UK SCHOOLS IN CLOSE-UP NO.3 : International Study Centres : Old Concept, New Opportunities

College (printing size)

What is an ISC?

International Study Centres (ISCs) have been around for almost 20 years. Originally they were set up by UK boarding schools to help international students prepare to enter mainstream education alongside native speakers. Boarding schools have always recruited fewer international than home students and so their programmes are targeted more specifically at native English speakers who are familiar with the UK education system. As boarding schools  began to recruit more international students, they realised that there was a need to provide additional preparation.

What Is The Difference Between an International Study Centre and an Independent College?

Independent colleges are private schools (mostly for-profit) which focus on exam preparation courses to help students get the right grades to go to their preferred universities. Most independent colleges recruit a high number (75% ++) of international students so they have English language and support programmes as part of their integrated curriculum. They offer only examination courses (IGCSE and GCSE, A Levels, IB) and pathway programmes (International Foundation programmes) and take students from age 14.

ISCs are run by UK (not for profit) boarding schools, which recruit mostly UK students from ages 5-18. The purpose of the ISC is to offer international students programmes which will help them integrate into mainstream education at any age while giving them full immersion in a boarding school environment.

Is The ISC  A Separate Centre or Part of The School?

 The ISC is usually housed within the school grounds but it is separate from the main school. International students study there together and also have their own boarding houses.

What Programmes Do ISCs Run?

English language programmes are the most important ones because children whose English is not yet sufficient to study main subjects in that language must reach a certain level before they can attend classes with native speakers. ISCs also teach study skills and some subjects such as Maths, Sciences and Business in English to ensure that children keep up with the national curriculum. Many children also need to reach a certain grades and levels of English in order to attend the top schools in the UK for A Levels/IB, and the job of the ISC is to help them to do that. ISCs may therefore serve as “feeder schools” to a wide range of boarding schools, especially those which do not have their own preparation programmes for international students.

Can Students Take Exams in an ISC?

 Yes, they can take English language exams (Cambridge, IELTS etc) and when they are aged 14-16 they can take some GCSE exams. GCSE is the exam level required before students can enter A Levels or International Baccalaureate. Students must pass at least 5 GCSE exams (including English and Maths) before they can be accepted into A Levels/IB. The GCSE course in the National Curriculum is 2 years, but international students can join for 1, 2 or 3 years depending on their level of English and academic grades. There is also a special International GCSE syllabus (IGCSE) which is focused more on the world and less on the UK, and this is the one most often taught in ISCs.

What Happens After (I)GCSE? Can Students Progress To The Main School for A Levels/IB?

In the more traditional ISCs, based in leading boarding schools with competitive entry requirements, students need to apply to join the main school and there is no guarantee they will be accepted. They will be competing with other students who apply. However, it is now becoming more common for schools to run international centres which  are more integrated into the main school and guarantee international students admission to A Levels/IB provided they can meet the standard entry requirements.

Are ISCs Popular With Vietnamese Students?

 Generally speaking, Vietnamese students have 3 main requirements when they apply to study in the UK:

  • They want the course to be as short as possible
  • They expect scholarships
  • They want guaranteed progression to A Levels/IB

This means that:

  1. English language preparation programmes and courses which take longer than the standard UK curriculum are not popular because extra time = extra cost
  2. People are usually not interested in traditional ISCs which do not offer scholarships
  • Parents are concerned that in a traditional ISC, their children may fail to enter the main school, and this means the future is uncertain

So the answer is that traditional ISCs have never recruited many Vietnamese students. However, there is one course now being offered by an increasing number of ISCs that is very popular, and in schools which also guarantee progression to A Levels/IB and offer scholarships, this is a win-win for Vietnamese students.

The “Fast Track “IGCSE programme- How Does It Work?

 The Vietnamese school system is 12 years in length, and students often want to go overseas to study after Grade 9, when they would normally be entering high school in Vietnam. This means they expect to have 3 more years of school education before going to university.

