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International schools: the basics

International schools: the basics

International schools have come a long way since they were first introduced in the late 19th century for the children of diplomats and business people. In recent years they have seen tremendous growth and this amazing expansion is set to continue in the years to come. The international school is becoming a mainstream feature of the educational systems in countries all over the world.


With the continued development of global markets and the increased need for families to live abroad, English-speaking international schools have expanded rapidly in the last few years. At the same time, as English has grown to become the international lingua franca, many parents in countries around the world want their children to speak the language. The acquisition of fluent English is seen as a strong asset for future employment. Recent figures from ISC Research (early 2017) for international schools using English as the learning medium give a total of 8,725 schools, catering for a student population of around 4.8 million.



This growth has meant that both the types of ownership and the reasons for establishing an English language international school are very varied.  Some of the many reasons are outlined below:

  1. A company may want to help their employees relocate by setting up an international school. To make it viable they extend their intake to include children in the locality.
  2. A prestigious independent school may wish to offer the same educational opportunities to children in other countries.
  3. Entrepreneurs may see an international school in their community as a good investment.
  4. An Education Consortium seeking to expand into the global market may decide to open a number of international schools in key countries.
  5. Embassies initially creating a school for their own staff then respond to a local desire for an international school.
  6. A church or faith may wish to establish a school that will follow and uphold their particular beliefs and values.


Membership of schools organisations

Checking that an English-speaking international school is affiliated to a recognised organisation is the first step towards ensuring that the school is of a good standard. The following organisations are some of the most well-known:

COBIS – Council of British Independent Schools
COBIS represents over 400 schools and is governed by an elected board made up of Head teachers and Governors from its membership schools. Accredited members meet the UK standards set by the BSO - British Schools Overseas.

CIS – Council of International Schools
The CIS has a membership of more than 680 primary and secondary schools, and 490 higher education colleges and universities worldwide. Schools undertake an evaluation process accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the NAIS – the National Association of Independent Schools.

NAIS – National Association of Independent Schools
Covering many of the independent schools in the USA, the association also gives accreditation to schools in other parts of the world.

WASC – The Western Association of Schools
WASC is responsible for accrediting universities, colleges, secondary and elementary schools in the USA. It is also empowered to accredit institutions of American origin in other parts of the world.

There are many other organisations that international schools may belong to. Check the credentials of these organisations online, and find out what criteria schools must satisfy to become members.

All lessons will generally be taught in English...

All lessons will generally be taught in English...

Teaching language used and class sizes

In English-speaking international schools all lessons will generally be taught in English. The exception will of course be the classes that teach the native language. The speaking of English is usually encouraged throughout the school day, including at break times.

Where English is the learning medium, the teaching staff tend to be native speakers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Australia, and other English-speaking countries, although these schools will also employ excellent teachers from other countries who are fluent in English.

In international schools the class size is generally much smaller than in state schools. The average size of a class may range from 12 to 20 pupils.

To find out more about the key features of international schools go to these articles:

Types of curriculum

Types of assessment

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Essential information

Types of curriculum

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