our tips for the interview process at international schools.
Spending some time preparing your child before the interview may not guarantee success but it will certainly help ease you towards it. The most important part is that you should help your child feel relaxed and not to put undue pressure on your child. Doing simple exercises to train your child’s patience and confidence, if necessary, may make the world of difference on the day of the interview. If you feel this is a little out of your depth, you can also try a practise session, or ask for help and advice from colleagues that may also have been through the process You can even ask the school the type of interview methods they will use to practise with your child in the lead up to the day. Importantly, you might want to practise some basic etiquette, as it will expected that your children will respond to teachers formally. Many argue that the most important skill that the school will test is the child’s ability to follow simple instructions, this is less a behavioural check, but more of a test of your child’s lateral thinking. Another key factor is your child’s confidence, and subsequently, how they will respond to challenge or difficulty. The interviewer will also test your child’s communication skills, this is usually done in a group, to see how well your child fares with the competition. The questions are usually basic and should not be anything that your child cannot answer. Typical questions involve asking about family members, birthdays, likes and hobbies. Try not to let your child feel any pressure about the interview. Children can often be remarkably sensitive and if they feel that the interview will be the be all and end all, it might affect their performance.
The same can also be said for any interview practise you may undertake, preparation is good for making a child feel prepared, whereas bombardment will overwhelm your child, and this will become evident on interview day.
All that your child needs to do is be friendly and cooperative, and those should be the most important areas to focus on. It sounds easier said than done, but too much preparation can lead to a lot of pressure and the result will be inherently negative.
Your child’s intellectual capabilities will also be tested but this is less about academic achievement with very young pupils, and more about their fluency in English as well as their speaking and listening skills. They may also be tested on their phonics and numeracy skills.
Older children may well have to sit entrance exams; it is easy to say these are nothing to worry about and just do your best, but any form of assessment is stressful for the child and parents. The best way to cope with this is to be as well prepared as you can be, often you can get hold of past papers, or see specimen papers. If a pupil has seen what the exam looks like before the big day, or had an opportunity to do a practice paper, the lack of surprises on the big day can go a long way to settle nerves and reduce stress. These are readily available at academies and tuition centres around Hong Kong.
On the day
This is a day for dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Make sure that all your paperwork is in order and you have sufficient copies of any important documents that the school may need. Remember to dress your child smartly, and most importantly, encourage them to have fun. Emphasising how proud you are of them before and after the interview is also extremely important, so make sure that it is your priority on the day.
After the interview
Always make sure that you extend courtesies to the school by sending them a thank you email. It does not have to be ingratiating, but a concise message of thanks. Small touches often make the difference, especially if competition is tight. Be prepared to wait up to three months for an answer and remember that a successful interview does not necessarily mean admission. Your child may be placed on a waiting list, so expect an answer that may not be what you expect. If your child is not accepted, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for feedback and to seek further advice.
Finally, I’m sure it goes without saying, but, remember to arrive early! Punctuality is key here, and you want to make the best impression possible.
Have you survived an international school’s admission process? Comment below with your experiences!