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A leap into the unknown

Attending a brand-new school can be an extremely rewarding experience for a child, whatever their age, and can offer many advantages. But what are the key questions to ask yourself? Christopher FitzGerald, Principal at the English International School, Moscow South-West, explores the issues for Winter's readers.


Imagine if, one day, your boss informed you that your role was being relocated to another country! Perhaps even another continent!

Just think of all the big decisions you would have to make for you and your family. One of the most important decisions would be about schools for your children. The decision you take about the school they attend is crucial to them settling into their new home country.

What a tough decision to make; this really is a great leap into the unknown for parents.

With the increasing number of new international schools opening around the world, parents may even find themselves having to consider a school which has not yet been built, let alone opened.

Having established three new schools in three different countries, and knowing what I have been asked in the past, here are my top five tips to ensure parents make a wise choice:

1) If possible, arrange to visit the school...

If it is a building site, it does not necessarily mean that it will not be ready on time. There is a big difference between being completed and being ready to receive students and sometimes it is important for the school to live in its premises before everything is completed. Essential questions to consider include:

a. Who is showing you around? Is it the Head – the person who will be responsible for your child? If not, when will the Head arrive and when can you meet him/her? In a brand new school, the Head really does set the tone.

b. Does the person showing you around have an idea of the timescale for readiness?  As you see the campus, are you being told what to expect and what the school’s aspirations are?

c. Will it be a safe environment?

d. Ask what the different areas are for and see how clear your school guide is on what will go where. You will soon see if there is a clear vision for the school.

The official opening of the English International School, Moscow South-West.

"You will soon see if there is a clear vision for the school..."

Already hard at work on the first day of the new school.

2) A new school needs to be ready to start educating the students from the first day, so the points you need to consider include:

a. Is the school clear about the curriculum and are there going to be sufficient physical and human resources from the very beginning?

b. Often, getting teachers to join a new school is easier said than done, so ask what the staffing levels will be when the school opens. Ask about recruiting practices – the checking of identity, criminal records, references and experience.

c. How will the school ensure that the teachers appointed have experience and pedagogical understanding of the curriculum used?

d. How will parents be informed about the progress their children are making and will this information include any externally validated data?

e. How much homework will there be? Even before opening, a school should have answers to basic routines like this.

3) What are the plans for the school? 

Parents need to hear about the school’s vision for the future. As Head, I would expect to be asked any number of questions ranging from plans for extra-curricular activities to the expected numbers and nationality balance of the school.

In addition, I would ask about where the school expects to be in five years. It is at this point as Head I have always been very open and honest. Parents are being expected to trust the Head and it is right, therefore, that this is reciprocated.

4) A school that is ambitious will have already considered which organisations and associations it will be part of...

It is possible to join, or start the process of joining, reputable organisations whilst the school is still at the building stage. My present school became a member of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) before we opened and we became members of the Council of International Schools (CIS) within our first two years of existence. Schools which belong to these sorts of organisations are publicly stating that they are committed to continuous improvement and are meeting international standards. Also, as part of the membership process, there are all sorts of checks on the school; this is one of the most important safeguards for parents.

"Schools which belong to these sorts of organisations are publicly stating that they are committed to continuous improvement and are meeting international standards."

Our first snows.

5) Finally, if the new school is part of a group, this can give parents confidence...

If there are other schools in the group in the same city, then it would be sensible to visit another school to get an idea of what your chosen school might look like.  If it is part of a worldwide group, then perhaps it would be worth viewing the websites of other schools around the world; all this research pays dividends, because in the end, it gives parents confidence in the decision they are having to make.

"Any good Head Teacher will want to work in partnership with parents..."

In my experience, children and often parents, enjoy being part of something new. Primary aged children, in particular, enjoy putting their mark on the systems and structures of the school and the older students usually enjoy feeling special as they help to establish the new school’s traditions.

But at the end of the day, it all comes down to whether or not you feel confident that the school will provide what you are looking for when your child starts a new school and in this context this revolves around trust.

Any good Head Teacher will want to work in partnership with parents. So, if you feel you can trust the Head, then this leap into the unknown can be an exciting and very rewarding educational experience.

Our first talent show.

Our first birthday party for the Queen.

All images: English International School, Moscow South-West

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