Top five points to consider when choosing an international school
It’s a given that all parents want the best for their children, no more so than when it comes to their child’s education. When families move abroad, parents are faced with having to find a new school, which has been a mission in the past – so much so that more than 50 per cent of overseas deployments fail because parents can’t find a suitable school for their child.
But with hundreds of international schools opening up across the world each year, the choices are opening up for parents. Recent figures from the International School Consultancy (ISC) revealed that there are more than 8,000 English-medium international schools across the world that are teaching more than four million students. It predicts that in 10 years, there will be a further 7,000 schools with more than eight million pupils enrolled.
Despite this boom, for years there hasn’t been a single platform for parents to compare and contrast schools in detail, which is where Winter’s comes in. For parents taking the first step into the expat world, here is a shopping list of points to consider when it comes to choosing between different English-speaking international schools.
1. Are you happy with the location and culture of the school?
Culture plays a pivotal role in a family’s search for a school, as they will have to consider changing their lifestyles to suit the policies, languages and the weather. The culture of the school can impact whether the school is right for a child, as it’s about having to adapt to school values, ethos and actions, so parents should do as much research as possible on this as a starting point. Always find out how a school helps children settle into their new surroundings.
2. Investigate the curriculum in detail
It is important for expat parents to know how the curriculum differs from what is offered back ‘home’, so it will be easier for students to move from one international school to another, or to return to their home country’s education system. International schools tend to prepare pupils for higher education destinations beyond the host country.
Individual schools, which have a distinct history of their own, may have developed a curriculum that runs alongside the local system. The English College in Prague, for example, runs a Czech curriculum alongside its British/IB courses. In Belgium, the British School in Brussels runs a bilingual primary stream, whilst the International School of Brussels has its own ‘Common Ground’ curriculum alongside the IB. ‘American’ or ‘British’ schools are not so straightforward as they sound, as they might not necessarily follow British or American exams, so parents must take steps to investigate the curriculum in more detail.
3. What does the class size look like?
The student body and the teaching staff will be multinational and multilingual to an extent, and both are likely to be more transient than in the average school. Class sizes will differ and can affect the school environment. International schools tend to have smaller class sizes which means children get more attention from the teacher.
4. What are the costs?
Due to the small size of the classes, international schools tend to be slightly more expensive in comparison to other local schools. However, they are not as costly as UK independent schools. Parents will have to take this into account before moving abroad. The price will differ across countries as parents will have to factor in the economy, exchange rate and living costs.
5. Types of international schools
It is worth looking into what type of international school parents want to send their children to, as some schools are fundamentally British or American but are located overseas. More recently, older schools have been joined by new institutions established by British public schools like Repton and Dulwich. Additionally, there is the expansion of school groups, which represent another important and expanding type of international school. For example, Nord Anglia boasts 42 schools around the world, from the US to Asia via the Middle East and Europe. Schools in a group will have the support of an overall management structure and share similar practice for assessment, school development and communication. These groups can be very large, thus very international in their reach.
Overall, there are many anxieties that occur for parents when moving abroad for work and a new life. Families have many challenges, such as settling into their new surroundings, their new town, school and workplace. However, one of the main challenges derives from the parents’ need to find the best school for their child as schools are an inherent part of the upbringing of children, for their happiness and welfare. For parents to settle comfortably in a new life overseas, it is key for them to find the right school and a good education for their child.
Many factors will impact a parent’s search, and academic success is not necessarily the most important when choosing a school. The school’s friendly or supportive environment can have a greater impact on parents’ and children’s happiness.
Elaine Stallard is CEO of Winter’s School Finder. Over the past decade, Elaine’s background has been in opening international schools, most recently in Qatar, where she spent five months project managing the establishment of Sherborne Qatar, which is the daughter school of Sherborne School in England. During this process, she held focus groups and collected insights from multiple stakeholders involved. This included headmasters, school admissions services and HR professionals looking to relocate staff and expat parents. Elaine has also recently been involved in negotiating and scoping the opportunity for international schools in Thailand, India, China and Kenya.