How to find the best international school for your child

Written by Jennifer Beattie on Wednesday, 12 November 2014. Posted in Family

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.

International School Kids

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.

Kids learning foreign 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.

International School Search 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)?
Too many language support staff could indicate that they are actually being used for teaching rather than as teacher support. Read between the lines as much as you can.

Other pupils in the school

Many international schools attract children from all nationalities, and the trends change throughout the years depending on local employment and economic changes globally. So some international schools will have a high proportion of non-English, French, Chinese speaking children depending on the school. This will invariably effect the speed of progress in a class and could well have a detrimental effect on your child’s education. Many schools have language assistants available and this helps the teacher a great deal. But ask the question and ask how the school deals with it. Also don't forget to ask about pupil discipline and school policies on bullying, mentoring and buddying

Lanugage Assistants Academic attainment

Ask about academic results.
  • 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?
Finally, an international school should have some sort of streaming of pupils by ability and language skills. Without this, it will be difficult for the teacher to plan lessons to meet all requirements.

Management

Is there a possibility to meet the Head, Principle or Director? An elusive Head might be cause for concern. It is perfectly possible that you are shown around the school by another member of the administrative team, but it should not be difficult to get an appointment to meet the Head as a prospective new family. If there has been a recent of leadership change in the school, ask questions.

Involvement of parents and evidence of a complaints procedures

There should, if it is an active school, be evidence of a Parents Association. Any good Director or Headteacher will support this in a school. Check that there are plenty of events.

For problems and complaints, is there a procedure for obtaining recourse or having the complaint managed appropriately? Vague answers to these questions should be questioned further! Are parents involved on the school board, management and financial decisions concerning the school? If not, why not?

An experienced member of staff will be able to effortlessly handle all these questions and should provide you with a school booklet or brochure with everything laid out clearly and concisely! If you happen to be shown around by someone less experienced or unable to answer your questions clearly, this might indicate a problem, go with your instincts.

How do I make the final decision about an international school?

Choosing your child’s school is a serious business for most parents and even with the most thorough interrogation, you will not receive satisfactory responses to all of your questions. But on balance you have to feel good about sending your child to the school in question, so take your time and do your research!

About the Author

Jennifer Beattie

Jennifer Beattie is the freelance journalist for FD Platinum. With lots of experience of moving and relocating nationally and internationally, Jennifer has personal and professional knowledge of the issues involved. She aims to provide up to date and accurate information on topics of importance to the industry.