New perspectives on Middle East international schools

Speakers at the first ever Relocate Global International Education Forum in London offered delegates their unique perspectives on international school choices when making a move to the Middle East

Middle East International Schools
In February this year, on the occasion of the launch of Relocate Global's Guide to International Education and Schools, education experts and school leaders, as well as HR and relocation professionals, assembled at London’s Institute of Directors to discuss emerging education trends and tackle some of the unique issues that internationally relocating families face when selecting a new school for their child.One of the liveliest sessions addressed the unique challenges for globally mobile families of finding the right school on relocating to a Middle Eastern country. As Diane Glass, Business Development Director of International School Consultancy explained, the region has seen a significant expansion of English-medium international schools in recent years. The UAE alone is home to 548 international schools, followed by Saudi Arabia with 238 and Qatar with 154.Heather Mulkey, group marketing and admissions officer at the International School of London (ISL), with responsibility for schools in London, Surrey and Qatar told delegates how, back in 2007 ISL was selected by the Supreme Education council in Qatar to open as one of their ‘Outstanding Schools.’ But much has changed since then and Ms Mulkey spoke to 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,” she said.ACS International Schools opened up a new school in Doha in 2011. Mark London, Head of Marketing for ACS spoke about the challenges of adapting the vision, philosophy and values of the school group to a new setting with an entirely different set of rules and regulations. “There are a lot of regulations in Qatar,” said Mr London, “which is one of the on-going challenges. Things like term dates, school fees, 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. When a family arrives they get a temporary visa, then they must apply for a residency permit. These can take 2 to 4 weeks – or longer – and we find that the operative word is longer!  So, advice to families, get your residency visa as quickly as possible and ask your company to support you in getting it in good time.”Building on earlier sessions during the Forum on the cultural impact of an international move on the whole family, Mr London warned that a typical western expat family may have false expectations of what life will be like in an international school in Qatar. “They may think, ‘I’ve been to an International school or an American school, I understand what it’s like – it’ll be exactly the same in Qatar or another Gulf country’.  It won’t be the same – there will be many slight differences; cultural differences and differences in how education is delivered.”With this in mind, Mr London highlighted the critical need for relocation professionals working with families moving to the region, of building a close relationship with schools. “It is really important for families to do their homework, and for people who are providing advice to those families, the relocation professionals, the education advisors, to really understand what the range of schools are and what is on offer. Go and visit the schools, go and see them. “We know that a child being happy at school and by extension, the happiness of the family, is one of the most important criteria for the success of relocation.  It is a really important decision – maybe one of the most important ones in relocation. When a family is in a strange country, a new country, where there are cultural differences that are unexpected it makes even more important to understand the implications of that decision. So, visit schools, find out about them and get as much advice as possible to encourage families to make the right choice for them.”
Guide to International Education & Schools
In the Guide to International Education and Schools, our many expert education writers and commentators set out in detail their advice to anyone searching for a new school in an international setting, and offer insights into what it takes to make the right school choice. To order copies, download an order form, complete it using your keyboard, and email, fax or post it to us.