The team at Gabbitas Education answer your questions on pros and cons of moving to a different school for sixth form, choosing a UK boarding school when you’re based overseas and acquiring the skills that make it more likely you will win a place at veterinary school

Q: We’re looking to place my daughter in a UK boarding school next September, but as we are living overseas, we’re not really sure how to manage the process of shortlisting and visiting schools. What would you advise?

A: One of the first things you need to establish before you start looking at new schools is your daughter’s academic level. You want a school where your daughter will sit comfortably amongst her peers. Prospective boarding schools will also want to know what your daughter can offer to them – both in terms of academics and extracurricular.

At boarding schools, children become totally immersed in their surroundings, and what they give, they get back tenfold. With this in mind, look at the school and see what they offer to the child: will your daughter be able to get involved with school life?

As you’re abroad, I’d advise you to look at full-boarding options, as everyone tends to stay in during the weekends. Even if there is the occasional quiet weekend, Saturdays will still comprise of lessons in the morning and sports fixtures in the afternoon, and many schools are keen to keep weekends as busy and as purposeful as weekdays.

Visits and open days are imperative. Do go on these if you are able to, as they are the best way to gauge a school’s atmosphere and ethos. You’ll also get to see how pupils interact with one another and engage with their teachers, and in turn see how the staff interact with parents.

Many schools are now offering in-person tours, so try and go for an open day, and then afterwards schedule a private visit. Having said this, Zoom is still a very good way to view a school and there are plenty of excellent virtual open days. Look at reviews, listen to word of mouth, but most importantly have confidence in yourself as a parent – you will know in your gut if a school is right for your daughter.

Question Time: Gabbitas answer your education questions
Veterinary school is highly competitive – Gabbitas recommend work shadowing and other volunteering alongside a strong academic focus

Q: My son has his heart set on going to veterinary school but knows it’s highly competitive and he needs to prove aptitude as well as academic ability while he’s progressing through school. What can he do to improve his chances of acceptance?

A: The methods of improving your chances of acceptance to veterinary school are very similar to those of getting into professions like medicine or law; work experience is essential. Besides academic ability, he will need to prove his enthusiasm for the field and should try volunteering or shadowing as many vets and animal practices as he can. Many universities understand that sometimes it’s hard for certain candidates to gain experience, so they do not demand months of work under candidates’ belts, just enough to show an interest and an aptitude for veterinary.

Work experience will also help your son to be sure that this is the field he’d like to pursue, as it can be a gruelling process preparing for this career. His time at university will be comprised of a lot of exams, laboratory-based anatomy and a lot of contact hours, so it is imperative that he is prepared for the training. Research is equally important. There are currently only 10 veterinary schools in the UK, so make sure to research the benefits of each course. Additionally, prospective students can only apply to 4 of those 10, and as you’re aware, each school has very competitive entry procedures.

Regarding how he might prove his academic ability, consider employing a tutor. Many agencies (Gabbitas included) have tutors who are experts in their chosen field and specialise in veterinary school applications. This will also help him prepare for any interviews he has, and to know what to expect from the course. A tutor can also be useful in helping him revise for his exams, to ensure that he meets his offer.

“If you’re looking to move your daughter for sixth form, ideally you need to have started shortlisting schools by the end of year 10. Many schools tend to close their registrations by the end of September, and by the very latest, the end of October”

Q: Is it a good idea to move my daughter to a new school for sixth form? While it’s a few years off, she’s mentioned that she might like ‘a change of scene’ at 16, but we’re not sure how easy it will be to make the transition – both academically and socially.

A: If you’re looking to move your daughter for sixth form, ideally you need to have started shortlisting schools by the end of year 10. Many schools tend to close their registrations by the end of September, and by the very latest, the end of October, as many of their candidate assessments take place during October.

Many children – whether they joined their current school at 11 or 13 – can find the change refreshing, but please bear in mind that this needs to be a very considered decision as she is at a critical age. The process will not only take up valuable time that she could use for GCSE revision, but she will also be leaving behind friends and a structure that she has been used to for at least three years. Remember, too, that competition is often tough for sixth form places, and some schools will have a limited number of spaces; rejection can be disheartening.

Your daughter’s current teachers and pastoral staff know her academic ability and level of wellbeing, so be sure to consult them for their thoughts on the matter. Ask your daughter her reasons for a scene change; for example, is she looking for a change in curriculum, or is she looking for a better cultural fit?

If you’re thinking of moving her from a day to a boarding school, this is often an excellent stepping stone for higher education. She’s likely to develop better organisational skills and grow in independence, all in the comfort of school’s safety net – meaning moving to university won’t come as such a shock. Alternatively, she may be wanting to move closer to home with less school structure. Many children grow out of the school bubble before higher education, and flourish when working more independently.

Overall, I would urge you to research what is out there and bring your daughter onboard the decision-making process. She will be able to give you a better idea of what she believes she is missing and this should help shape the final decision.

Questions answered by Gabbitas consultants Anastasia Hatvany and Sarah Oshun-Williams.

Gabbitas Education

Further reading: How to choose a boarding school that will help your child succeed