Moving your family to another country is an exciting adventure, but it comes with challenges. Chief among them is finding a suitable international school for your children in your new home. Naturally you’ll want the best standard of education possible, in a convenient location, and in a school where your child will settle well, make friends, and most importantly be happy.
Throw in an entirely new city and school system on top of those criteria, and it’s no wonder many new expat parents feel a little overwhelmed by the situation. While we can’t make the all important school decision for you, we can provide some helpful information to guide you. Here’s what you need to know to ensure you choose the right international school for your kids.
First things first…
How to apply to your school of choice may not seem super important, but it should be the first detail on your checklist. Why? Many international schools have waiting lists, and some won’t allow children to join mid-way through the academic year. So check the application procedure before you get caught up in the amazing extra-curricular activities on offer, or the fantastic exam results the students achieve.
Make a note of application deadlines and any documentation needed, and ensure you have all the paperwork prepared well in advance. It’s not unusual for international schools to request official grade reports, and the more sought-after schools may require new students to sit an entry exam. Keep in mind that waiting lists can be long - it’s a good idea to start your school search and applications a year or more in advance of your move if you can.
Fees and Costs
For many expat families the determining factor in their choice of international school is the cost. If budget is an important consideration for you, then we have some bad news; ‘yearly fees’ do not reflect the full cost of sending your child to an international school. Many schools charge an additional enrolment fee for the first year, and the yearly fees often increase per academic year.
If you’re lucky enough to have your employer cover part of these fees, then you have a little more flexibility. Nevertheless, you should still consider the overall cost per year (and per child) and factor this into your budget; some individual schools may provide a full breakdown for you, or you can find it yourself on our site.
By the way, international school fees also vary wildly across the globe. If you have a choice of cities to relocate to, you should definitely take a look at this cost comparison we did (we feel for you if you’re moving to Shanghai).
Curriculum and Ethos
When you’ve found all of the international schools within your budget, your next priority will be the curriculum and ethos of the school. Firstly, let’s talk languages. The most popular language of instruction in international schools is English, but most cities will have a French lycee and maybe a German school too.
If your children aren’t English speakers, ensure there is a programme in place to get them up to speed in time for their start date. Consider lessons for the country’s local language too, and always check if the teachers are fluent - or better yet, native - speakers of the school’s language.
Next, you need to choose a curriculum; the usual choices are the International Baccalaureate, or the national English or American curricula (plus other national ones). Smaller international schools will only teach one; larger schools may have a choice of two or sometimes more. Base your decision on what curriculum your child was taught before your move, where you may move to in future and where they may end up studying at university level. Consistency is key.
It’s also important to check out class sizes, student demographics, and of course the general ethos and approach to learning at the school. Small class sizes mean your child gets more one-on-one attention, but larger classes aren’t necessarily bad if the school has additional support teachers (for both gifted students and those with special needs).
A range of nationalities allows your child to interact with different cultures from an early age, and it increases the chance of them making friends from their ‘native’ home too.
As for ethos, it all comes down to your own personal choice; what values do you want to instil in your child? Do you want religion to be a part of their lives? Try to find the school that best aligns with your choices.
Next on the list of important factors to consider is ‘logistics’. How far is the school from your home and your place of work? What will the commute be like? Does the school offer bus transfers or will you need to use public (or your own) transport? If you don’t yet know where you’ll be living, check out average rents in areas surrounding the school. If you need to rely on school bus services, find out what routes they serve and add that into the equation.
Don’t forget to check the school’s opening hours too and factor this into your ‘typical day’. Remember, many international schools encourage before/after school activities, so if classes finish at say 3pm, your child may not have to leave until later in the afternoon - which means you may be able to pick them up on your way home from the office. The same goes for early mornings.
Another detail to think about is lunch - does the school provide meals or will your child need to bring his/her own? If they do provide lunch, are the choices nutritious and healthy? Do they cater for special dietary requirements, if your child has any?
Your Child’s Needs
Although all of the above are vital considerations when choosing an international school, there is one thing that trumps them all; your child’s own needs. Your main priority is getting your child the best education possible, as it should be. But he or she is more concerned about making friends, having fun and (most likely) not having too much homework! So don’t forget to discuss the subject with them and make sure he/she is also happy about your choice of school.
Take your child’s strengths and weaknesses into account and factor this into your international school search. Are they creative? Do they love sports? Do they have an active mind? Look for schools that will encourage their strengths as well as help them work on their weaknesses.
Picking a school that you think they’ll be happy with is a much better approach than picking the best school in your price range.
So now you know exactly what kind of school you’re looking for and what criteria it should meet. But how do you find it? Searching for contact information and specific data on international schools can prove difficult, especially when it’s in an unfamiliar city or country. Thankfully, that’s where we come in! You’ll find extensive listings of international schools in a wide range of cities worldwide right here.
We recommend first compiling a full list of all the international schools in your new city (or use our database to check them all at once), then creating a shortlist of 3 or 4 schools based on your own criteria (budget, location, curriculum etc.). Next you should visit them: we have another article dealing specifically with what to ask, what to look for, and what to do when visiting International Schools for your child.
If after the visits you have a positive feeling about one of the schools, great. If your child does too, then you’re onto a winner.
Get your international school search started now on the International Schools Database.