The proliferation of Summer school providers in the UK is testament to the fact that for many overseas families Summer schools represent an excellent way for their children to experience both the UK’s education system and its culture.

However, in this increasingly competitive market selecting the right Summer school is more challenging for overseas parents and agents and therefore it is vital to be clear what each family wants from the Summer school experience to then find the very best fit for each child…
Essentially Summer schools fall into 2 main categories, but within these 2 main categories there are lots of new course offerings becoming available. As Caroline Nixon, General Secretary, British Association of Independent Schools with International Students (BAISIS) points out, “there is a still a place for the traditional English and Activities programme but it’s an increasingly competitive market, so savvy schools are specialising in areas which speak to their individual strengths”.

Category 1- ‘Try before you buy’- “Summer Schools are important access points into British education for the undecided or uninitiated. Being able to live, study and in the best institutions, experience the reality of boarding school life before committing to full time UK education is an important factor in the decision making process”, says Gareth Collier, Principal of Cardiff Sixth Form College.

The ‘try before you buy’ sector of the market recognises that many more parents are now aware of the huge cultural and academic adjustment that their children will need to make before coming to study full time in the UK and so a Summer school experience can be hugely valuable to help make the full time move less of a shock.
Additionally, as Anna Trott, Recruitment Director, Kings Education points out, parents are increasingly testing out the UK itself as a destination for study as well as specific institutions; “we see fewer students doing many consecutive years just for English tuition and activities. Instead they may spend one summer in one country to gain academic experience and then one in another to decide on their preferred study destination”, she says.

An interesting sub section of the ‘try before you buy’ market is the growing popularity of Parent & child courses that enables parents to understand boarding school life and allay fears before their child comes to the UK to study full time. As Victoria Eastman Director of International Recruitment, Moreton Hall points out, “in recent years we have noticed an increasing demand for Parent Child courses, these are primarily aimed at younger children aged 3-12 and their parents”.

Category 2-The ‘Stand alone’ experience providing, “ the opportunity to make academic progress, whether this be in English, including academic English and in other academic subjects, allows students to sample the globally recognised British curriculum alongside a varied social programme and range of activities and excursions”, says Mark Jeynes, Director of Bishopstrow and Padworth College.
As parents demand to see more value for money, the ‘Stand alone’ experience is increasingly focusing on subject/interest specific programmes, often aimed at older students including sporting, musical & drama programmes and programmes aimed at helping prepare for highly selective University courses, such as Medicine.
For example, Felsted School offers a global studies programme that involves a partnership with five universities across Europe that all offer Global Studies at MA level. Felsted works with university lecturers in putting together a curriculum that is aimed at 12-17 year olds and the programme is then delivered by lecturers from the partner institutions.

Meanwhile, Oxford Summer Courses are held at high profile Universities like Oxford and Cambridge and the tutors are predominantly Oxbridge academics. Some of the courses offered, aimed generally at older children, are subject specific, so the attendees get the benefit of tuition from academics already teaching these subject at degree and postgraduate level.
For older children wanting to focus early on a business related degree, CATS College London offers a Bloomberg Business Advantage summer course. This gives budding international business students, as young as 15, the opportunity to develop skills for their future studies and career in the CATS London Bloomberg Business Lab where students can use Bloomberg terminals to analyse the latest economic trends.

So, for Agents, understanding each family’s requirements within such a large and increasingly fragmented market is really important.

One aspect that most families would agree is a critical element of any Summer school programme is the opportunity to not just explore British culture, but also to mix with students from many other cultures. As Emma Jennings, Director of Summer School, The Mount, Mill Hill International says, “typically having students on our courses from over 25 different countries helps students discover and appreciate their common interests and helps them gain a broader international understanding. The evidence of this is the life-long friendships that are forged between students of different nationalities and beliefs”.

How to evaluate the quality of the provision?
Some schools do outsource their Summer school provision to other training providers and most are upfront that the provision offered is on their premises, but not delivered by their own academic or pastoral team. This is not to say that external providers may not be very good, but the comfort for parents with children attending a Summer school run by the regular school ‘team’ is that they know the school will operate to the same high safeguarding standards it has to operate during regular term time.
So, plenty for Agents and parents to think about, but with such a diverse and creative range of Summer programmes now available in the UK, parents and agents are spoilt for choice…

The article has been published in full by ST Magazine here