Caring for the Relocating Family :The Education Dimension

When helping families are relocating internationally, it is important that to consider needs of the whole family and their school-age children.

The greater the understanding of the key differences between global education systems, the more successful the assignment is likely to be. We take great care with our school placements and individually- tailored home-schooling programmes to take into account cultural, linguistic and education system differences.  It is vital to ensure the happiness and wellbeing of the dependent family. 

Bridging the differences between global curricula

Wherever a family is relocating, it is important that the differences between the education system in their previous home country and the curriculum of the host destination school of choice are recognised. This will allow the family and the school to plan accordingly.

A Comparison of 4 education systems

Here we compare four education systems with that of the UK and suggest steps to ensure a smooth transition when relocating.

US versus UK

As the US and UK have a shared language, it is often assumed that the education systems in the two countries are broadly similar. However, the differences are numerous!

Children moving from US to UK schools need to be prepared for the fact that the UK has more nationally-assessed exams to contend with. In the US, although children are assessed at the end of every school grade, the examinations are not national and for the most part, have little bearing on their progression from year to year. The standardized tests in the U.S. tend to be state mandated instead of federally mandated. In New York, many high school students take the Regents exams which test the core subjects – but the exam system will vary from state to state. Therefore, GCSE and A level exams of the UK are a culturally different experience for US children.

In addition, the US system is more generalist whereas the UK is more specialist. In US schools, as in the French Baccalaureat, students have more opportunity to study a wider range of subjects for their High School Diploma. There is more focus on sport, music, drama and art and as a result, a move to the UK can seem restrictive at first to US students. Mathematics in both countries is also taught very differently and this must be taken into consideration when relocating a US family into a UK school.

Culturally, children in US schools tend to be praised more – which is a positive attribute. Children who have previously studied in the US system should be prepared for the fact that recognition of achievement in UK schools can be less effusive.

China versus UK

Chinese citizens often view what are considered strict schools in UK, as positively Bohemian. When selecting the best education solution for pupils who have previously studied in the Chinese system, you should bear in mind that they will be unused to some UK teaching styles. For example, class discussions and individual research methods may be unfamiliar to students who are more used to receiving information that teachers impart to them.

Another key area of support for Chinese pupils will be English language learning. The Chinese language has a logographic system – with symbols representing the words themselves as opposed to the UK alphabetic system. Stress and intonation patterns are also different as Chinese is a tonal language. Because of these fundamental language variations, Chinese learners may require extra time to read English texts. Organising the right English language support for relocating Chinese pupils, with the school, specialist tutors or the Local Education Authority (LEA), is essential.

The GCSE and A level exam system should present no problems for a child relocating from the Chinese system as students in China are accustomed to a rigorous national testing system, being mostly graded on a standardized national exam and the National Higher Education Entrance Examination. Children educated in the Chinese system will usually be more advanced in Mathematics than their UK counterparts, and we always consider arranging additional support to enable them to maintain their level.

France versus UK

Like the US system, the French is less specialist than the British and children have a very rounded education up until the age of 18. For students working towards the Baccalauréat in the French system, there is the option to select one of three specialist streams: Scientific (sciences), Social and Economic (Economique et sociale) or Literary (littéraire). For all three streams, though weighted differently, students study foreign languages, sciences, mathematics, humanities and the arts.

For families relocating from the French system to the UK, we consider recommending schools which offer the International Baccalaureate to maintain the breadth of subjects. For families relocating with small children, it is worth noting that in France, children start learning to read at six years old, as opposed to four or five in UK Reception classes. Families who would be uncomfortable with the earlier school starting age, may also opt to enrol their children in an international school which follows the French education system.

Russia versus UK

Like France and many countries in Southern Europe, Russian children do not start formal school until six or seven years old, so enrolling in a UK Reception class at aged four or five is unusual. In Russia, children continue in secondary until the age of 15, or 17 if they wish to continue to university afterwards. Final examinations in Russia vary in content to UK A levels and GCSEs – pupils are examined in at least five subjects, including two compulsory written exams (composition and Mathematics) and three elective exams.

At 15 years old, students in Russia take examinations leading to the issue of the State Certificate and at 17 years old, they work towards the Final State Certificate which qualifies them to take entrance examinations for higher education.

As in the case of native Chinese speakers, we ensure that relocating Russian-speaking students have specialist support in place to further develop their English skills. The main challenges to language learning for Russian pupils include the differences between the Cyrillic alphabet and Latin alphabet and the difference in phonology which makes pronunciation of some English vowels challenging.


Transferring to a different school system can be mystifying and confusing for both children and parents.

When settling a family, we draw on our knowledge of different education systems, and linguistic and cultural differences to ensure our client’s relocation is both happy and successful.

With attention to detail, the social and educational barriers can melt away and it is much easier to secure a happy outcome.

Please contact us for expert support with applications to both international and UK schools in London, throughout the UK and globally.