Bryan Nixon is the principal of TASIS The American School in England, a top-tier international school located just outside of London. In this interview with Expat Arrivals, he talks about the mission of the school, its curriculum, and the ways in which it supports new families.
Q: Tell us about TASIS. When was it founded, what is its ethos, and what are its goals for the future?
Founded in 1976, TASIS The American School in England is a co-educational, independent day- and boarding school that provides a truly international learning experience for more than 640 students aged 3 to 18. Our boarding programme is available for students in Grades 8 to 12 (ages 13 to 18).
Our beautiful 46-acre campus is only 18 miles southwest of London and 8 miles from Heathrow airport. This location offers the benefits of safe and green surroundings along with easy access to travel and all that a vibrant city like London has to offer.
Our mission – to nurture intellectual curiosity and embolden each learner to flourish as a principled, open-minded, and compassionate member of a global community – challenges us to provide a personalised learning journey through which each student can discover their full potential and embrace the joy of life-long learning. We want to inspire our students to develop a sense of international-mindedness, and to contribute to their community and the environment through service leadership.
Q: What curriculum does TASIS follow and how does it benefit the students?
Our Lower and Middle Schools follow a broad-based, American-style curriculum. Upper School students can choose to continue to the American High School Diploma, with the opportunity to further challenge themselves by taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Alternatively, they can choose to follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme during their final two years. Both qualifications are recognised by universities in more than 70 countries around the world.
Many universities recognise achievement in the year-long AP courses by granting credit as if the student took the course on their campus. TASIS England offers over 25 AP courses, enabling students to follow their interests by pursuing in-depth study in one or more subjects of their choice.
Students following the comprehensive two-year IB Diploma Programme study a range of courses in six subject areas, usually with three at Higher Level and three at Standard Level. Students also develop critical thinking and research skills by writing an extended essay and completing a Theory of Knowledge course.
Q: What factors should expats consider when choosing a school in London?
Expat families facing the challenge of finding the right school for their children can use the internet to start collecting information before relocating. If at all possible, they should plan to visit at least two of the schools on their shortlist before their move. It’s best to choose a regular school day when the campus is alive with students moving between classes, interacting with the faculty and each other.
Areas to consider include:
- The culture. Does the school have a national identity (e.g. American, British, etc.)?
- Diversity. An international experience is a gift that will benefit children forever. The diversity of the student body can indicate an internationally-minded community.
- Curriculum. Anticipated length of stay, children’s age and character, previous school experience, language, and so on will influence which curriculum is most appropriate or preferable.
- Language support. If needed, ask how the school helps international students improve their skills in the language of instruction, so they can cope with the subject content as soon as possible.
- University destinations. The institutions that graduates attend after leaving school will indicate the academic level of the school.
- Facilities. Beyond determining if the facilities are appropriate for the learning experience, a campus tour often gives an immediate 'gut feeling' about whether your family will be happy there.
- The sense of community. The choice of school is important to the whole family – a supportive and accepting community can help everyone settle into their new home, not just the children. Some international schools, like TASIS England, offer an amazing parent support network to help make the transition period less stressful.
Q: Why would you encourage expats to choose an international school rather than a public school?
As well as focusing on student achievement, international schools can provide students with the competencies they will need to confidently embrace and challenge the complexities and opportunities of a world that is global, diverse and constantly changing. Learning as part of an international student community and interacting with peers from diverse backgrounds can open a student’s mind to the importance of empathy and tolerance.
Q: Are there scholarships and financial aid available?
Yes, we do provide both scholarships and financial assistance. Our Global Community Scholarships are available to both day and boarding students entering Grade 8 (UK Year 9) to Grade 11 (UK Year 12) who are excelling in their academic studies as well as in sports, arts or voluntary/community work. We are looking for students with the potential to make an exceptional contribution to our school. One of our scholarships is reserved for alumni of our Summer Program.
Financial assistance may be awarded to any qualifying student who satisfies our academic requirements. The award amount is based on several factors, including the demonstrated financial need of the family, the available funds in the financial aid budget, the total number of students needing financial assistance, etc. We do our best to help as many families as possible and our average awards range between 5 and 25 percent of tuition fees.
Q: How would you advise parents to prepare their children for a new school in London?
One of the many challenges relocating families face is to understand how each member of the family may be affected. If you are excited and positive about your move and make your children part of the process, they are more likely to be excited too. But it’s also important to acknowledge their feelings of uncertainty. As you give them time to say goodbye to friends and family, if possible, plan something to look forward to with those you are leaving. This can be as small as a video call or as large as the next trip back to visit.
Children feel reassured when they can visualise new situations, so spend time with them looking at images and talking about where you will be living and the new school they will attend. Ask the admissions department to put you in contact with parents who have children of the same age. As well as being a source of valuable information for you, contact between the children can give them the comfort of 'knowing' someone before you even arrive. Changing school is a big step and landing in a place that already seems a bit familiar can help to pave the way.
One of the benefits of international schools is that new students from different backgrounds join with regularity. Because virtually every student has experienced being a 'new kid' at least once in their lives, they tend to be empathetic and welcoming. Some international schools also have programmes in place to welcome the whole family. For instance, TASIS England matches each newly enrolled family with a 'buddy family' who is available as a helpful and friendly contact even before arrival.
Q: Why would you encourage expats to enrol their children at your school specifically? What are the advantages in comparison with other international schools?
With our internationally-mobile population, we can draw on a wealth of experience as we support expats joining our community. Many long-term expat families share with us that their transition to TASIS England is one of the easiest relocations they have ever experienced. We regularly hear that the support and generosity with which they were welcomed into our community far exceed what they have experienced with other international moves.
Our parent groups and buddy families help families to understand and integrate into the school community in very practical ways. Seminars offered throughout the year address the highs and lows of family relocation, how to support children in a new country and school, cultural differences in the UK, and so much more.