Wednesday, 26 August 2015

#Parents - Is your child starting #boardingschool this September? A few tips from our experts on handling #homesickness.

Receiving countless sobbing phone calls and miserable emails from your child when they have just started at boarding school for the first time is a heart wrenching experience for parents. The mobile phone call, text and email has made this particularly challenging to manage as a parent, since it makes contact with home so easy and available at times of sadness. 

Here are a few pointers below which may be useful in terms of coping with this situation as a distressed parent which may help to see your child settled and happy at boarding school as soon as possible:
  1. On the first drop off day, try not to hang around in the boarding house for too long before saying your goodbyes. Help your child to unpack and to make their space feel homely, ensure they have met up with someone else in their dorm to chat to and then, with as little fuss as possible, take your leave.
  2. Listen to your child’s Housemaster or Housemistress and trust their experience and competence in supporting homesick children. If they are in regular communication with you to reassure you that there is no need for concern as they have the situation well in hand, then believe them. Houseparents take their responsibilities very seriously indeed and you can rest assured that if, in their experience, they felt there was a need for concern as your child was experiencing greater distress than is usual for a child who is away from home for the first time, they will immediately let you know and discuss with you how best to address the situation.
  3. Children are kept very active and engaged during their first few weeks at boarding school. They will be taking part in a very busy programme of study and extra-curricular activity. It is only in the odd few moments of downtime that your child will start to feel sad and to miss home, since there really isn’t opportunity for this most of the time. Sadly, it is in these occasional miserable moments when your child will tend to phone, text or email you, leading you to believe that they are feeling sad and distressed all of the time.
  4. Don’t give in to emotional blackmail. You have chosen to give your child an amazing opportunity to develop independence and experience a diverse range of opportunities within their education. They will make close friends that last a lifetime. You have made this choice for the right reasons so try not to take seriously any miserable communications from your child, which may imply that you do not care or are in some way cruel. Quite the opposite. You have made a self-less decision in giving your child what you believe to be an amazing opportunity. Your child will look back on their time when they are older and thank you for the decision you made, you just have to hang in there through the rough part at the beginning.
  5. Never let your child know that you are upset too. If you can feel yourself welling up when talking to them on the phone, let them know quickly that you must hang up the phone as you have a pan boiling over, someone is at the door or something similar. If you are worried that this may happen try to communicate with your child by email when they cannot see that the happy cheerful messages from you are written through sobbing eyes!
  6. Likewise try not to get cross and angry, rather provide a listening ear as to how your child is feeling. Getting cross may lead to your child thinking that you are not on their side in dealing with their homesickness. They must know that you are aware and understand the difficulties they are facing and that they have your full support in learning to cope.
  7. Try not to contact your child too often during their first few weeks. Some boarding schools do not allow phone calls to and from home in the first few weeks, but even if the one your child attends does, try to resist the temptation to do this too often. You are bound to be worried about how they are settling in, worrying if they have made friends and what they are up to. Remember, if your child is happy and busy, it can be very unsettling and upsetting to suddenly take a call from home, reminding them that they are away from you for the first time. If you are worried or feeling out of the loop as you have not had any contact with your child for a while, get in touch with their Housemaster or Housemistress, who will happily update you on their progress in settling in. The school will call you if they are in any way concerned. Ask yourself are you contacting your child for your benefit as you are missing them, or for their benefit?
  8. If you have family friends with an older child at the same school, try to seek discreet information via them as to your child’s welfare.  It may reassure you to know there is an older student looking out for them. Hearing from another pupil that they experienced the same feelings of homesickness and got through it and are now happy, can sometimes be more convincing than hearing it from you. They may be able to share some gems of information as to how they coped. Children can often respond better to peers who are closer to the experience and who command respect.
  9. Try to avoid discussions with your child over the phone about what you have been up to with their younger siblings who are still at home, as this only emphasises what they are missing out on in being away. Instead focus your conversations on asking your child what they have been doing, who are their teachers, what friends have they made, what sport and other activities have they been doing, and what are they looking forward to in the following week?
  10. Set benchmarks of things for your child to look forward to so the first term can be divided into small chunks of time that is easier to cope with at the start. E.g. Give them a calendar for their wall and write on it the first time you can go to school to see them play in a sports match, the first exeat and the exciting things you have planned for them when they come home.
  11. Never make a promise you have no intention of keeping, for example to take them away from the school if they are still unhappy at half term, Christmas etc. Once your child feels that there is a way out for them if they do not settle, they may dig their heels in and be determined to remain miserable until your deadline has passed so they can come home. Better to let them know that there is no alternative in terms of school option and that they need to try harder to settle in.
  12. Praise and reward your child and let them know how proud you are of their efforts and achievements. 
  13. Most importantly of all, remember you are not alone in supporting your homesick child. Try to meet up with friends over a coffee and share your experiences and concerns. Knowing that you are not alone and what you and are child are going through has been faced and overcome before will be a great reassurance and support at what can be a very difficult and challenging time for any parent.

