Saturday, 27 April 2013

Does homework do anything to support a child’s education?

It often amuses me when I hear parents saying we are learning Geography, Maths or French this evening and it makes me wonder if homework really is for the benefit of the children or whether it is just a parental inconvenience.

On a recent visit to a prep school I was intrigued to hear that homework is an important part of delivering their educational objectives, but it is completed during the first lesson of each day, not at home.  Supervised by the teacher who set it, the homework has to have one of two objectives; to practise or consolidate recently acquired knowledge and skills or to encourage the development of investigative skills, research techniques or creative thinking. The teacher is on hand to offer guidance, while encouraging independent learning and problem solving skills. In this way, the school gains a far more accurate picture of each child’s acquired skills and knowledge, since they can be certain that it is the child’s work and not that of supportive parents. Children also develop team working and peer mentoring skills, since they have the opportunity to work together, to complete homework tasks.

With stringent curriculum attainment targets, homework is certainly a way to extend and challenge children’s capabilities outside curriculum boundaries. Much has been written to question whether we are stifling the imagination and creativity of our future inventors and entrepreneurs by offering schools little flexibility within the curriculum. 

Attaining consistently high expectations and standards of educational provision across all schools is a strong argument in support of this strategy. It is my feeling however that creatively set homework tasks, if completed in the right environment, with only essential adult intervention, can lead to the development of important life skills, such as the ability to problem solve and think or work independently.

For information about our services to support parents with choosing the right school and applying to University, visit our websites.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

You are invited to join our Network, supporting international youngsters at UK boarding schools

Have you considered offering care and support to an international student at boarding school, during the occasional weekend and half term holiday?

Imagine if your child were attending a boarding school in Moldova and the reassurance you would gain from having a local family to support them and keep you regularly informed on how they are getting on.

This is an excellent opportunity: 

  • For your own children to make new friends and to learn about other countries and cultural understanding.
  • To fill the ‘empty nest’ when your own children have perhaps gone off to university or left home.
  • To become involved in the school life of a young person, supporting them through attendance at school matches, concerts, parents’ evenings.
  • To build lasting friendships with international families overseas.
  • To put your spare bedroom to good use.

Children studying at UK boarding schools whose parents live overseas require a UK-based guardian family, who live close to the school, to offer them accommodation at their exeat weekends and half term holidays, as well as act as their ‘English family’ to be there in case of emergency, monitor their academic study, be the friendly face at the airport that welcomes them back to the UK at the start of each term and ensure they are well-settled and happy.

Guardian families come in all shapes and sizes from large families, couples without children or children who have flown the nest, retired couples to single mums. All have a common interest in offering care and support to children and teenagers from overseas. All you need is a little time and a spare room in your home!

The child will be living in a boarding house at school during the term-time and will return home to their parents during the long holidays at Christmas, Easter and over the summer holiday. 

The guardian family will be required to do the following:
  • Provide a bedroom within your home for the child at exeat weekends and half terms. Schools usually have one exeat weekend each side of half term, so during each term, this usually amounts to two weekends and a week during half term. Sometimes an overnight stay is required at the start or end of term, where flight times do not fit with school term dates.
  • Acting as the key contact with the Houseparents and tutor, to make sure the child is making good progress at school, discuss and resolve any issues and to confirm arrangements when exeat weekends and half terms are approaching.
  • Being there quickly if an emergency situation arises such as accident, illness, suspension or an incident which requires the school to close temporarily.
  • Attending school parents’ evenings and reporting back to the parents or The Guardian Family Network staff team on progress.
  • Attending school concerts and sports matches to offer support to the child. How much you do this is left to the guardian’s discretion and it depends on the individual talents and extra-curricular involvement of the child.
  • Communicating successes and concerns to or The Guardian Family Network staff team or the child’s parents back home.

Communication and being well-organised is a vital element of acting as a guardian family. The experienced staff team at the Guardian Family Network will be on hand to offer you support and guidance should you have any worries or concerns while the child is in your care. We can also assist you if there are any teething problems while the child is settling in, or further down the line if things are not as you expected.

You will also be in regular communication with the Houseparents and tutor at the boarding school, The Guardian Family Network staff team and the child’s parents or their representative, if the parents do not speak English.

An ability to respond promptly to email is vital and having access to Skype is a useful way for the child to keep in touch with home.

Although this role is voluntary, expenses incurred in the care of the child are reimbursed. These are to cover the costs of food, heating, electricity, fuel and an allowance for both the commitment and responsibility and your time. The table below gives an idea of what you will be entitled to claim.


Termly Retainer (responsibility allowance)
Stay per night
Travel for school pickups and entertainment
45p per mile
Per day without overnight stay for example coming home for Sunday lunch
Airport runs
Mileage plus £7.50 per hour
School events/parents’ evenings
Mileage plus £6.50 per hour
Holiday responsibility allowance for taking student away for example to a holiday home or skiing. (In addition to the trip cost)
£15 per day

Does my house have to be large?
No, not at all. Often the children live in small apartments in large city tower blocks so even the most cosy UK home seems large to them! We just ask that the child is able to have their own bedroom, so that they have a space to call their own should they need a bit of quiet time. Boarding school life is so hectic and they often sleep in shared dormitories, so having a bit of private space is welcome at their guardian family.

