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Want to attend a UK school?
Aruni Mukherjee
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September 18, 2008

The vast majority of Indian students going to the UK to pursue further education do so for under-graduate or post-graduate studies. However, as Indian families get wealthier, some are likely to send their children abroad earlier, as has been the case with the Chinese who have joined British private schools in vast numbers.

Britain has excellent private schools which offer world-class education. However, the application process is quite challenging and it is necessary to have a good understanding of what the process entails in order to maximise your chances of success. 

Education framework

In India, students usually face public exams at the end of classes X and XII. In Britain the equivalent are GCSEs and A-levels. However, I would imagine that most Indian students would apply to join a British school for studying A-levels. This is because families might be a little reluctant to send their children abroad when they are 13-14 years old. In addition, there are a number of compulsory subjects taught from an early age in Britain (eg a foreign language) that Indian students would have difficulty with.

Therefore, Indian students should aim to join a British school after completing their class X exams for completing two years of A-level studies. However, this is not set in stone. In exceptional circumstances, schools may accept applications from students who have passed the class IX exams provided they are able to show academic aptitude in the subjects they are proposing to study for the A-levels. Indeed, flexibility is the one characteristic that sets the British education system apart from its Indian counterpart.

In India students have to choose between the arts, commerce or sciences for studying at classes XI and XII. Thankfully, there is no such rigidity about the British system. Students have to choose four subjects for studying at AS-level (first year), one of which they drop for their A2-level (second year), in addition to a compulsory General Studies subject. The subjects can be chosen from a list offered by the school and they can be absolutely anything, ranging from Theatre Studies to more orthodox subjects such as Economics.

This prevents students from specialising too early in their academic life and enables them to study subjects that they enjoy (or allows them to avoid having to study subjects they loathe -- Hindi sahitya ka itihaas, anyone?). I chose History, Government and Politics, Business Studies and Information Technology for my AS-levels. However, if you want to specialise, you can very easily study Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry (however dour that sounds!). The important point is that the choice lies completely with the student.

Application process

Unlike applications for under-graduate courses at British universities, there is no centralised application system akin to UCAS. Each school is an independent organisation and has its own application process. Generally speaking, the application process involves entrance exams along with submitting some samples of your writing (particularly for humanities subjects). There will be a requirement to submit academic and character references as well.

You don't have to travel all the way to Britain to take these exams. Schools will usually be happy to post the question papers to the headmaster of your current school who will be responsible for arranging for you to take the exams under timed and supervised conditions. This means you will have to discuss your future plans with your headmaster and involve them in the process.

Your headmaster will arrange for the papers to be sent back to the school along with academic references which you should gather from your current teachers. You should also submit samples of your writing (if necessary) and ask your headmaster to confirm that they are yours and include them in the pack.

Your performance in the entrance exams (along with the references) will not only determine whether you get a place at the school, but also help them consider your scholarship application if you have made one. Your writing samples are particularly helpful if you are applying after class IX (as I did), for they will be shown to the subject tutors who would decide whether you have attained the required standards for the A-level course.

Fees and scholarships

There is no subtle way of saying this -- studying at a British private school is eye-wateringly expensive. The total tuition fees for a year can range between GBP 6,000 (approx Rs 5 lakh) and GBP 10,000 (approx Rs 8.4 lakh), sometimes even higher. The costs are further spiked since Indian students would usually be boarding.

The cost for boarding can range between GBP 7,000 (approx Rs 5.8 lakh) and GBP 10,000 a year, but can often be higher depending on which school you are applying to. Therefore, the total cost can hit GBP 20,000 (Approx Rs 16.8 lakh) a year, an astonishingly high amount for most Indian families.

Unfortunately, there are very few full scholarships available to international students. However, most schools do have some generous scholarships (up to 75 per cent) which can be combined with bursaries (based on the family's income) to form a decent scholarship package. However, it is excruciatingly difficult to gain a scholarship as private schools receive far more applications than the available places they have.

There is no central database for scholarships, and the British Council will usually not hold details about scholarships available at school level. You will have to contact individual schools directly to obtain the relevant information.


There are plenty of advantages by studying at a British private school. If you are aiming to study for your degree at a British university, your A-levels will stand you in good stead. Even for job applications after graduating, these will be extremely useful. Employers and universities understand these qualifications far better than overseas ones, and as a result your prospects should be better if you have British qualifications.

Aside from the fact that you get to study the subjects of your choice, you should also enjoy a break from the Indian system that encourages rote learning and memorising. Independent research and project work is encouraged at an early stage of the A-level course, and students get a great degree of freedom regarding the manner in which they wish to approach their studies.

And you certainly get what you pay for in terms of extra-curricular activities. Sports and other similar facilities are usually outstanding, and there will be plenty of opportunities to pursue your hobbies whilst at school. There are plenty of events, activities and trips to get involved in, so your experience should be wholesome and enjoyable.

Next steps

As I mentioned earlier, you will have to identify the schools you want to apply to and contact them individually. Naturally, schools are not household names in India, and therefore you will have to make a decision about which school you would like to study at. A good starting point is the Independent Schools Council website which allows you to search for private schools by county, so you can decide where you want to live before beginning your search. Other useful sites include the Independent Schools Directory, and the Guide to Independent Schools.

Once you have narrowed down your search, you should visit the schools' website and get a better understanding of the institution. Most websites allow you to e-mail the school via a form to request a prospectus, which the schools will be happy to post to your home in India.

You should read the prospectuses in detail to be in a better position to finalise your choices. The websites will also contain the e-mail address of the headmaster who will be happy to discuss any questions that you have regarding the application process.

The application process usually begins around a year before you propose to join the school. In other words, to start in September 2009 you should think about your choices now and your application should be made by the end of the year. However, you should review the schools' application deadlines on their respective websites to ensure that you are not out of time when you submit your application.

The schools will make you a conditional offer based on your class X results which you should receive next summer. If you manage to achieve the target score, you would have to submit these to the school which will then issue you an unconditional offer.

Finally, remember that going abroad at a young age requires courage and motivation. You should be absolutely sure about your future plans before you take such a big step.

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