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How to choose the best British Boarding School: Guidance for Nigerian students

2nd March 22

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The quality of a British education is renowned and respected around the world. If you are a Nigerian student looking to travel to the UK to study a GCSE or A-Level programme, you will probably be looking to apply to study and live at an independent British Boarding School.

There are wide variety of independent schools to choose from, so making the right choice can be a difficult and confusing task. We have provided some basic guidance to help start your school search.

What is a British Independent School?

British Independent schools are schools which charge pupils a fee, rather than being funded by the British Government. Independent Schools are also commonly known as ‘private’ or ‘public’ schools. Government funded schools provide a free education to British students and are commonly referred to as ‘state’ schools. All schools in the UK are regulated and inspected, either by the British Government or a government approved body such as the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).

Unless they have a British passport or permanent resident status, Nigerian students will not be able access free ‘state’ education, so they will need to apply to an independent school for their GCSE or A-Level studies. It is important to note that many British families will choose to send their children to fee paying independent schools despite the availability of free state funded schools.

What is a British Boarding School?

A boarding school is a school where pupils study and live during term time. The ability to board on site is one of the most attractive features to Nigerian students and their families, as the school will provide pastoral care, social, sporting and academic ‘extra-curricular’activities, and basic necessities such as meals, utilities, and laundry for the students outside of the main school teaching hours.

What type of boarding school is right for you?

There are a wide variety of different school types under the ‘independent’ school banner, and a good place to start your search is on the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA) website. Here are some of the key things that you might want to consider when looking at prospective schools to help narrow down your search.

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Traditional vs Modern Boarding Schools

British Boarding schools can be broadly divided into two categories; schools with a more traditional ethos, often referred to as ‘public schools’, and those with a more modern outlook, who would be more likely to be referred as ‘Independent Schools’ or ‘Independent Colleges’. Be aware that deifintions of boarding schools in the Uk can be airly fluid, so you may hear one school referred to using all of these terms!

Traditional boarding schools are more likely to be single gender (boys schools or girls schools), although many now admit both genders. The culture and structure of traditional boarding schools might also be based around adherence to a particular religious faith, although British education is based upon religious and social tolerance, meaning that they will happily accept students from different faiths. Traditional schools also tend to have a more regimented and hierarchical structure, with students often divided into ‘houses’. Traditional students are more likely to wear uniforms during the school day.

Many of the traditional British Boarding Schools also have hundreds of years of history behind them, and have become woven into the fabric of British Society. A famous Example being Eton College in Windsor, which is known for educating many of Britain’s political leaders.

For this reason, school life at a traditional boarding school is often based around tried and trusted traditions that have often become established over centuries. This means that students are expected to understand the structure and practices of the school, and to fit into the time-honoured school structure.

On the other hand, Independent Schools and Colleges tend to be mixed gender, with boys and girls studying together (although in boarding boys and girls will be segregated in their own boarding houses or dormitories). The culture of these schools are also likely less driven by a particular set of religious beliefs, with schools often identified as ‘mixed faith’ or ‘non-denominational’. School uniforms are also likely to be more casual, or in some cases there might simply be a ‘dress code’ for students to adhere to, rather than a specific uniform requirement.

For international students, an Independent School or College is likely to feel closer to the kind of schooling they have experienced at home. Independent boarding schools are also more likely and willing to adapt to meet the needs of international students than a more traditional school, which is set up predominantly for British students.

Abbey College Cambridge certainly falls into the independent school category, and a good example of the difference we often see when students transfer from traditional schools is that they will be used to referring to teachers and staff as ‘sir’ or ‘miss’, where at Abbey Cambridge students and staff refer to each other on a first name basis.

It should be said that modern independent boarding schools will often borrow and adapt practices from traditional boardings schools, for example at Abbey College Cambridge we operate a house system with housemasters and house captains similar to what you might expect to find in a more traditional boarding school.

