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Thursday, 26 March 2009

Education Agencies: Are They Worth It?

Many parent's worries are the admin and all the different processes that need to be taken when they apply at a UK school. This is where the Agencies come in, especially for overseas students. They help with almost everything vaguely related to education.

How they help:
  • Submitting application forms to schools
  • Giving guidance to students and parents
  • Language barrier may happen so, agencies can translate
  • conducting interviews (especially to competitive schools)
  • Has direct relationship with schools
  • Arranging visits to schools
  • Visas
  • Entrance exams can be sometimes be taken at the agency

They make money through commissions and fees. In my opinion agencies are very useful to those who may not speak English or have no idea about the whole system. (Of course, I provide some information but I can't do the job for you!). There will most likely be an agency in your country that specialise in sending students to the UK. However if you come from a country where not many students go to the UK, you may have to do all the hard work your self! An example is Academic Asia (Hong Kong/China).

Overall agencies save time and effort but be careful that you are not overly dependent to the Agencies and make the full use of them if you feel you have to use their services. Please remember you can e-mail me about anything! (though I can't do things that Agencies can do!)

Friday, 20 March 2009

Westminster School: Admissions explained

Is this school The Best (academically) in the UK? Many say that yes, this school is the best school in the UK. In academic terms, Westminster School which is situated in central London, just 5 minutes walk from the Big Ben, a London landmark.

Like Eton College, I have had an experience with their admissions system. For the same reasons, I won’t tell you if I was successful as this would give away which school I went to. In comparison to Eton College, this school is far open to underprivileged and ‘new family’ students as Eton gives advantage to students with family history relating to Eton College.

First things first, entry to this school, in my opinion, is almost as competitive as Oxbridge universities. I say this because around 50% of their leavers go onto either Cambridge or Oxford. The rest go to Harvard, Yale and other top UK universities (LSE, KCL, Imperial etc.). Their exam results are one of the best in the country. Westminster has continuously come top 5 on the national school leagues tables. In 2008 they came third with only Magdalen College School and Wycombe Abby School in front. This made Westminster the best school that a boy could go to (Westminster becomes a co-educational school in the Sixth form but it is only male for lower years). Boarding is also possible.

The entry process is one of the most competitive and demanding system for entry into a school. There are 2 entry points into the school 13+ and 16+. The 13+ entry is only available to boys but 16+ is available to both boys and girls.

13+ Entry
The 13+ entry system is quite similar to the Eton College entry system. This involves testing whilst the boy is in year 6 or aged 10. They will be tested in mathematics, English and Reasoning. A school report/reference is requested and they are also interviewed. Successful candidates are given conditional places (conditional upon passing the common entrance exam or the scholarship exam).

Waiting lists are also made in case a candidate with a conditional offer pulls out. Westminster also recognises that some students may be disadvantaged because candidates must register 2/3 years before entry. Therefore Westminster reserves some places for any gifted students who did not register before the deadline.

The 13+ interview tests the student’s extra-curricular involvement and tests their logical ability.
16+ Entry
This entry point is perhaps the most competitive out of the two. Both girls and boys can apply and this is the only entry point for girls. Registrations open in June and close in the second Wednesday in October. Registrations are completed on the internet. You will create an account which you will access to check results and to submit details. You will need to submit a recent report, details, personal statement and exam results. You will also need to pay the registration fee through Paypal on their website. Entry exams are held in November and this is taken by both UK students and International students. Those applying abroad may take their exams at a British Council or their school having met certain criteria set by Westminster to assess if their school is suitable as a exam centre.

As you take 4 subjects at A-level, 4 subjects must be chosen for the exams. The only exception is if a candidate chooses Further Mathematics (a more challenging course of Maths), they will only need to take 3 subjects as Further Maths is worth 2 A-level grades. They will also take the same maths exam as those doing single (normal) maths. However Further Maths candidates will be expected to gain much higher marks than single maths candidates. Another exception is Art, Art candidates will be required to submit their portfolio.

The 2008 entry exams (for entry in 2009) for UK candidates were held in Central Hall which is not owned by Westminster School but it is just across the road from Westminster School. This provision was made because of the sheer volume of applicants and Westminster was physically not able to provide enough space for the entry exams. The applicant is given a timetable of exams prior to the exams. The 2008 entry ratio of applicants to places were 3 or 4 applicants to 1 place.