Do you need some help with reviewing boarding school options for your child at age 11+, 13+, or 16+? 

Give Claire a call on 01865 522066 to find out how our team of friendly experts can help you or email her via

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Monday, 24 August 2015

Thinking of applying to #university at Oxford or Cambridge?

A few thoughts this week from our Director of Consultancy Services, Brian McGee, in answer to those who perhaps feel the Oxbridge application process is unfair.

We frequently hear news about super-bright students who fail to get a place at Oxford or Cambridge and the cry goes up that they are biased against candidates from particular groups. The truth is quite the opposite in my experience.

Oxford and Cambridge universities have worked incredibly hard to make their selection processes as comprehensive and fair as they possibly can, with a raft of procedures to ensure that only the very best candidates in each cohort are offered a place. This is in stark contrast to other elite universities in the UK, who appear to be so overwhelmed by the number of applicants for each place that their systems sometimes seem quite simply a lottery and quite unfair to many candidates.

Oxford and Cambridge have the advantage of the college system, which means that applications are directed to the admissions tutors in each college, who, along with their admissions teams, assess each application individually against carefully constructed selection criteria for each subject. These criteria are open and transparent and published clearly on their websites.

Students applying to Oxford and Cambridge will have submitted their prior qualifications and marks, predicted grades from teachers, a detailed personal statement and a reference from their teachers. In addition to this, Cambridge ask for extra detail about results and an additional statement to address the candidate’s specific interest in the Cambridge course, as they realise that the UCAS statement requires a broad brush expression of interest in five possibly quite different courses. Oxford have increasingly developed their own tests to supplement the increasingly unreliable predicted grades.

Both universities interview significant numbers of applicants in order to ensure that they haven’t missed something on an application and to iron out the problem of highly-crafted personal statements which are not a reflection of the candidate’s own interests and aptitudes. Far from being the threatening and eccentric experience of folklore, these interviews are carefully structured in order to test an applicant’s thinking skills, usually aiming to move away from the student’s comfort-zone to areas they have not considered before, so that the true signs of critical thinking and curiosity begin to emerge. The interview process is explained very clearly on the university websites and in the various visits they make to schools and colleges, so that candidates will know what to expect.

Once this process is complete, both universities then carry out a systematic moderation across colleges, so that a good candidate in one college is not compromised by an unusually strong cohort for that year. Oxford does this during the interview days, with applicants often being interviewed by two or three different colleges during their stay. Cambridge uses the Pool system, which enables college tutors to draw an exceptional candidate from the pool if they feel they deserve a look; they may then re-interview that candidate before making a decision.

No system is perfect and both universities acknowledge that many very good candidates will be disappointed, but compare this with other universities, some of whom simply do not even appear to have read some applications, and it becomes clear that these two institutions have truly tried everything they can to develop open, transparent and fair systems.

Do you need help with planning and writing your Oxbridge application or preparing for interview? 

We have a range of services which are tailor-made to support teenagers with each stage of this process.

