International junior boarders
Parents send their children abroad with a view to them getting ahead of the game. Jared Tinslay looks at how schools cater for the increasingly younger learner.

Moving to a new country can be a daunting experience for students of any age, especially exacerbated if there is a language barrier involved. For many junior boarders, it also coincides with their first ever time living away from their parents. Both King's Ely Junior and Moreton Hall in the UK welcome international boarders from as young as eight years old, however the majority of schools cater for boarders from 11 years and up. The quality of pastoral care thus carries particular importance as boarding schools look to best accommodate their young students. 


"Younger students absolutely require particular care," confirms Celina Mason at Queen Margaret's School, which normally boards girls aged between 12 and 19 years. "They live in that in-between stage of wanting to be independent, yet are still very much dependent on an adult for care," she explains. Tom Lill at The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) adds, "Many of them are away from their parents for the first time, and many are dealing with the difficulties that accompany learning a new language in a new environment."


How an institution deals with such challenges depends on each one's particular methods. Staff training and an adequate student-mentor ratio are important facets of the pastoral care, but regular contact with parents is also vital. As Celina states, "I find parents are the ones who are filled with worry, more so than the students." Victoria Eastman at Moreton Hall, cites a Parent Child summer course as a successful way to help ease any parent concerns. "Parents stay at school with their children aged between three and 13 years, study English, go on trips, do activities and generally gain an insight into the way of life in a UK boarding school," she explains. "The conversion rate once the parents have attended this course is good as parents are reassured about the pastoral care, facilities, teaching and are more inclined to send their children at a younger age," she says. Taster courses are also a useful tool to allow parents to send their children on a trial before committing long-term, she adds.


Despite an institution's efforts, student homesickness can be an inevitable consequence of living away from home. Philippe Minereau and Kristia Grandison at Saint-Denis International School in France came up with a faux-siblings scheme to combat this. "In recent years we have had older students accompany the youngest ones. They are like 'big brothers and sisters', and they help take care of the younger students. We have found this to be a really effective solution," Philippe cites. Anastasia Cotton at ACS International Schools in the UK refers to their dedicated school counsellors "who are experienced in helping students transition to their new school, and provide guidance on managing workloads".


Keeping students occupied and allowing regular contact with family is another way to combat homesickness. At ACS International, weekend trips are integrated into the schedule, and included in the school fees, enabling students to experience educational opportunities that they might not have at home. Similarly, at UK-based St Francis' College, where international boarders from the age of 10 are welcomed, Clare Moore notes "a comprehensive programme of extra-curricular activities and trips, which are designed to be age appropriate". 


According to Richard Whymark, Head at King's Ely Junior, having a range of first language speakers within the school is critical to the success of their international strategy. "We pair our international students with others who have their language as their first language and encourage them to express their emotions at one of the regular meetings we schedule for them," he says. King's Ely also offer tailor-made courses for their youngest boarders, with up to 10 students joining their immersion courses each academic year. Richard quotes the reduced number as an important component of the course's success, as it allows for a bespoke education experience, "shaped to suit the child".


A factor which The MacDuffie School in the USA takes into account is the age at which girls and boys typically mature. "Since younger students, particularly boys, are not as mature as older students, we feel that they require more oversight and attention so that they can handle the independence of living away from home and take care of their personal needs," notes Jeffrey Pilgrim. As a result, the younger boys follow slightly different rules, such as being required to go to breakfast in the morning and going to bed at an earlier time. They are also placed in a separate dormitory with three residential faculty members, while girls stay in a larger dorm and are closely monitored by one mentor.


Clearly, the welfare of junior international boarders is taken very seriously by institutions, and younger students are generally subject to more stringent safeguarding requirements. For example, students under 16 years old hoping to board in the UK are legally required to have a UK-based guardian. Nevertheless, most boarding schools now insist that all their international students with parents living abroad have a UK-based educational guardian. Andrew Green at Kings Education, certainly recommends this to every student under 18. Kings also offers a dedicated meet-and-greet service at the airport and specialist accommodation provision for students under 16, with full supervision during college hours and access to welfare counsellors, says Andrew.


Plenty can be gained from spending a period abroad, but this is particularly true for younger learners. "Young students are often open to new experiences and opportunities and the majority of them haven't developed stigmas about other cultures and nationalities," says Nav Rai at Swiss International Scientific School (SISD) in Dubai. He adds, "This usually means that the younger students bond very quickly and they acquire life skills which are related to cultural sensitivity, which ultimately creates a warm and harmonious boarding house."


Andrew agrees with the principle that younger learners are often more open to a new culture and way of learning - something which offers other long-term benefits such as a head start in future education opportunities and a natural assimilation into the country's educational structure and environment. "Equally, language proficiency will have improved before a main academic course is embarked upon, rather than needing to be developed concurrently as can be the case with an older student," he adds.


In terms of recruitment trends, Moreton Hall has received an increasingly youthful Chinese market. Victoria comments, "One reason is that Chinese parents are now much better-informed about the UK education system, and see the value in a holistic approach to education and wanting their children to have a balanced curriculum with access to music, arts, drama and sport."


Russia, Iran and Turkey are good source markets for The Mount, Mill Hill International in the UK, according to the school's Sarah Bellotti. She points out that other European and Asian families prefer to send their children from 15 years old, suggesting that it might be related to alignments in the educational systems.


At King's Ely, Richard highlights the importance of catering for a multitude of needs and backgrounds and that a one-size-fits-all academic experience is no longer workable. "The thought that one offering for all international markets was adequate has been replaced by an intense focus on the individual and the need to tailor provision to suit the aspirations across the world," he says. Being flexible and adaptable to overseas parents' expectations thus becomes key to successful international recruitment, he notes.


Boarding at such an impressionable age can present certain challenges but the advantages of such an experience far outweigh any disadvantages. Families view the experience as an opportunity for their children to have a head start in life, and for many that overrides any worries. In addition, note contributors, the younger the boarder, the more quickly they adapt to new settings.


Marketing Overseas

Jeffrey Pilgrim from The MacDuffie School in the USA makes reference to student fairs as a "wonderful" opportunity to gain an insight into the "personality and fit" of prospective students. However, he says, "Our primary form of marketing overseas are agent referrals and travel to specific targeted markets where we see opportunity for growth."


Likewise, Andrew Green from Kings Education, says, "The vast majority of our recruitment of younger students comes from well-established relationships with trusted agents. Parents tend to need reassurance of dealing with an educational agent face-to-face who has direct and long standings with an educational provider."


Emily Mckee, Director of Admissions at TASIS in Switzerland, mentions working with agents, campus visits and fairs as useful tools, but says that their website can be a "powerful marketing tool" alongside monthly newsletters and an active social media presence.


Similarly, Richard Whymark at King's Ely Junior in the UK states that having an excellent website is "crucial". He explains, "International courses need the same gravitas on the website as the UK courses to underline the commitment the school has regarding those who join it from around the world." Nevertheless, he feels word-of-mouth is still the most effective way to promote the school, with past students working as global ambassadors, while agents can be "wonderful advocates for the courses we offer".

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