Academics and Reputation

One of the key considerations when choosing a British Boarding School is the strength of the schools academics and its’ reputation. As a Nigerian student you will be making a huge commitment to travel to, live, and study in a whole new country – so it is important to be confident that you will receive high quality teaching and the support to achieve top grades.

The academic grades achieved by students in previous years should be readily available to view on the school website and in its prospectus. If the school is unable or unwilling to share its results with you then you should consider this a warning sign. It is also a good idea to ask the school to provide you with the results of previous Nigerian students, as this will help benchmark the results of fellow students from your country against the wider school results.

Another great way to assess the school’s quality is through reading the most recent school inspection reports. Schools are inspected by two main bodies; Ofsted is the British Governments’ Office for Standards in Education and the ISI is the Independent Schools Inspectorate. These are both independent bodies, and their inspection teams are comprised of senior teachers (often former headteachers) so you can trust them to provide and unbiased and reliable assessment of the school. You should be able to find the latest Ofsted or ISI reports on the school website (or you can request a copy from the school). Don’t worry if the report is from a few years ago, as inspections usually take place every 3-5 years.

Abbey College Cambridge’s recent academic results can be found here, and the findings of our most recent inspections can be found here.

Students Walking In Cambridge

English Language Support

A key consideration for international students when choosing a school is the quality of its English Language support provision. International students’ academic performance is often directly linked to their comprehension of the English Language, so this means it is crucial that your chosen school has a strong English department which can support you and improve your English through your studies.

Nigerian students usually arrive with very strong English Language skills, which is a huge advantage, but it is still important to learn the correct terminology that will be used in your academic studies, and ultimately in your exam papers, as this could be subtly different from what you have been taught at school in Nigeria and means that you could lose crucial marks in your final exams.

British Universities will also ask for international students to achieve a minimum standard of English alongside their academic grades to gain a place. Universities will typically ask for an IELTS qualification with a score in the range of 6.0 – 7.5 overall, and the more prestigious the university or competitive the course, the higher the requirement.

So remember to ask schools how they help support Nigerian students to improve their English and to meet the English entry requirements of their target universities. Here at Abbey College Cambridge all students who are not fluent in English receive up to 5 hours of compulsory Academic English lessons until they achieve an IELTS level of 7.5, which is the qualification required for undergraduate Medicine studies, or Oxbridge courses.

University Preparation

As a Nigerian student in the UK, you will most likely be aiming for a place at a top-ranked UK university once you graduate from an A-Level or Foundation Programme.

Competition for places at the top British universities is fierce, so you will need more than just good grades to be successful. Therefore, it is important to gain a clear understanding of how your chosen school helps international students to prepare their university applications and to give them the best chance of success.

Look for schools who offer students a structured university preparation programme that includes key elements such as knowledge building outside of the traditional school syllabus, university selection and application support, and preparation for university admissions tests, essays, and interviews.

Here at Abbey College Cambridge we offer a formal university preparation programme called the Pre-Degree Diploma to all students studying on our A-Level and International Foundation Programmes. Students have the option to study a number of pathways such as Law, Architecture, Medicine, Engineering, and Computer Science that lead naturally to application and progression to related undergraduate programmes at university. We also offer additional specialised preparation programmes for students planning to apply to Oxbridge colleges and Medicine programmes.

Remember to ask you school whether there are any additional charges for university preparation support, as some schools whose tuition fees initially appear cheaper, will impose additional fees for university preparation. At Abbey College Cambridge all university preparation support, including access to dedicated UCAS tutors, and specialist Oxbridge and Medicine preparation, is included within our standard tuition fees.

Boarding Facilities and Ethos

When considering boarding school options, ask yourself how you would prefer to live whilst you study in the UK. Would like to live together closely with other students in dormitories or shared rooms? Or would you prefer your own room? Are you happy to share bathroom facilities with other students? Or would you prefer you own bathroom? Do you prefer large communal areas for socialising with friends? or smaller areas for quiet group study?

Ideally you want a school that offers a range of different boarding options to choose from, and remember that your boarding requirements may change over time as you get older and desire more independence.