Normally, to enter the UK system they would have to take the full GCSE course, which means 2 years before entering A Levels or IB, a total of 4 years before they can go to university. The Fast Track IGCSE was designed to take students with good levels of English and high academic scores up to the entry point for A Levels/IB in one year. The 1 year programme consists of a minimum of 5 (I)GCSE subjects (including English and Maths) plus support for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and study skills.

Not all boarding schools offer this “Fast Track” option with guaranteed progression to Years 12 and 13, but those which do may also offer a scholarship for the full 3 years of the programme. TEC partner boarding schools offering a 3 year pathway with scholarships:

  • Rossall ( 1 year IGCSE +A Levels / IB)
  • Westbourne (1 year IGCSE + IB)
  • Chase Grammar School (1 year IGCSE + A Levels)
  • Lime House School (1 year IGCSE + A Levels)
  • Padworth College (1 year IGCSE + A Levels)

VN-Eng Edu systems

What If The Student Wants to Change Schools After the IGCSE?

While the Integrated Fast Track programme offers many advantages for students who want to complete their high school education in 3 years in the same school with a continuous scholarship, complications may arise if they decide they want to change school after one year. The school may ask for the scholarship to be refunded if they do not continue, for example.

How To Get A Scholarship for an Independent IGCSE Fast Track Course?

For students who would like to do the Fast Track IGCSE and then apply to different schools for A Levels/IB, especially to top boarding schools which are only accessible from the UK,  there is now a new choice.

Bishopstrow College   is the only 100% independent International Study Centre in the UK. As well as regular English language and academic preparation programmes for students aged 7 – 17, Bishopstrow has a highly regarded Fast Track 1 year IGCSE programme which is accepted by all top schools in the UK.

Why Should This Appeal to Vietnamese Students?

  •  This is an excellent programme aimed at high achieving students- they take 6-9 IGCSE subjects and study 30 classroom hours per week with 7.5 hours of supervised homework. The programme is tailored to help students prepare for either A Levels or IB.
  • The College has an exceptional academic record with 100% success in Cambridge English Language Assessment and IGCSE exams (93% A*-C grades in 2016).
  • Students progress to all top UK boarding schools – Bishopstrow helps them with interviews, entrance tests and scholarship applications
  • The College is small and friendly with a wide range of IGCSE subjects, extra curricular activities and high quality accommodation and food.
  • The College is fully accredited by the Independent Schools Association (ISA) as a UK boarding school, and by the British Council and English UK for English language, and is a Cambridge English Assessment Centre ;
  • Bishopstrow College offers scholarships of up to 50% of total fees on the IGCSE programme to Vietnamese students with English at B2 level and good academic records.

So, this is a win-win all round: students can attend a top quality boarding school in an attractive part of the country (near the UN heritage city of Bath), take a 1 year Fast Track IGCSE programme and, during that year, apply to some of the most prestigious schools in the UK which only hold entrance tests on certain days and in the UK, all this fully supported by specialist teachers and Bishopstrow College. They may also get a scholarship of up to 50% of Bishopstrow’s tuition and accommodation fees, and support in applying for a scholarship at their chosen schools for A Levels/IB.

What Next?

 Ms Tessa Howard-Vyse, the Director of Marketing and External Relations at Bishopstrow College will be visiting Vietnam for the British Council UK Pathways Fair on the following dates:

HANOI: Saturday, 10 March 2018,  14:00 – 17:30, Hilton Hanoi Opera

HO CHI MINH CITY: Sunday, 11 March 2018,            14:00 – 17:30, Novotel Saigon Centre.

Personal interviews can be booked in TEC’s offices for Monday, 12th March or Tuesday 13th in HCMC, or Wednesday afternoon on 14th– all day Thursday 15th in Hanoi.

TEC Hotlines: HANOI:  +84 97888846    HCMC: +84 906222353




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