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【The Standard】Why choosing the right school is more than just about good grades

School Guide


When parents and prospective pupils are choosing which schools to apply for in the UK, there is one message that I stress time and time again: do not rely solely on school league tables.

This week I want to look at a family who went about making their decision in the right way and is now reaping the benefits. Not only is the student happy at her school and doing well, but her relationship with her mother has been transformed.

The success story begins with a typical Chinese family. On one side, there is the traditional mother who wants the best for her child and can be strict when it comes to studying hard and respect. On the other is a daughter entering her teenage years who doesn’t always get along so smoothly with her parents and wants her freedom and independence as she is developing into an adult in her own right.

When this family was choosing their school, I gave the tried and tested advice that my company and I have been passing on to parents for many years now: don’t focus on league tables but try and find a school that matches the personality of the student.

All UK schools are different. They are not just high-status British brands. Some parents tend to think of Eton, Winchester and Harrow in the same way they think of Rolls Royce, Burberry and Harrods.

This is completely the wrong approach.

Nor are British schools just factories that produce good grades. Of course, grades matter and it’s not a bad idea to look at how many students go on to study at Oxford and Cambridge from a particular school every year. But this should not be the priority.

Some students flourish at a very large school, while others do better at a smaller school. Some do well in a single-sex school while others develop confidence at a mixed school.

Some like to be able to visit a city easily while others are quite content to be at a remote school somewhere in the English countryside with access to horses and no fashionable shops for miles around.

After listening to my advice and doing their own research, this family decided on Barnard Castle School. This school is located “up north” – right at the top of England – not far from Durham University. Sometimes referred to as just “Barney,” the school, founded in 1883, is coeducational and both a day and a boarding school.

When I spoke to the mother recently, she told me how she and her daughter both felt that the school was absolutely right for her.

Now, when her daughter comes back from the UK, she can’t wait to spend quality time with her mother and they now have adult conversations.

When talking about the political situation and protests in Hong Kong, for example, the daughter was able to say to her mother: “I’m studying politics at school now, I have my own understanding, my own view. It may be a different point of view to yours, but we can both respectfully debate and discuss instead of senselessly arguing and hurting each other’s feelings.”

My discussion with the mother took place on Facebook and you can view her story on YouTube :