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International schools in a nutshell

International schools in a nutshell

Mark Waldron, Head teacher at Ryde School on the Isle of Wight, and a former Head teacher at the English College in Prague, gives Winter’s readers a quick insight into the world of international schools…


1. Globalisation and growth

In recent years there has been tremendous growth in this sector. Globalisation has driven new demand for international education, and now there are international schools all over the world. Many of these schools are extremely popular with local parents as well, and have characters that mix an international ethos with the local culture. Every school is unique.

2. Increasing choice

The market is big, diverse and growing, and for parents this means there is often a much wider choice than there was in the past. Choice is usually a good thing, but it can make the decision harder and more daunting. Understanding the different types of international school, and working out which is best for your child, is more important than ever before.

3. So what makes a school ‘international’?

You can’t rely on seeing ‘international’ in their names. The Council for British International Schools (COBIS) lists seven members in Prague, but only one of these schools has ‘International’ in its title. You’ll find that ‘international’ schools vary in every possible way, from the curriculum they teach to the overall culture of the school. Some schools will be dominated by the children of expats, while in others a majority of pupils will be drawn from the local population. But there are certain characteristics that mark out international schools…

4. Students and teachers

The student body and the teaching staff will be multinational and multilingual (to varying extents), and both are likely to be more transient than in the average school.

5. The curriculum

The curriculum is likely to be international, or the school will follow a curriculum that’s different to the host country’s. Because of this it should be relatively easy for students to move from one international school to another, even on the other side of the world, or to return to their home country.

6. Higher education

An international school usually prepares its pupils for higher education destinations beyond the host country. This is a clear part of the mission in these schools.

Preparing for higher education is a clear part of the mission

Preparing for higher education is a clear part of the mission

7. A special culture

An international school promotes international education in its widest sense. This means more than having an international curriculum and multinational students. It’s about the school’s values, actions and ethos. Look at things like the value placed on languages, the existence of school exchanges, overseas visits and on-line partnerships, and so on.

These are some of the ways that international schools are distinctive. But what are the different types of international school? And how are things changing?

8. The growth of British schools in other countries

This has been a significant trend in recent years, and one you’ll probably have noticed as you explore websites about international education. These schools look to take on the best of a traditional British public school education, but some take this principle further than others, and the nature of their relationship with the ‘home school’ in the UK will also vary.

9. School groups

An important and growing category. Some of these groups are very large, and are truly international in their reach. Nord Anglia boasts 42 schools around the world, from the US to Asia via the Middle East and Europe. GEMS educates 142,000 students in 16 different countries, and Cognita now has a presence in seven countries. Schools in a group will have the support of an overall management structure, and generally share similar practice when it comes to assessment, school development and communication.

10. Every school is unique

Whether a school belongs to a group or is completely independent, it will have its own culture and its own strengths. Look at each school as a unique place, and find out exactly what it offers and whether it’s right for your child.

11. Accreditations and inspections

Many schools will belong to an umbrella organisation that demands certain standards and inspects the school. This is a useful form of quality control, and can provide you with reassurance about a school’s credentials and access to school reports by outside observers.

12. Trust your instincts

A school may have more in common with another one that’s hundreds of miles away than with the school next door, so look at the culture of the individual school and think about the kinds of experiences and opportunities you want your child to have. International schools today offer such a diverse set of options that the right one is certainly out there for you, so you need to look carefully, but in the end you should trust your gut instinct.


For more insights and information, read Mark’s in-depth exploration of the international school scene

Images: Winter's

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