After the exams, successful candidates are invited to come for interviews. There are 5 interviews, 4 subject interviews and 1 general interview. Sometimes, eg. Maths, the interviewer may go through the incorrect answers with the candidate. The interview is a vital process as the exams separated exceptionally gifted candidates from the applicants and the interview is used to separate candidates who can think for themselves. This is not a skill that can be learnt, Westminster does not look for ‘spoon-fed’ students. Even at the interview stage is quite competitive, 2 applicants to 1 place.

By December applicants will be notified if they have been given a conditional place (Conditional upon achieving at least 5 A grades and 1 B grade but overseas candidates who attends a school not doing the GCSEs, will not be required to fulfill this requirement). Others will be put onto a waiting list.
So, as you can see the entry process for the top academic school is not easy. In my opinion, Westminster produces the best exam results because of the entry process. They only allow entry to the top students and Westminster simply nurtures and challenge them. Westminster School does not turn an average student into a top performing student.

Due to its location, Westminster faces major problems as a school. If sport and recreation comes high on your list of important things a school must have, Westminster School is not for you. Due to expensive land prices Westminster uses a single large field for football, cricket and hockey. Swimming is in a nearby publicly shared pool. Therefore their sports are mainly low area sports such as fencing, shooting and rock climbing. Also due to this land problem, many classrooms are located in high rise buildings and for example, in order to reach the Biology department, one must walk 3 or 4 flight of stairs and this can be quite tiring. Many classrooms are located in a large area of publicly used area therefore students need to cross many busy roads and pass offices, public buildings etc. in order to go from A to B.

I hope you can think carefully about the pros and cons of Westminster School before registering as although it may be a top performing school but there are also negative aspects of the school.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Food at British Schools: Good or Bad?

I’ve realised that this may be an important questions that may be on your minds. The education may be great but is the food just as good?

Well, the UK has had an issue with food at school to be honest. Only about 4 four to 5 years ago, it was very normal to be served French fries and hamburger for lunch. However that has all changed. The British TV celebrity, Jamie Oliver made sure that would never happen again. He shocked many by showing how much junk food was being served in schools.

Nowadays, you’ll find a salad bar and a much more balanced meal pattern. This is mainly state schools but private schools tend to have better quality food but it is not a guarantee.
I will try to describe the typical meals that a student may eat in an average day at a British boarding school.

Breakfast 7.40am: There will always be a wide choice of cereals including all the healthy options and the sugary ones. Toast bread will always be available with all the normal spreads and jam. There will also be a hot meal available. This may be a traditional English breakfast, pancakes, pain au chocolat, crumpets or bagels and more. Fruit juices, tea or coffee will also be available.

Lunch 1.00pm: There is a salad bar for those wanting a healthier meal. The main may be spaghetti with roasted aubergines. There are just so many meals that it will be impossible to list all. I am just giving a typical meal. For dessert, this may be fruit salad or even chocolate cake! It is all very balanced. Of course there is always a choice of fruits available.

Dinner 6.00pm: The salad bar is again available. For main, this may be chicken pie with carrots. For dessert, it may be cookies. Toast bread is available.

This is just a snapshot of a typical day and does not show the whole story. Therefore it is important if you are visiting a school, you ask for a menu of the week to get to know what the food there is like.

The importance of the quality of food may not be the deciding factor but when you begin school there, it will become a part of your life so you will need to assess the quality of food when you decide.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Finding Work Experience

Why do it?
For any student having some sort of relevant work experience will both enhance an applicant’s application form for university and for general development. This is why it is essential to have this wonderful experience!

Where to find it
I suggest that you first ask your current school/college if they have any opportunities in the area of field that you are interested in. They may have some contacts. If this fails there are websites that link you to opportunities in your local area. You can even try approaching the businesses directly to ask if they do work experiences. The key is to plan early and it is safe to secure your week of experience as early as possible.

What kind of work experience should I do?
The obvious answer is doing the experience in the sector that you plan to work in. For example if you are planning to work in marketing, then go try to find an advertising business that will offer you a placement. However if you cannot find this, it is still a great opportunity to work with people you are not familiar with, this is almost the case in all sectors and it will build your team working skills and leadership.

