Cayman has no boarding schools, so choosing an international boarding school is difficult, as visiting overseas schools is a huge task. Make a list of your child’s needs and wants and then choose to visit schools that tick those boxes.
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For example, if your child is massively into one sport but not keen on another, then find a school which plays that sport. For example, in the UK a boarding school is usually a football school or a rugby school. They are invariably not both unless it is a prep school.
If you live full-time in Cayman then you probably want to choose a full-boarding school and not a weekly boarding school. Many schools are moving towards weekly boarding so be sure to check this out.
Also, does your child need any educational support? If so, check out schools who can help with that.
Finally, any school very near London will probably have a lot of London-based students and may empty at the weekends. If you would prefer to avoid this, then choose a school which is more than an hour away from London.
Time & Preparation
Boarding schools can be very competitive and many schools fill their places several years in advance of entry. Therefore, give yourself plenty of time to choose the right school. In addition to allowing time to visit schools (a typical tour starts at 10am and takes 3-4 hours), you should allow time for your child to be prepared for the entrance exams* and for the transition to boarding school. Parents often underestimate how much time should be given to these steps, but at least two to three years in advance is the best time to begin the process. The most important thing to remember is to involve your child in the process from the very beginning, as this will allow them to become comfortable with the prospect of going away to a boarding school.
*Since COVID-19, some schools have become 'Test Optional Schools' and you can request not to do the entry test. Speak with an educational consultant who can advise on which schools now offer this option.
General Age of Entry to Boarding Schools
American schools are typically set up to accept boarders from Grade 8 (aged 13–14 or Year 9 in the British system) but there are some which will accept boarders from Grade 6. In Canada, most schools accept students for boarding in Grade 9 (one year later than the US system). In the UK, your child can board from the age of 8 (Year 4) but the majority of students from Cayman usually either start boarding at the end of primary school (i.e. they finish Year 6 in Cayman and then leave) or they wait and go straight to a senior school in the UK when they are 13 (for the start of Year 9).
Timeline & Tests for Entry
For a full breakdown on how early to start your research and what tests UK, Canadian and US schools require children to take for entry, see our Cayman Parent website. Select the Boarding Schools: Why, What, When, Where? | Part I article and scroll down to Boarding School Timelines & Entry Tests.
Understanding Your Child’s Needs
It is vital to find the school where your child will thrive and be happy. Friends and acquaintances may offer school suggestions based on their own children’s success (or otherwise!) but, just because this school was right for their children, is no guarantee that it will be right for yours. Choose a school based on your child’s specific talents, interests and needs, even if this is wildly different to that chosen by others. Unless your child is happy and comfortable at their new school, they won’t perform well in the classroom. Make sure that the school offers the qualifications (IB, GCSE, A Level, SATs or vocational courses) best suited to your child and their intended higher education and career path.
It's always best to explore your boarding school options before you make your final choice.
British Boarding Schools
We asked Nicky Adams, who is a writer for the UK’s The Good Schools Guide to explain why British boarding schools, for example, are more popular than ever. Here is what she wrote for us
Forget freezing dormitories and soggy puddings, British boarding schools are more popular than ever before, as students of all nationalities make the most of a broad education in a modern, cosmopolitan environment, and leave ready to take on the world.
British boarding schools have been preparing young people for greatness for at least five centuries. But over the last few decades there has been a real shift in the way they educate modern youngsters to meet the challenges the future will throw at them. Opening their doors to international students has transformed these traditional places of learning into contemporary, multi-cultural environments where young people are taught not just how to pass examinations, but to develop strength of character and personal qualities, alongside an understanding of the world and their place in it. There can be no better preparation for a 21st century global citizen.
Indeed, this is the key to an education that is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and – for many of the quarter of a million students from around the world who currently attend boarding schools in the UK – ten months of the year. However, leaving their home countries to go to school in Britain can be a daunting prospect for youngsters who are not UK resident. Although a high proportion of overseas students at British schools are from ex-pat families, many others may know barely any English and nothing of the way of life or culture; some may never have stayed away from home for any length of time before. Rest assured – students from outside the UK are made very welcome and careful consideration goes into making sure that every new student, whether from half-way round the world or just up the road, settles quickly and gets the best out of his or her British boarding school education.
