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for advice on the best UK boarding schools for your child

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Hurtwood House - a top co-ed boarding school

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Cardiff Sixth Form College - Top Independent School and Top 6th Form College

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Hurtwood House

Sevenoaks - a top IB School

Sevenoaks - a top IB School

Tonbridge School - a top boys' boarding school

Tonbridge School - a top boys' boarding school

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Brighton College - a top co-ed boarding school

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Woldingham School

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The Cheltenham Ladies' College - a top girls' boarding school

Curriculums in UK Boarding Schools (11 to 16)

International parents sending their senior school age children (ages 11 to 15) to UK boarding schools need to be aware of the curriculums being taught in this age range. There are two main types of curriculum – (1) a variant of the UK National Curriculum (NC) followed by GCSEs and (2) the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (PYP) – bear in mind that 95% + of pupils in UK private schools will be on the NC variant.

The National Curriculum in UK Independent Schools
Ages 11 to 15 graduating at age 14 to GCSEs

The National Curriculum (NC) is mandatory in UK state schools (excepting state academies) but is not mandatory in UK private schools, who can devise their own curriculums. However these are mostly based on the NC, with scope for schools to develop and expand their own curriculum to meet the needs of the children in their care. Private schools have the advantage of longer teaching hours and smaller class sizes. The curriculum is underpinned by traditional British values and aims to prepare children for life as an educated and responsible citizen. All these variants of the NC will include English, Maths and Science plus Religious Education.

Subjects are taught primarily as separate disciplines. Students will normally study English and Maths every day and additional subjects are timetabled with specialist teachers throughout the week. For example, the average private school will timetable approximately 4 PE lessons per week with the sports coach, another 2 lessons per week with the music specialist and a set number of hours in the science lab. Each individual subject will have its own prescribed programme of study and children will follow a progressive set of learning outcomes. The school will add its own touch by holding theme or focus days throughout the year.

Assessment is continual and children sit formal standardised assessments. Data is collected at least 6 times per year and results can be compared against national statistics. Teachers are held accountable for the performance of their children against benchmarked targets.

At age 14 most UK schools will progress to study GCSEs. The variety of subjects will depend on the size of the school. Most pupils will be expected to study a minimum of 8 subjects, including at least maths, English, 3 sciences and a modern language. Schools will often offer blocks of optional subjects beyond the core group. For some years, private schools have moved from the standard GCSEs to the ‘international’ version, the iGCSE, which is regarded as a more robust curriculum. In some schools GCSEs might start at age 13 or additional subjects added at 15, bringing the total up to say 11.

Most GCSE curriculums last for 2 years and schools will not generally admit new pupils at age 15 half way though unless they agree to start the two-year course with students of the year group below. Sometimes we can find boarding schools to offer 1 year intensive GCSEs in which case the student would study a maximum of 6 subjects over 1 year.

IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) Ages 11 to 16

Within the MYP students are taught to be independent in their learning, to follow their own lines of inquiry and take risks. There is a large focus on the development of strong personal values and international-mindedness, preparing young people for the intellectual challenges of their future careers.

The curriculum is delivered around eight subject groups:-

  • Language acquisition
  • Language and literature
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Maths
  • Arts
  • Physical and health education 
  • Design

The IB MYP has been criticised for not offering a graded qualification on completion (as do GCSE). The IBO has just introduced a graded online assessment for the final year, but it is too early to see if this proves acceptable to schools. At the present time the IB MYP is taught in only 10% of UK IB schools offering the IBDP. A small number of schools have started to offer the IB MYP programme for ages 11-13, then switch to GCSEs from age 14 to ensure that students come away with recognisable qualifications age 16.

Which one is more suitable?

It is commonly argued that the MYP is lacking in structure and academic rigor, whilst GCSEs are too rigid. However, the UK is famed for its high standards and high quality education. GCSEs are extremely well established and whilst alterations are made regularly, the overall standard of education is excellent. GCSEs dictate their future school and academic aspirations within the UK. If the parent is aiming for their child to take A Levels at age 16 they should study GCSEs first. If the child is going to stay at an international curriculum school or go back overseas to an IB senior school, then the IB MYP would be suitable.

Limited availability of IB MYP

We are frequently asked to find spaces for children in an IB MYP school. Parents need to be aware there are currently only 9 MYP schools in the UK and furthermore only 2 offer boarding.

Call +44 (0) 1622 813870 Enquiry Form info@educationadvisers.co.uk