For an informal discussion call Claire on 01865 522066 

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Tuesday, 18 August 2015

As #GCSE results day approaches, here are a few tips on making the right subject choices for #Alevel or #IB

Year 11 pupils receiving their results this week may wish to review their A level or IB choices before the start of term. 
It’s very tempting to be swayed by strong results in some subjects, but you need to think very carefully about the combination you are choosing, so that you don’t close off any future pathways. Equally, don’t be persuaded to take subjects you really don’t enjoy because you have been advised that they are necessary. 
It’s certainly true that some professions require particular subjects. If you want to become a doctor you really do need to study chemistry. Similarly for many biomedical courses. For a degree in maths, further maths is critical and if your school doesn’t offer it you might want to think about switching institutions even at this stage. For engineering and computer science, maths and physics are the core choices. Many university courses have no required subjects, however. Law, for example, is completely open, though I’m always surprised by how much admissions tutors favour maths even here. 
Many universities now publish lists of ‘facilitating’ subjects, indicating the A level or IB higher level subjects they regard as being more rigorous. They also publish essential and desirable subjects for specific courses, so if you have an idea of what course you wish to study at university, it is certainly worth browsing through these. 
There is a lot of publicity around the science and technology (STEM) subjects, and the worldwide shortage of students with these skills. Students and parents might well be swayed by this, with good reason. But if you are a more creative or literary person, there is no point in trying to force yourself into a programme you will simply not enjoy or succeed at. It’s the most important choice you are likely to have made so far and it’s very important that you follow your own ambitions and interests. The UK is still a world leader in the creative industries and there are many opportunities for those with flair, talent and determination. 
Many able students study a language alongside other subjects such as sciences. This is clearly an advantage in the international world of work and is often looked on favourably by university admissions officers. Universities find it increasingly difficult to recruit students to languages courses, which seems so short-sighted in this global age.
Overall, a combination which suits your interests, grade profile and aspirations will work out best in the long run.

If you feel you need to talk through your choices at A level or IB, talk to your teachers or alternatively call our team of friendly, experienced consultants via the contact details below.

You can call Claire on +44 (0)1865 522066 or email Claire on

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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

One more sleep until #ALevelresults and #Clearing starts. Here are our last-minute tips to make tomorrow as stress free as possible.

Fingers crossed tomorrow brings more press coverage of 'the best A level results ever'! However, for those not so fortunate to secure their university place, here are a few tips from our team of education consultants on how best to handle the Clearing process.

  1. UCAS Track might update overnight, so you can check your status online before collecting your results
  2. Be prepared. Have your UCAS ID and personal statement to hand when you pick up your results
  3. If you go into Clearing, available courses are updated regularly on the UCAS website and individual university websites. They are also published in the Telegraph.
  4. You will be given a Clearing number, which you will need to hand before contacting the universities.
  5. If you find a course you are interested in, call the university to check. They may give you a verbal offer there and then.  You can take time to think before confirming your choice on UCAS.
  6. If you go into Adjustment, seriously consider this as a possibility – there are some great courses out there which you could upgrade to.
  7. The process is similar to Clearing. Call the universities first before applying online.
  8. If you do not get the course you are hoping for, you may wish to take time to consider other options, maybe a gap year with relevant work experience. Don’t accept a degree course which is not what you want.
  9. If you get a place on a course which is not your original choice, ask the university about accommodation and finance before making your final decision.
  10. Dont sit around and worry alone. Seek help and support so you gain the reassurance of being on the right path to finding the right solution for your future as soon as possible. Our friendly, experienced consultants are on hand all day and for the weeks to come. You can call Claire on +44 (0)1865 522066 or email Claire on

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Monday, 10 August 2015

Preparing your teenager for #University - As #Alevelresults day approaches, a few tips for #parents

Phew! For most, come Thursday, those all-important A level results will be in the bag and your teenager is excitedly preparing to move on to the next stage of their life, by starting university in the Autumn. Here are a few tips to support parents in preparing them, so you can sleep slightly easier, once they have flown the nest.