You will be living I the boarding house with college boarding staff who’s job it is to fulfil the roles that your parents or guardians would at home in Nigeria. That means making sure you are going to sleep and waking up on time, helping with homework, organising social activities, helping you communicate with friends and family at home, and being someone to talk to.

In more traditional schools it is not uncommon for teachers to live in the boarding house with students, and to undertake pastoral duties. Here at Abbey College Cambridge we separate our boarding and teaching staff. This means that boarding staff are all professionally qualified whose sole focus is to support and care for students outside of teaching team. This also means that our teachers time is freed up to offer additional teaching and tutoring sessions, including a weekly programme of evening academic lectures and activities that we call ‘Abbey Inspires’.

Male And Female Student Working In A Level Physics Class

Extra-Curricular Activities

One of the great advantages of a British Education is the focus that is placed on developing students outside of their studies. You should look for a school that offer students a wide range of extra-curricular or ‘enrichment’ activities outside of the lesson time.

The goal of any school’s extra-curricular programme is to develop well-rounded, curious students who are well prepared to take the next step to university, and ultimately to be a positive and productive member of societies. These are all qualities that are greatly valued by universities, and which can help to support your application.

Extra-curricular activities typically include sports and fitness, creative, and academically focused activities. Perhaps unsurprisingly, traditional schools tend to offer more traditional British activities. Good examples of these would be school Rugby and Cricket teams, a school choir and maybe even Latin lessons. Good schools will also offer students the opportunity to broaden their academic interests and take part in entrepreneurship.

Independent Schools and Colleges such as Abbey College Cambridge will typically offer less traditional activities. As we have a large international student population, sports such as Football, Basketball, Badminton and even Handball are played rather than Cricket or Hockey.

A good approach is to ask if the school offers the chance to continue pursuing the hobbies you currently enjoy, or that you would like to pursue in the future. If they don’t then ask them if they would help you to set up your own club in this area? This is something that we encourage at Abbey College Cambridge.

Student Boarding House Single Bedroom

Location and Facilities

There are around 500 Boarding Schools located all around Britain, so Nigerian students will have a wide range of locations to choose from!

Traditionally Boarding Schools have been located in more rural areas and closer to smaller towns, although some can be located in deeply rural locations. Today there are also many high-quality boarding schools located right in the heart of the largest British cities.

When considering your schools location think about the living and studying environment that would suit you best. A school in a rural environment might offer less distraction and more opportunities for sporting and outdoor pursuits, but it might be a little too quiet if you are used to living in a large city at home with amenities like shops, restaurants and cinemas close at hand.

Its also worth considering the schools location within the British Isles, as the further North you travel, the colder and harsher winter temperatures tend to be (which is when you will be doing most of your studying), by contrast the South of the country tends to have a milder year-round climate, with snow rarely falling in winter. It will probably still feel cold compared the temperatures back home in Nigeria, but you will notice the difference in temperature when you travel around the country.

The final thing to remember is that although location is an important consideration when choosing a school, the UK is still a relatively small country with good transport links, so civilisation is never too far away!

Abbey College Cambridge is located in Cambridge, which is a relatively small and quiet, but also cosmopolitan city. It offers a good balance for students who want to be able to focus on their studies, but also to be able to enjoy opportunities to socialise with their friends away from school. Our students also benefit from having access to the world-renowned University of Cambridge and close proximity to London, which is a 50-minute train ride away.

In Closing

We hope that the advice we have provided will prove useful in your search for the right British Boarding School. It always pays to consider a number of different schools so you can weigh up their particular merits against each other and make a considered choice.

Keep an open mind during your search, you might think that a traditional school environment might be too formal, but many provide an excellent environment for international students. Likewise, a more modern school may not have the tradition, but many of the best performing schools in terms of academic and university progression are classed in the independent college bracket.

Visit the school’s websites, follow their social media, try and visit them if you can, and if not ask to take a virtual tour or attend a virtual open day. Speak to current students and ask lots of questions, a curious and enquiring mind is a quality that all British Schools prize.

Good luck with your search!

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