Jimmy Beale worked in the UK private education sector for twenty years, having gained his teaching qualification at Bristol University. He worked in both single-sex and co-educational day and boarding schools; his last two roles were as Deputy Headmaster of a large co-educational senior school, and then as Headmaster of a leading co-educational prep school and an Independent Schools’ Inspectorate (ISI) Inspector. He was a founding Headmaster of the PSB, a framework used by many prep schools to assess key skills, now accepted by many leading senior schools as a transfer document. Jimmy retired from his role as Headmaster in 2013 in order to pursue a career in the education business. He launched The English Education in 2015 and co-founded the APT assessment in 2020. His school search and placement consultancy has representative offices in several countries and his experience in school recruitment and admissions processes has led to his expertise being sought by leading schools in the UK and abroad.
Having spent the majority of my career on the school side of the desk, as a teacher, senior leader, and finally, as a Headmaster in a UK boarding school, I’m now firmly on the ‘other side’, working as an advisor and consultant to families from all over the world who seek support and expert advice. Parents are looking to make a huge decision as they consider sending their child/children to a school that might be many hundreds or thousands of miles away from their home. It is a responsibility, and a responsibility that I ensure is taken very seriously by my whole team at The English Education.
Educational consultants the world over sell themselves as working on behalf of families to find the best-fit school or institution for their child, and quality consultants do exactly that. As a result, schools clearly benefit as they welcome new pupils who are a good academic and pastoral fit. Parents benefit, as they know their child will thrive, be challenged, well-looked after, and be cared for as an understood and respected individual. And, most importantly, the child will thrive as they are happy – they will cope with their upheaval because they have security and confidence.
The role of the educational placement consultant is very important.
So, if I now jump back on the other side of the desk, pretending to be a Headmaster again…and look at what I hoped my admissions team needed to know prior to us accepting a new pupil into a boarding environment, what would I expect them to receive from an educational consultancy recommending international applicants to them?
When an educational consultant or agent contacts a prospective school with information on an international applicant, Registrars, and admissions teams first and foremost need to know whether the child will thrive within their community, with the academic fit being the key element. It is only then that the school will move to registration, formal assessment, and interview, and, as agents are only too aware, there is no one entrance examination used by every school. British boarding schools are now assessing earlier and are starting to look closely at online and adaptive technologies to glean the information they require about an applicant. Old-fashioned, ‘tailor-made’ paper assessments rarely have a place in this dynamic and rapidly evolving area.
With all the above in mind, assessment expert, Alastair Montgomery, and I put our heads together in 2020 to create the APT (Academic Profiling Test). The APT was designed to provide a comprehensive assessment of a student’s academic skills, using the highest quality teacher-written test questions and adaptive technology. It is an evaluative measure used to demonstrate performance to future schools or monitor academic progress; candidates can be tested from 6 to 16 years old and the assessment tests academic potential by looking at core cognitive skills in English, maths, verbal reasoning, and non-verbal processing, comparing performance against UK national standards. Other tests, such as CAT 4 and UKiset do similar things to the APT – our baseline assessment service is not unique.
And if you are part of an admissions department, on top of this academic profile of a child, you should also expect that:
- The educational consultant/agent had visited your school recently;
- They can demonstrate why they are recommending the child to you and that they have spoken to both the child and his/her parents or guardians and therefore have a good grasp of what makes the child and family tick, and;
- They are able to demonstrate, to you, why your school is being recommended to the family.
Having spoken to plenty of schools about their relationships with educational / school placement consultants, too often they bemoan the fact that the first question asked of them, when approached with an initial inquiry about a potential applicant, is “What is the commission payable?”. As someone who has to balance my company’s books, I understand the need for commercial consideration, but it really must not be the driver. As a school, are you managing your relationships with consultants appropriately and are you allowing them to bypass your need for quality information about a child? That’s your call, but I know that when it is allowed to happen, the child and the family will be the ones to suffer.
If you work with quality consultants, you will get quality results and will see a stream of pupils entering your school who suit you, and whom you suit. Ask tough questions of your referral partners and agents, demand the information you require, and make sure that no corners are cut. In the long term, the strategy will benefit all parties, especially the child. And they are the only party that really matters.