“But if we move to a part of the world we don’t know at all, how will we find a school for the kids? How will we know which is the best one for them? We have to get it right!”
When a parent is offered a compelling professional opportunity that will require a move, often their most significant concern is identifying a school for their children. In this new series, which we are calling Bennett Confidential, we will share true stories of real families who embraced a move to a new community, highlighting their unique challenges and offering insight into how the support of an expert, professional education consultant (and we know a few of the best) can help ensure the optimal outcome. All family and consultant names are fictitious to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
Case # 4: The Nash Family
The prospect of pursuing a professional opportunity in the United Kingdom and relocating to the London area was compelling to Jack and Ritu Nash. Offering their children the opportunity to live in another country was deeply appealing, and they were just the right ages to be able to appreciate the myriad experiences they would be offered. Olivia, Rohan, and Dev were thriving in their local Los Angeles elementary school, and Dev’s moderate learning differences were being supported by tutoring and other resources. The education system in the UK, as Jack and Ritu knew, was excellent. There would be no language barrier. The fact that the move was scheduled for February, in the middle of the academic year, was of concern. But, as engaged and resourceful parents, they were confident that they could navigate the relocation, finding both a home and a school in a part of London that replicated many of the appealing qualities of their LA school and community. Unfortunately, as they embraced the search, it quickly became apparent that managing the process would be both complex and stressful and that their unfamiliarity with the education landscape and subtle cultural differences posed a host of challenges.
Most fortunately, the family had been offered access to Bennett’s education consulting services as part of the relocation; upon being assigned the case, Katherine, one of Bennett’s London-based consultants, reached out to schedule a detailed intake call. Always the first step in a consultation, Katherine inquired about Olivia’s, Rohan's, and Dev’s academic records, their interests, strengths, and any areas of challenge that might require additional resources, the parents’ preferred pedagogy, their relocation timeline, as well as plans for repatriation, so that the children could be positioned for ongoing success. Ritu and Jack quickly came to understand that the process of identifying and enrolling the children in a good school would be even more complicated than they had expected. Housing in the Borough of London was extremely limited, and competition for properties was intense. Local public schools, called "state" schools in the UK, are aligned with local properties, offering prioritized placement to children who lived in the neighborhood—in the "catchment" area—much like in the United States. However, the governing body charged with managing the placement and enrollment of children, called the "Local Authority," was very bureaucratic, and there was often a disinclination to indicate whether spaces were available in a school without absolute proof of residency. Assessing whether the school would have the resources required to support Dev’s learning needs was difficult. It was even unclear whether schools that were rated as "good" were, indeed, top performers or whether they were, rather, "best improved." Even if they could find a house, how could they determine whether the local school had seats and offered a strong option?
Jack and Ritu were enthusiastic about living in London, and Katherine, working with the family’s estate agent, embraced the search for an area offering appealing housing and excellent schools. When it became apparent, as Katherine had warned the family it likely would, that London was not feasible given their timeframe, she identified several other locations where home and school searches that aligned with the family’s interests and needs might be more successful. Katherine offered expert insight into successfully navigating the bureaucracy, explaining the rules, providing guidance for a nuanced approach, and facilitating conversations with the Local Authority. She was tenacious but remained flexible and optimistic in the midst of what often felt like chaos, was unperturbed by obstacles and changes, and provided the family with unflagging support. After the search moved through a sequence of four additional locations, the family was delighted to find both home and two very well-regarded schools nearby in the London Borough of Richmond in the Barnes area where the children could continue to thrive and resources were available for Dev.
The family wrote to Katherine upon the completion of their search, saying, "Thank you for ALL your help with this school placement process. We definitely know that we could not have managed it without your guidance. You have been invaluable."
There are hundreds of stories in the files of Bennett Confidential. This has been one of them. Stay tuned for more.
By Annemiek Young, from Sara Schmidt's case notes
Annemiek Young, former Bennett Education Consultant, Director of Private Client Relations Emeritus, and good friend , is a regular contributor to our blog.
Sara R. Schmidt is the Director of Business Development & Client Relations, Co-Director of Private Client Services and a Senior Education Consultant for Bennett International, based in Seattle. As a member of an internationally mobile family, Sara has navigated the school search process for her own children on three continents, finding the right fit for them in public, private and international schools. She is very familiar, therefore, with the anxieties and hurdles faced by parents relocating their children around the world, and her work is informed by her own extensive experience. Sara serves as Trustee and was President of the Bellevue Schools Foundation in Bellevue, WA, and is a member of Pacific Northwest Relocation Council and Bay Area Mobility Management. She holds a B.A. Ed., Summa Cum Laude, from Wheaton College and an M.A. in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School and is also fluent in Spanish.
Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancyhas worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.