Many parents choose British boarding schools for their children as a stepping stone to the top universities in the UK, US, Europe, or their home countries, so an excellent academic education is essential. Teaching jobs at UK boarding schools are much sought-after, so teachers are usually of the highest calibre, and lessons are usually timetabled six days a week, 8am to 6pm, so there is the time and individual attention for students to really realise their academic potential. In the evenings, supper is followed by a session for homework or private study – ‘prep’ – with expert help on hand as teachers often live on-site during term-time, and in most schools each student has his or her own academic tutor. Academic progress stays on track and students achieve the best possible results. The academic curriculum covers mathematics, science, English, modern foreign languages (German, French and Spanish, also increasingly Japanese and Mandarin), Latin and classics, humanities (geography, history and religious studies).
Sport and the Arts
Boarding school education is broad, so alongside academic lessons, time is set aside every day for non-academic – or co-curricular – activities. Team sports are big in boarding schools – rugby, hockey, netball and lacrosse are traditional, but also on offer is a wide range of sports including swimming, gymnastics, tennis, badminton and even golf, sailing and bowls – something for everyone. Joining in is the key to learning the skills of team working, leadership and personal resilience. Music, drama and art lessons are also on the curriculum with concerts, dramatic productions and exhibitions throughout the school year and many excursions to artistic and cultural events for inspiration. There is usually too a huge range of clubs and societies, some focused on careers (such as MedSoc) but others relating to interests such as dancing, music, photography or games. Some students discover their career ambitions, but many more find an enjoyable pastime for life and an extra dimension to their characters.
International understanding: It is the day-to-day integration of students that makes boarding school such a unique experience. In class as well as in the boarding houses, youngsters are encouraged to work together and make friends beyond cultural differences. Most schools make sure that their intake is not dominated by any particular nationality and students in one school can come from at least 30 countries. Customs and cultures are respected and students take pride in their origins and tell others all about them. Much is done to help students to feel at home – national and cultural events, such as Chinese New Year and Thanksgiving, are celebrated by all, and even school meals have an international flavour. Discussing and debating global issues is encouraged – many schools stage their own Modern United Nations conferences or belong to worldwide networks of schools, such as Round Square, for even greater international understanding.
British boarding schools are famous for their ‘holistic’ approach to education – developing the whole person. Students find their own interests and talents by trying out activities, from Arabic to Zumba. Personal strengths – particularly leadership, loyalty, reliability and integrity – are encouraged and rewarded. There is a real ‘have-a-go’ culture – mistakes are seen as an essential part of learning and help to develop personal resilience. Older students act as role models as Head Boys or Girls, Heads of House and Prefects. Team successes are celebrated even more loudly than individual triumphs – most schools play inter-school matches and run inter-house sporting and academic competitions – and there is a great loyalty among students to their house and their school. As well as medical facilities, many schools now have on-site wellbeing services to care for young people’s emotional needs and to help them to develop the inner strength to tackle life’s challenges.
With help and guidance in a safe environment, youngsters learn to find their feet. Non-UK resident boarders usually join at the age of 11 or 13, although some start as young as eight, but whatever the size of school – from just a few hundred students to a few thousand – each child has a secure network of support. Most schools have several boarding houses, and while in some a student will stay in the same house throughout their time at the school, others have houses for different age groups. Either way, boarding houses are homes from home – usually cosy, with quiet studies, ‘common room’ living areas and a kitchen with a refrigerator well-stocked with snacks. The austere, chilly ‘dorms’ of the black-and-white movies have been replaced by rooms with an average half a dozen beds, some with individual rooms for older students, uni-style.
The housemaster or housemistress, usually a teaching member of staff, looks after every aspect of boarders’ lives, from dealing with friendship issues to making sure there is a chance to phone home, while matron cares for day-to-day needs, including laundry and producing toast and birthday cakes, and a tutor keeps an eye on academic progress. Depending on the school, meals are either taken in the house, or in a dining hall or refectory. Students generally wear their own clothes, rather than school uniform, in the house and the atmosphere is relaxed and homely. Youngsters choose their own friends, pursue their own interests and take responsibility for their own learning, in readiness for independent adulthood.
Being able to express oneself in English is invaluable in international business and British boarding schools are a lesson in English immersion. While it is quite acceptable for students to speak their mother tongue to their compatriots, all lessons are in English – as are the jokes – so there is a great incentive to pick it up quickly. Many schools offer English as an Additional Language support and usually find an older student as a language buddy to help day-to-day.
While British boarding schools offer an academic education designed to open doors to the top universities and careers, the lessons learnt outside of the classroom develop the strength of character, the skills and the international understanding to ensure that their students make a success of life in today’s adult world.