International Education Forum: Hot topics for global mobility and relocation

In February, Re:locate Global held its first International Education Forum. Fiona Murchie highlights some of the developments across education and schooling that are already impacting mobility and will influence relocation policy in the future.

Relocate Global International Education Guide
Education experts and school leaders, as well as HR and relocation professionals, assembled at London's Institute of Directors in February to discuss emerging education trends and tackle some of the unique issues that families relocating internationally face when selecting education options for their children.

Watch the video showing highlights of the International Education Forum here

The massive explosion of new international schools across the world in recent years means that families in global transition need more help and advice than ever before when choosing new schools."The international schools market has almost tripled in size since the year 2000, and I foresee this forecast will double again over the next ten years," Diane Glass, business development director of the International School Consultancy, told forum delegates.There are now more than 8,000 English-medium international schools across the world, between them teaching 4.26 million students. But such schools were not always so plentiful."Thirty years ago, there were less than 1,000 international schools," said Ms Glass. "The vast majority of them were not for profit; they tended to be very small schools, and they taught a straightforward English or American curriculum. Today, the vast majority of schools are profit-making; they teach a range of curricula and have a wide variety of learning approaches."When it comes to curriculum choice, Diane Glass outlined the huge number of options available in today's international schools, ranging from the National Curriculum of England and the US Curriculum to the Swiss International Baccalaureate (IB). But, she said, statistics showed that a British-derived curriculum appeared to be dominating the learning programmes of international schools across the globe."Forty-one per cent of the world's international schools have all or part of their curriculum derived from the UK," she explained to delegates, "and, by contrast, 22 per cent offer the US curriculum, and 17 per cent offer IB programmes."She continued, "Thirty years ago, most students came from expatriate families, and, whilst the number of expatriate students in international schools continues to increase, now 80 per cent of the students around the world come from wealthy local families."

Challenges for mobility professionals and employers

The challenge, then, for mobility professionals is how to navigate and ensure parents select appropriate accredited schools. For employers, it is about spending relocation budgets wisely or ensuring that their relocating employees understand the calibre of the school they choose.As Debbie Bowker, of Bowker Consulting, pointed out, "Each family has unique requirements, so working across both the state and independent sectors, as well as considering international schools where applicable, means that the most appropriate school can be found for each child."Entering the education system in the UK can present a unique set of challenges for internationally relocating families and domestic movers. Finding "the right fit" was the key to a successful placement for the entire family, she said. Curriculum choice can be daunting, both for parents and for those advising and supporting them. John Leiner, dean of admissions at ACS Hillingdon International School, spoke about the commonalities and differences in IB and
Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum selection for globally mobile families in contrast with A Levels.It is useful to know that the market is changing and there are curriculum developments to support families moving internationally or likely to go on an assignment in the future. Richard Davies, divisional director of Fieldwork Education, spoke about the growing take-up of its curricula, not only in overseas schools but also in the UK.It was a revelation to some employers that school groups were growing rapidly across the world, and, if schools in a network or group offered a quality and style of education that fitted the needs of their relocating parents, it was useful to check out others in the group.There are also lots of school associations where accreditation and standards can offer reassurance about quality.

Culture change and settling in

Richard Pearce, an education and cross-cultural expert with a background in international schools, provided an insight into reading between the lines and deciphering the confusing range of variables parents face when seeking the best education for their children.He provided valuable tips on asking the right questions and understanding exactly what was on offer, and explained that a child's deep-seated sense of identity and emotional responses were rooted in early cultural development."Culture is central to everything that we do – it is the rulebook for being a human," Dr Pearce told delegates. "It's everything that we learn is right to do and normal to do. It is there to make us do right things. So understandably, if there is a cultural misfit for a child, they're going to be unhappy."Dr Pearce believes that, in the spirit of parental choice, schools need to be explicit about their own distinctive values. Retaining native language is critical to a child's development. It can also be useful to employers wishing to tap into the skills and perspective that international pupils have, which can be of huge value in growing global organisations.Susan Stewart, head of languages at the International School of London (ISL)
Surrey, emphasised the importance of language and cultural immersion and mother-tongue programmes.Karin Purcell, of Marymount London, provided case studies of her alumni pupils that reinforced the value of an international education in securing university places and top careers, affirming that internationally educated students had the edge in today's global marketplace.Some international schools are extraordinarily good at settling not only the child but the whole family. This is of huge value to employers who want their employees up and running productively in a new location as soon as possible.Lillian Stauber, a member of TASIS The American School in England's Parents' Information Resource Committee, powerfully demonstrated the value of the parent support network, which can be a lifeline for new families in making a success of their assignment.

International relocation hotspots

The forum also focused on two hotspot regions offering particular challenges for global employers, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. Diane Glass set the scene with statistical data for both.The CIPD has recently opened an office in Dubai, which is testament to the importance of the Middle East to the organisation's membership. It also has an office in Singapore. Some companies are already reporting that 75 per cent of their employees are globally mobile.Between 5 per cent and 10 per cent is, perhaps, more typical, but the numbers are growing fast.Heather Mulkey, of the International School of London (ISL) Qatar, shared revealing data on the Middle East that had influenced the ISL group to open a school in Qatar, and highlighted growth in the region. She told delegates about the backdrop of the changing economic situation in the region, including diversification and demographic shifts."We are having more families leave than we have seen before, but there is continued pressure for places in schools," said Ms Mulkey. This view was reinforced by Mark London, of ACS International Schools, who spoke of the complexities of operating a school in Qatar and the challenges for parents of selecting appropriate schooling and settling in the region."There are a lot of regulations in Qatar," said Mr London, "which is one of the ongoing challenges. Things like term dates, school fees and national holidays are set for you, and there is no opt-out; you have to do that."Families can also find themselves caught up in bureaucracy if they are not well prepared, explained Mr London."Families need a residency permit before a school can accept an application."The session on Asia Pacific was brought to life by Avrom Goldberg, who was able to provide the context for employers and relocation professionals on what is happening in China.ACS Hillingdon International School's John Leiner brought an extra dimension to discussions, having worked in school admissions in Asia and acted in a similar role for higher education.

Reports of all the sessions are available on our Education & Schools section. Click here to read more.

Topics covered:

• Finding schools in the global mobility context – Understanding the issues
• Growth trends in the international schools market
• Helping parents to choose a school – Reading between the lines
• Curricula unwrapped
• Exploring education options in the Middle East – Employer, relocation and school perspectives
• Hotspot destinations and rising stars in Asia – Employer, relocation and school perspectives
• Settling children and supporting the family

Watch the video showing highlights of the International Education Forum here

The first edition of Re:locate Global’s new annual Guide to International Education & Schools is now available and is an invaluable resource for HR, global managers, employers, relocation professionals and relocating parents. Its unique editorial content, beautiful illustrations and high-quality production make it a first in the global mobility market. 

Content includes informative, engaging features and practical advice on choosing a school and curriculum choices in relocation destinations around the world, including the UK, the USA, Canada, Europe, China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Middle East. Directories of schools, school associations and suppliers are also included.Relocate Global Internatiional Guide Order Now Button

Related Articles