As parents consider a move abroad, it is important to think about the educational opportunities for their child. Having spent most of my adult life working in or with international schools, I wrote down a few of my thoughts about what are some important factors to consider when choosing a school.
- Governance – how is the school operated? Is it a non-profit run by a board or a for-profit? Is the school part of an international franchise?
- Teachers – where are the teachers from? How are they trained? What is the retention rate? How do they engage in ongoing professional development?
- Mission statement of the school – does this align with your family’s values?
- Accreditation – has the school undergone some type of process to be sure that curriculum and teaching standards are being upheld? Are teachers properly trained and supported with ongoing supervision and professional development? Are safety standards are in place and does the school have health care professionals on staff to provide for student well-being? These are just some of the categories covered by an accrediting body. .
- Who are the administrators? Where were they trained? What tone is being set at the top for the rest of the school?
- What kind of professionals make up the staff? Is there a school counselor? Is there any kind of learning support? Inclusion for students with special needs? Specialized teachers who understand how to provide support for students with ADHD or learning differences?
- If they do have support for learning differences, can they support anything more than mild learning needs?
- Class sizes – how many students are in each class?
- Discipline – how does the school handle disciplinary issues?
- Curriculum – What will your child learn? Does the school adhere to a MYP, IB, standard American, or national curriculum?
- Resource – Is there a library? Does the school offer special instruction in music, art, theater? Is there a gym for physical education?
- What are the teaching and assessment styles? Will your child and his/her unique learning style and needs respond well to those particular methods?
- What is the school philosophy regarding homework, physical fitness, breaks during the day, etc.?
- Is there support for extra-curriculars – sports, arts, clubs and organizations, student government, regional competition memberships for sports, fine arts, Model UN, debate, etc.?
- Parent involvement – is there an association of parents? Is parental involvement encouraged? Discouraged? What is the relationship between the parents and administration?
- What is the ratio of international students to local students? What is the interaction like between local students and the international students?
- What is the social language of the school? Instruction might be in English, but if, for example, there is a large percentage of students who speak another language socially, then the student not fluent in that language might be excluded from social groups.
- Where is the school located? What will the daily commute for your child be like? How will they get to school and how long will it take? Where do other students live and will your child be able to easily find playdates or other teens to hang out with after school?
- How much freedom do students have in the community where you will live? Are you comfortable with that freedom for your own child? Is the community safe?
- What are the ultimate plans of the family? Will they repatriate to their home country? If so, then what ages are the children and will the curriculum in their new school allow them to easily transition back again? The other the student, the more critical this question becomes.
Having lived this myself and advised hundreds of families, my advice is to know your child and make the school choice that is best for them.
Rebecca Grappo, M.Ed, is the founder of RNG International Educational Consultants, LLC. She has used her extensive experience living and working abroad and in the world of international education to help students and families as they moved around the world.