Uprooting children without damaging education

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Media captionJen Holzberger, Paulie Gould and Beth Severino describe their experiences of relocating their children

When Jen Holzberger's husband moved jobs from Pennsylvania in the US to the UK the couple had a clear priority - the children: "It was extremely important - pretty much the top of the list."

The issue was particularly acute as Ethan was aged 13, and her husband's five-year posting would therefore end just as their son would switch to higher education.

The search for a school threw up some challenging issues: "We were only able to start planning for our move in June, which more or less meant we were ruled out of the UK state school non-fee-paying system.

"You have to have an address and physically apply from there - we were still in the US."

The timing meant that even finding a fee-paying school was a challenge: "We were limited in our choice of these because many of them need a pupil to sit an entrance exam - and again, we weren't physically present to do that."

She ended up choosing where to live because it had a choice of three international schools in reasonable distance. She settled for the one that would also take Ethan's sister, Amy, aged nine.

She had originally wanted to use the free UK state school system in order to fully engage in the UK lifestyle, but the type of school she has ended up with can cost about £18,000 ($28,000) a year.

Luckily, the relocation package contained an allowance for this - something that is increasingly important for those relocating to another country.

Image caption Emma Morley: Standardisation of education is of high importance for families who move country frequently

Executive Relocation helps people with the practical side of moving. Its director Emma Morley says many people do as Jen Holzberger's family did and put the school first.

"Some 60-70% of moves involve children," she points out. "That often means people focus on where to live based on the location of the school - and we then work that in in terms of convenience for work and school.

"And school is a big expense. If you're moving with more than one child it can cost more than £50,000 a year."

Not everyone who relocates gets fees as part of package, but for investment banker David Sarfas, his children's education was given the same priority as Jen Holzberger's.

He moved with his three children aged nine, 12 and 13 from New York to London in summer 2011: "School was 100% the most important issue when we were deciding where to live."

He came across some similar problems to Jen Holzberger: "I was speaking to the local authority who were very helpful but the upshot was I didn't have an address and you need an address to get into a state school.

"I ended up renting a house for a month in order to have the right paperwork for getting into the school."

He had help and advice from two agencies, one specialising in relocation and one in education advice for people moving to the UK.

In some parts of the world, however easy the state system is to enter, it is simply not an option most professional families would consider - and there getting the right education is an even more essential part of clinching an employee's move.

Rick White, from executive search agency Dunleavy White, says this can apply even to relatively close moves in some places: "We work with highly qualified people - it has to be inbuilt to their package.

"We recently completed a role for someone moving from Jordan into Dubai," he says. "They wouldn't go unless they had the education as part of the package. It was a sticking point.

He says it is seen as a badge of office: "It was important because of the class structure in that region - if you are a senior executive - no matter where you come from - it is expected as part of the remuneration."

It isn't just the complexity of getting into a school, the cost, or the status that is important. Differences in standards and systems are a great concern for parents.


Debbie Bowker, of Bowker Consulting, advices people on the UK education system.

Image caption Debbie Bowker: 'The UK education system has striking differences to many other countries'

She points to the variety of educational structures across the globe: "In the UK children start their education comparatively young - aged five. Some countries don't start them until they are seven, so they will not necessarily know letters and numbers."

Key exams kick in at age 16 in the UK, says Debbie. That's earlier than many other places, meaning that teenagers moving to the UK may have to play catch up in order not to lose grades.

International schools provide one solution: they run on a standard allowing for a certain continuity of education.

Harmonisation is of high importance if you are moving around with your kids, says Executive Relocation's Emma Morley: "Standardisation is terribly important to international relocatees who may only be here for a year; the third culture kids who may have been living in a number of countries already - they need to keep the curriculum the same, whether it is the American, German or international school systems, so they can take it from country to country."

'Doing well'

The European Council of International Schools (ECIS) is another attempt to give parents peace of mind when children move countries and schools.

The ECIS was set up 50 years ago to promote best practice between schools to maintain an international consistency, so that a child leaving a member school has an internationally recognised standard of education.

Demand for its advice is growing in those parts of the world where professionals are moving to.

ECIS spokesperson, Kerrie Fuller says: "90% of our work has been in Europe. But we are increasingly working in developing markets.

"In the Middle East, for example, they are building new schools and they are buying advice from us - asking 'Where do you get food and drink from? What architecture should we use? What curriculum should we have? We are able to tell them how other schools work internationally."

For David Sarfas, standardisation is not an issue. He has made a permanent move to the UK: "I am very happy with the way it is going. The British education system is a very good one, and my girls are doing very well."

Jen Holzberger is also happy and moving back, should they choose it, will pose no educational hiccups: "The children love it. It's a much smaller school.

"There are a lot more opportunity for arts and music and drama - and there's the benefit that Ethan will be able to move fully prepared for the US school system - his international school will prepare him fully for his US college exams."

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