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【SCMP Education Post:Study in the UK】School selection – Great divides

Boarding 101


A crucial part of the school selection process is the need for an education consultant to hone in on a child’s personality and age and then make decisions about whether a particular location of a school, and its resulting ethos and traditions, would suit that child. A true British boarding experience can easily be found, but it must be one satisfies the background and nature of the child …


I cannot say that I look back on my time at Gresham’s School in rural Norfolk with particular regret. It is an excellent school with a co-curricular programme which oozes all perceptions of an “all-round education”. Gresham’s makes use of the surrounding natural beauty and the stunning North Norfolk coast. Of course, it was many moons ago when I started at Gresham’s at the age of nine and, throughout the selection process, my parents did not have the same level of assistance from experienced consultants as parents have today.


I have visited countless schools over the past four years and I am now better-placed to help Hong Kong families with pinpointing potential locations which may suit their child’s interests, personality and age. Despite my own background, I am not necessarily biased in favour of boarding schools which sit in charming rural surroundings. Indeed, several schools in London have truly opened up my eyes to the wondrous possibilities and amenities Hong Kong students have at their disposal. Moreover, I have seen how fairly withdrawn individuals somewhat quickly found their feet and became confident and happy Hong Kong students.


One school in London which has caught my eye is Dulwich College. Parents are advised to visit the site because it is difficult to believe how a school with such wonderful architecture and a truly rural character could possibly exist amidst busy roads and tube stations, while also being just 25 minutes from the centre of London. Dulwich can deliver in a sporting, artistic and academic sense, and given that pupils can have the best of a rural feel and the highlights of central London, it stands to be a solid choice for a child showing signs that he or she could truly develop a personality which may show signs of blossoming.


For 13+ entry, Hong Kong families could possibly give more thought to the idea of sending their child to a school in an urban area. As children will reach the age of 15 or 16 just a few years after enrolment, they may long for the excitement and social events held in the city, especially if they are used to living in Hong Kong. If London seems a daunting option for parents and children alike, there are always schools such as Loretto on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Similar to Dulwich, there is a leafy campus with a rural feel and extensive playing fields, yet the centre of Edinburgh can easily be reached within 25 minutes. In close proximity, there is the tranquillity of the River Esk and the Scottish coast, as well as some of Britain’s finest golf courses. All in all, Dulwich and Loretto are great schools for a compromise between the urban buzz and rural pleasantness.

Perhaps it is the outskirts of a city or a large town which fit Hong Kong students like a glove. Cheltenham, for instance, is quite a pleasant spa town and home to Cheltenham College. Its site is located on Cheltenham’s Bath Road, which can get busy, so there is a true urban feel to the school without the overwhelming big city feel. The town centre is only a ten-minute walk away, yet just a few miles south of the school, students will likely be treated to rambles in the glorious Cotswolds. It is of course difficult to compare London and Cheltenham as hubs of activity and entertainment, but the latter is one of many sound options for Hong Kong families.


Other schools located in large towns include Bedford School and Bournemouth Collegiate, in the bustling seaside town of Bournemouth. Again it is about pick and mix and having the best of both worlds, with the countryside, parks and busy city centres all within easy reach.


In terms of absolute rural tranquillity, schools such as Abbotsholme, which is located some distance from any city of note, offers an enrichment programme which includes horse riding, farming and conservation work. There is also Haberdasher’s Monmouth School for Girls whose semi-rural surroundings and outstanding views across the Wye Valley certainly act to relax pupils. It may be difficult for some children to know that they are miles away from any shopping centre to write home about. However, there seems to be less pressure, more of a feeling that learning comes naturally and fuller immersion in the British culture with less pupils attending from countries such as China.


The school selection process requires patience and a full appraisal of the advantages and disadvantages or rural, semi-rural, big city and town locations.

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