  1. Help them to familiarise themselves with the town or city where they will be studying including the campus layout, location of faculty teaching blocks, public transport, location of the supermarket etc. A visit a few weeks before they start might help with this.
  2. Do everything you can to assist them to secure a place in a hall of residence. Being among other ‘Freshers' in a hall of residence, rather than a rented house during year one, will make finding their way around and meeting new friends easier and give a gentler acclimatisation into University life, especially if they have, to date, been living at home.
  3. Help them to plan the clubs and societies they will join during Freshers' week. University is a fabulous opportunity to try a huge variety of new and exciting sports and activities and those who get fully involved from the outset will make new friends and hence settle quickest.
  4. Organise their finances by opening a bank account. Shop around for the one that is offering the best student incentives and ideally chose one which has a branch located close to the university or even better on campus.
  5. Spend some time going through the importance of budget planning and monitoring cash-flow carefully. Advise against credit cards and un-authorised overdrafts.
  6. If the timetable structure of their course looks like there might be time for some part-time work to supplement their student loan, help them to get a CV and application letter ready and to start to research places where they might seek employment once in situ. Talk them through body language and basics of interview technique. Reliability, looking respectable and a friendly personality will be the key factors to get across. Review pictures and comments on their Facebook page as many potential employers will now review these before taking on young people.
  7. Have some fun in the kitchen helping your teenager with planning and cooking healthy meals on a budget. Reproducing some of mum’s home-cooked dishes for new friends will be a positive way to cope with homesickness in the early stages.
  8. Have a serious chat about safety, keeping gadgets and tech safe, managing drink, turning down drugs and coping with peer pressure to do things which they may feel are out of their comfort zone.
  9. Find out what the local GP arrangements are for students and register them.
  10. Advise against taking too many possessions with them for the start of the first term. Some things are essential, but having too much will cramp their living space and be too hard to keep track of. Homely but uncluttered is best. Valuables should be minimal. Make sure key items are covered by appropriate insurance.
  11. Advise against taking a car until they have seen where they will be living and investigated the parking arrangements. If they do chose to take a car, drink-driving should be discussed.
  12. A bike is a good investment and don’t forget lights and a high-vis top.
  13. A laptop with a good size screen will be crucial. Consider getting a separate mouse, keyboard and ensure they have the latest up-to-date software. Consider how their work will be backed-up and a few USB sticks might come in handy.
  14. Agree how you will keep in touch. Email, text, mobile, Skype. Give them space to explore this exciting new stage of their life, but explain your need to hear from them every once in a while, to be reassured they are happy and safe.

If Thursday does not bring the outcome you hoped for, our team of friendly, expeienced consultants can offer advice on the Clearing process. 

Please call our team of consultants on 01865 522 066

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Thursday, 6 August 2015

What happens if #year12 students fail to get the #grades they need at #ASresults time next week?

Waiting for AS results is always a stressful time; solid AS results are so critical to the choices available for A2 and university offers. With the introduction of new AS courses in September, those in Year 12 have an even more complicated set of decisions to make this year.

Many schools require a minimum level of pass grade at AS to qualify a student to proceed to A2. In previous years the option of resitting an AS level alongside A2 courses, or even resitting the whole of Year 12, were a good option for many. But with new specifications coming on-stream, this is not such a straightforward decision.

Students in maintained schools no longer have the option to re-sit Year 12 as the funding has been withdrawn. Many students in independent schools will find themselves in a similar position. This might mean that a total rethink of academic and career options is required, including the possibility of pursuing a vocational or apprenticeship route. I have known many students over the years who have switched to a BTEC or similar programme and proceeded very successfully to university.

Those wishing to re-sit individual modules or AS courses have a much more complex decision to make. Many subjects will be based on completely new specifications, with the new AS becoming a stand-alone qualification which does not count towards the full A level. It is likely that most students in this situation will simply have to proceed to A2 and re-sit individual modules without the benefit of being able to sit in on AS lessons.

Some students will simply not have the AS grades they hoped for to present a strong case to their chosen universities about their potential at A2. My advice here is not to panic; the university sector is changing rapidly, making many more options available to students. Good advice from your HE adviser is crucial here as many doors might remain open with the right advice.

It certainly isn’t easy being 17 these days! But with the right advice, the options available are better than ever. So don’t panic on results day. Be proactive and get good advice.

Our team of friendly, professional educational consultants are on hand throughout the A level and GCSE results period to offer a listening ear and some helpful advice on the best way forward.

Give us a call on 01865 522066

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