Can I do work experience?
This may be a silly question but there are legal obstacles that one must pass before doing work experience. Those with British/EU/EEA passports are free to do whatever they wish. However for others, due to stringent British immigration rules, only those with permanent visas or visas that allow work will be able to participate. It does not matter whether it is paid or unpaid, work is work and you will be violating your immigration status if you engage in work experience when you are not allowed to do so.

Is it free?
Of course! 100% free AND you may even earn a little too! But do not expect money to be involved.

It is a great chance to learn and you will almost always enjoy it!

Friday, 6 March 2009

Where To Go For Advice

Of course, I offer great advice based on my personal experience but another place to go where you will receive fantastic personal advice is the British Council. The chances are that there is a British Council in your country as there are 233 locations in 109 countries.
They are a government funded organisation that promote students to come to the UK to do their studies. They also carry out IELTS testing and sometimes provide classes. If you have an entrance exam to a UK school or University, the schools encourage international students to take the tests under the supervision of the British Council as they are reliable.
If have any questions or queries, they offer up to date information as well as guidance on UK Education.
The British Council builds engagement and trust for the UK through the exchange of knowledge and ideas between people worldwide. Our work focuses on the major challenges of our age:
- building understanding between cultures and promoting positive social change
- developing the skills and creativity people need to prosper in the knowledge economy
- building and sustaining an international consensus for action on climate change.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Guide to UK Student Visas

For all international students, coming to the UK, should check if you need a visa. Previously, it was quite a simple process to apply for a UK student visa but laws and procedures have changed and I will explain what you will need to know.
Who needs a UK Visa?
You will need a UK visa if you are not an EU or an EEA national. EU and EEA nationals have unrestricted stay and unrestricted permission to work in any EU or EEA countries including the UK. However if you are from outside the EU or the EEA (e.g. USA) you will need a visa.
Ok, so how do I get one?
You should apply in the country of your current residence. If you are school aged, you must apply to a private school. In some cases you will have to apply directly to the British Embassy but now as the UK is receiving so many applications the UK Border Agency is using commercial agencies that will handle your application. These companies do not make any decisions but they will process your application for the agency.
Do I need a Biometric ID card?
Any non EU or EEA student will need one. This is compulsory. This was a response to the increase in illegal immigration. The card will show your immigration status; eligibility to work, nationality and your biometric data (fingerprints and digital photo) will be stored on the card.
What is the Points-Based System Tier 4?
The British Government has introduced the points-based tier system. This system is quite similar to that of the Australian Visa system where you will need a certain amount of points to qualify for a visa. International students are placed in Tier 4 and there are two subgroups (Child student and General student). A prospective student must accumulate 40 points. 30 Points is awarded for CAS (Certificate of Acceptance of Study). This will be the proof that you have been accepted into a school/course and you have paid for it. Only the place of study can issue this certificate. 10 Points is available for Maintenance and Funds. This will prove that you have the necessary money and funds to support yourself without having to claim ‘Benefits’ or public funds. For courses less than 1 year, £800 is needed per month. For courses lasting more that a year, £9,600 is needed in your bank account. You may want to bring dependants (children, husbands, etc). They will be eligible for Free State education and may be eligible to work. However on top of your initial funds you must also have £535 per month for each dependant you wish to bring.
Can I work?
Those with a full student visa may be allowed to work. This all depends on what it says on your ID card. If it reads, ‘no work’, this means no work and you will be deported if you are found to be engaging in any paid or un-paid work. However for some, it may read ‘Able to work as authorised by the Secretary of State’. This will allow you to work for 20 hours maximum during term time and 40 hours during the holidays. It will be clear whether you are allowed to work or not. However it is important to follow the rules as illegal work is taken very seriously.
Do I have to register with the police?
If your ID card or visa states that you need to register with the police, then you must do this. Those aged under 16 will not have to do this. If you don’t do it, it may have very serious consequences for any future UK visa applications and you could be banned from entering the UK (for any reasons) for 1 year or up to 10 years in some cases.
These rules may seem very strict and harsh, however unfortunately it is a measure that the UK had to take in order to prevent the abuse of the system by a minority. Nevertheless, the UK welcomes every student and will make sure that you have the best time!
some useful information:

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