It’s not just the traditional public schools such as Harrow and Eton etc. whose reputations and successes are being promoted internationally. The market for a British education is expanding and has been for some time, with students applying to UK schools from an array of countries, backgrounds and cultures. Of course, just like domestic applicants, not all of these international students are successful, but in many instances this isn’t because they lack the knowledge, talent or drive required to be a top student. It is because British schools are looking for skill sets that international students do not always show on paper or in interview. International Study Centres such as Bishopstrow College recognise this, having identified the skills and knowledge required for an international student to be successful, and deliver courses that enable these students to adapt and excel in British schools.
The most noticeable issue, and certainly the most imperative, is English. The necessity of competency in the language becomes much more of an issue as students enter year nine and 10, when they begin to study GCSE level courses and prepare for exams. The demands are even greater for those wishing to enter further education, with sixth forms requiring a much higher level of proficiency in the language. At most entry points, these skills will need to be tested and sometimes backed up by a certificate from one of the many Cambridge English exams. This is why, at Bishopstrow, approximately 50% of a student’s timetable is dedicated to the study of English.
However, only a few hours are given to what is called, ‘general English’. This is the English language presented in everyday contexts, with topics and vocabulary of use to students as part of life; common greetings, ordering in a restaurant, narrative structures etc. The rest of our English language timetable provides the language and skills needed for survival in school.
An important area is ‘academic English’, the study of reading and writing academic texts, listening to lengthy discussions on topical or specialist subjects, delivering presentations or taking part in debates. Essentially, this is the delivery of an English programme but within the context of education. A student at Bishopstrow not only learns the language, but also learns the techniques required to plan and structure an argument, identify facts and opinions in reading texts, and follow a speaker’s line of argument. Students cover the skills necessary to learn independently, such as how to effectively record vocabulary, ‘guess’ unknown words in a challenging text, and proof read their own work to correct errors and learn from them.
It is often the case, however, that the study of English is often seen as distinct from the study of other subjects. Students may be able to develop a strong argument on paper in their English lessons, but when it comes to their History assessments, do not apply these techniques and produce incoherent or poorly presented answers. The curriculum can solve this problem by dedicating a section of its English teaching remit to subject support, a form of content and language integrated learning. In these lessons, teachers can recycle the skills covered in English lessons, but within the context of the other subjects taught, such as History, Geography, Science and Business Studies. A lesson on comparatives and superlatives becomes a comparison of education now and education in the Victorian era. A language focus on staging words and cohesive devices is coupled with the description of a science experiment, or the recruitment process. These sessions highlight links between what students are learning about English and how they can use this in subject lessons, encouraging students to take these skills and apply them to their learning across the curriculum.
At the end of their course, our students are much more prepared to begin studying in an English language environment, having been equipped with the expertise required to be an effective student, as well as the language used to deliver subject content. Combine this with six hours a week of coaching in traditional English sports, a broad programme of art based activities and cultural excursions, and the experience of living the life of a boarding school student. The result is an independent learner with a well-balanced range of interests, knowledge and experience of the boarding routine and rules, and a set of key skills that boarding schools are looking for in their future students.
Chris Lewis is Director of Studies at Bishopstrow College.