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Organised by Waypoints, its founder Stephanie Cheah shares what to expect at BESSA and the growing interest in British boarding schools among Asian parents

A former banking lawyer, Stephanie Cheah switched her focus to education in 2014, establishing Waypoints, a boarding schools consulting firm, which assists parents to navigate the intricacies of picking and applying to top boarding schools in the UK. As a one-time boarding school student herself, Cheah is intimately aware of the value of firsthand intelligence and how vital detailed research is for parents to make informed decisions. Having come across many students who struggled to cope and fit in once they started school, during her own time as a teenage boarder, she made it her mission to help parents pick the right school for their children to ensure a successful boarding school experience.

Besides providing one-to-one consultations and guidance to parents, Cheah also initiated the British Education and Schools Show in Asia (BESSA), an exhibition featuring a carefully curated selection of British boarding schools. Showcased annually in Malaysia and Singapore, BESSA provides parents the invaluable opportunity to survey, seek information, and talk to senior representatives of the boarding schools.

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Tatler speaks to Cheah about what to expect at BESSA and the growing interest in British boarding schools among parents in Asia:

Why are more parents choosing to send their children to British boarding school?

One reason is that they believe in the philosophy of a more holistic education where everything is on site, with an environment that enables their children to explore their academic journey fully. It is also a stepping stone into the top UK and US universities. Students will learn to be more independent, and how to adapt and be flexible from living with students of different cultures and countries. 

In what ways can parents go wrong in picking a school?

There are actually many scenarios. For example, you might want your child to go to the top-performing academic school but once they get there, they struggle fitting in because the culture of the school is maybe not what they were expecting. Sometimes they can’t keep up academically. I’ve actually seen quite a few students getting into top schools because they prepared well for the admissions exam but once they get in, they constantly feel like they are trying to catch up. Another example is of parents not being aware of the distance of the school from the main cities, which some schools might not be forthcoming about. Sometimes, parents don’t look properly at the academic curriculum that’s being offered; for example, their child wants to study architecture, but that particular school they chose is not strong in design technology, therefore it is not the best place for the child to prepare for his university course.

The other thing that is happening now is students wanting to further their studies in the US but not every school has the support to prepare them for the US applications. So it’s really important that parents need to know the right schools to pick.

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What services are offered by Waypoints?

It depends on what the parents need. Some parents are quite well informed because they had gone to boarding school themselves and they just want me as a sounding board. Otherwise, I do full consultancy service where I work with the parents and child through the whole process, which starts two to three years before they actually go to boarding school. During that time, I get to know the child well through interviews and I also assess the child academically. Then we will discuss schools and I will help the parents and child to arrange visits to the schools in the UK and introduce them to the Director of Admissions. When it’s time to apply, I assist them with the preparation for the exams, the assessments and the interviews and all that. Then when they receive the offers, we go through another round of assessing all the pros and cons before finally deciding which school is best suited for the child. I also help a little bit with the trip and transition to the UK if needed, such as how to apply for a student visa or if they’re not sure who to appoint as their educational guardian in the UK, I can put them in touch with colleagues that I work with. So it’s the whole enchilada, as I like to say, from beginning to end.

For the past six years, you have organised BESSA with the aim of connecting Asian families with British boarding schools. What can we expect at BESSA 2022?

It will be very similar to how it was before the pandemic—each school will have a booth and we will also have a series of talks on topics that would interest the parents. It could be a talk about the school’s pastoral care, tips on Oxbridge or Ivy League entrance, or should they choose to study IB or A-Levels? One thing different about BESSA this year is that we will be including top British curriculum schools in Malaysia at the show.

Similar to previous years, parents will get the opportunity to meet Directors of Admissions personally, which even if you visit the school in the UK is not guaranteed. They can talk to the directors and get to know more about the school and even discuss their children’s academic needs.

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What kind of questions should a parent ask at BESSA?

Parents should ask about what they really care about, whether it is academics or how they teach or what the student to teacher ratio is. It can be more specific questions like, what if my child doesn’t understand something, what kind of support are they given or how do they get help? Parents can also ask about the pastoral issues, for example, if my child is homesick, what do they do? Or when can parents speak to their child? Are they allowed to have their phones with them all the time? How do parents know that their child isn’t waking up in the middle of night to play computer games? 

What is your advice to parents who want to do the whole process on their own?

My advice would be to do as much research as they can, speak to education consultants like myself, read as much as they can on the subject and the schools. Talk to other parents, like friends who might have sent their kids to boarding school. Also, make sure to visit the schools. The only thing I would say not to do is follow the league tables, because those can mislead you. A lot of the top schools have actually pulled themselves out of the lists, so they don’t even show up. It’s not a good gauge of how good a school is because they are purely based on exam results and tell you nothing about the school and whether it is right for your child.

BESSA will be held in Shangri-La Hotel KL on October 28 and in Shangri-La Singapore on October 30. To register, visit its official website. For updates, follow BESSA on Facebook or Instagram.

Read more in our Tatler Education supplement on Magzter here.

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