As a parent, ensuring that your child is healthy and well educated is probably at the top of your priority list. But making sure that they also attend the school that best suits them when you are unfamiliar with a country or language can be problematic.
If you have the independent resources or are lucky enough to have been assigned a relocation package, then most likely you will be provided with the contact details of the international or public schools in the area. You may even get the opportunity, courtesy of your ‘new’ company, to have a pre visit before moving permanently. Many international companies have a school preference and they will encourage you in this direction. Unless you have only one choice, you are still going to need to do your research and ask some searching questions. Not all schools will suit your child’s needs and if you are not confident with the schooling, it may well change your options radically!
What things should you consider before choosing an international school?Is this a permanent move or only for a few years with a definite end date? If it is a relatively brief sojourn overseas, you may consider that your children would be best educated in a similar system to their current one i.e. UK system to British International School. Alternatively, a longer or permanent placement will give you the option of exploring the local public school choices. What is the age and stage of your child or children? The older a child, the more critical each particular academic year becomes. It can also be more difficult for them to adapt without lots of help. Younger children on the other hand have time on their side and often adapt quickly to new situations and languages. A word about waiting lists When there is only one viable choice of school in an area, there is also likely to be a waiting list. Getting a place or not at your chosen school may well change your priorities, so do not leave it too late to apply.
Where do I find the information to help my search for an international school?Use your work network, ask colleagues, expat support groups, use online forums, any resource open to you in order to get a feel for the school or schools on your short list. Check out sites such as The Good Schools Guide or Expat Arrivals. Whilst useful, these sites will not replace your instincts about the school when you visit. The visit is important, each family has their own educational priorities for their child or children and not all schools will suit your family.
What questions should I ask and what should I look out for when visiting an international school?The following is not an exhaustive list but it will help you formulate some searching questions. At the very least it will help you be more objective during the visit. Accreditation and Eligibility Different rules and regulations govern the running of international schools in each country. However, if the school is professing to offer a certain curriculum or follow a certain educational approach it should be accredited with the appropriate accreditation bodies. For example, Montessori schools should demonstrate that they are accredited to the International Montessori Council and teaching staff should have or intend to have appropriate Montessori teaching qualifications. Schools claiming to follow the British system should have undergone inspection and accreditation by The Council of British International Schools or the The Council of International Schools (Amercian system) at the very least. You should not have to ask for their accreditation or search too hard. If you do, be wary. Physical building Does it all look good? Are there parts that you are not allowed to see? Conversely, looks can be deceiving and well maintained buildings may hide a myriad of problems such as reduced budget for teaching and larger classes! Teaching staff With any luck this information should just flow during the visit. But if not, ask.
- What is the ratio of teacher to children and average class sizes?
- Are all teachers qualified i.e. do they actually have a verifiable teaching qualification in their country of origin? - You would be surprised at how many international schools still use unqualified teaching staff.
- If offering a certain curriculum following a specific system do they have experience and qualifications (and the native language skills) obtained in that country?
- Is there a rapid change of staff?
- Do they ‘use’ a lot of language support staff (often students themselves)?
- How are they measured?
- How does the school measure up to a local school or a similar one in your home country?
- Are children easily entering university or higher colleges from the school?
- What is the pass rate for the various end of school exams?