What will the child expect to do while staying with me?
The children go to stay their guardian family so that they can experience being part of a British family. As such, they should just join in with your usual family activities. Their lives are so busy at school, often they just want to sleep in late, watch TV, eat and relax. Cinema, take-away and shopping trips are popular with teenagers. Younger children often like a bit more of your time and entertainment. The trick is to welcome them as part of your family and for them to just join in with your usual family life.

What do I do about insurance?
Guardian families will be required to inform their home and car insurers that they are taking on this voluntary role. This rarely gives rise to a problem or incurs a charge, but it is important to have it noted on your policy.

Does it if matter if I have pets?
Animals are a part of British family life so in most cases they enhance the experience for the child in your care. Often the children have pets of their own back home. We just ask you to tell us about your pets on the application form, incase we have a child with allergies or a fear of animals, so we can be sensitive about this when placing the child with the right guardian family.

Do I have to do airport pick-ups?
If at all possible it is nice for the child to be welcomed back to the UK by a friendly face at the start of a new term and to be waved off when they leave. If the child is younger, they will travel unaccompanied minor, so the airline requires proof of ID. However, airports are not for everyone and if the guardian family is unable to do the airport runs, we can arrange for a driver to collect them. Often the school will make arrangements for them to travel with friends to the airport at the end of term.

For an informal discussion about becoming a guardian please call 01865 522066. More details can be found on our website                                            

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tips for parents when choosing a nursery.

Assessing the quality of care offered by a potential nursery is a similar process to choosing a school. Evaluating the capabilities of both the Manager and the staff team is crucial. Research their qualifications and experience, as well as the values and principals behind their educational philosophy. Ensuring both teaching style and the way learning experiences are presented meets with your opinions is important. Are you looking for a more traditional educational environment or a more relaxed approach, with perhaps greater focus on the outdoor classroom or play?

Getting a feel for the general atmosphere is a key part of establishing if you will feel comfortable to leave your child in their care. For this reason, visit on a normal working day and make appointments with more than one nursery, so you can make comparisons. Ask if they have references available from current parents.

As well as asking staff questions, observe, getting a feel for the type of relationship the staff have with the children and how do the children interact with one another?

Ask about staff to child ratios and what processes they use to monitor children’s learning and development, as well as how and how often they keep parents informed. How do they support children with their natural development of literacy and numeracy skills and are there opportunities to develop creativity and the imagination?

What is the routine for a typical day and how does this vary by age group? What is the procedure if your child becomes ill during the day and what type of food is provided?  Is there a quiet, comfortable space for rest during the day?

Do the facilities appear safe, well-supervised and appropriate for a range of activities?  Is equipment reasonably new and well-organised and does the space appear clean, bright and welcoming? 

To read more free advice for parents about making the right school choices please visit our website.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Are posts to social media affecting teenage future job prospects?

Social media is a huge part of many teen’s lives, however recent events in the news have proved comments shared do come back and bite you, affecting chances of securing or keeping a valued job.

For this reason, it is important to discuss the implications inappropriate use of social media could have on your teenager’s future. As early teens, they will be using these platforms for the first time and it is important to give guidance on suitable comments. They need to understand that sexy, drinking photos or controversial opinions about sensitive subjects all have potential to cause harm.

Employers have been known to view Facebook pages during the shortlisting process. With competition tight for university courses, what better way to form a view as to the most reliable, conscientious students than to review their social media presence?

Remind your teen that once they post something, it is out of their hands. It is there in black and white forever. Suggest they do not post in the heat of the moment, without first giving thought as to the impact it may have on others. Could what they are writing be misunderstood at a later date?

Considering whether they might be happy for their school Headteacher, a potential or future employer or university director of admissions to read what they have posted, might be a good way of setting benchmarks.

Asking your teen to help you to set up your own social media is a good way to engage with them, but choose your battles. You will see the good, the bad, and the truly unfathomable. If you don’t want your teen to dis-engage with you, don’t query every transgression. Keep it general.

The Independent Education Consultants advises parents on all aspects of choosing the right school, applying to university or career planning. For more information, please visit our website.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

New key stage 2 test will assess key skills of spelling, punctuation and grammar.

Next term sees the introduction of a re-vamped English writing test for year 6 children as part of the key Stage 2 National Curriculum tests. The new test will assess children’s skills in spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary and has been introduced with the intention of encouraging primary schools to give more focus to the teaching of these key skills.

The aim is for more children to make the transition from primary to secondary school with the competence to communicate effectively through writing and hence succeed across the breadth of subjects within the secondary curriculum.

From 2013, a new marking structure for GCSE exams will give credit for correct punctuation, spelling and grammar in key subjects. Mastering these skills in primary school should stand the child in good stead for future performance in public exams and into employment beyond.

The new test will comprise two papers, a spelling task and a short answer paper, assessing pupils on correct use of punctuation, appropriate grammar usage including knowledge of nouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions and the correct use of tenses and pronouns. The spelling task will test ability to spell commonly misspelt words.

Supporting your child with preparation and practice might be challenging for some parents, particularly for those educated in the 70’s and 80’s when grammar was not the focus of English teaching methodology. Tenses, abstract nouns, past participle and subordinate clauses may seem like double Dutch!

For parents who wish to see what the new test will entail, sample papers can be downloaded from the DfE website via the link

For more information about our education consultants and our advisory services, please visit our websites.