Managing the challenges of moving between school curricula

The complexities of moving between different education systems can cause headaches for relocating families. We look at the potential pitfalls and the timelines to meet to ensure a smooth transition.

One of the most important and challenging aspects of any relocation for families with children of school age is the smooth transition to a new school in their new location, but families are often unaware of the complexities of moving between the different education systems around the world.Moving to another country with school-age children can be an emotional time for many families. Unsurprisingly, parents will look to make the move as trouble-free as possible for their children and do their utmost to ensure that they are happy and settle quickly in their new school.
Relocate Global Guide to Education & Schools in the UK video introduction
For information on the effects of relocation on children and how to help them manage the changes, see The impact of mobility on children from the latest edition of the Relocate UK Guide to Education and Schools.
When it comes to repatriation following completion of an assignment, children may be required to re-enter the education system in their home country and, without careful consideration and planning, could encounter significant difficulties. Repatriating to the UK after being overseas, for example, poses some unique challenges, particularly when entering the mainstream GCSE and A-level years.

Planning ahead – choosing a curriculum

“Of course, it is important that any school has good teachers, good facilities and will be a place where you think your child will thrive,” says Professor Deborah Eyre, founder of Eyre’s High Performance Learning, a school consultancy. “But whether they will settle easily into the new school and whether, in due course, they will find it easy to reintegrate into their home country is also important, and it’s here that curriculum matters.”Professor Eyre believes that the most important consideration when choosing a curriculum in a new international school setting is its international transferability.TASIS-education-webinar-in-text-banner-playback“Choose a curriculum with maximum international currency,” she advises. “That means one that will be recognised by education systems across the world. The English National Curriculum, the International Baccalaureate (IB) and the American curriculums are the most transferable and hence a good choice.”

British schools overseas – a natural choice for UK families

Some families relocating from the UK may not be aware that a growing number of schools based overseas follow the English National Curriculum closely. Choosing this option comes with the added advantage of being able to review inspection reports, which have been approved by the Department for Education for some British schools overseas (BSOs), similar to those carried out by Ofsted in England.A British education has become hugely popular across the globe and, according to ISC Research, there are more than 2,000 schools outside Britain teaching parts of the English National Curriculum which would typically prepare students for GCSE and A-level examinations.According to the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), a membership association of British schools overseas (BSOs), “Choosing a British international school not only gives students the benefit of a British education, it is also eminently transferable. The structure and consistency of the National Curriculum allows students to move easily, if necessary, between British schools in various countries, including the UK, and facilitates an easy progression to university in the UK or elsewhere in the world.”However, parents are advised to note that BSOs tend to fill up quickly, due to the appeal of the increasingly popular British-based curriculum for local families looking to improve their children’s educational prospects.“Contact schools as soon as you know that you may be moving abroad, as high-quality education offered by British schools overseas means they are often over-subscribed, and while places may be available mid-year at short notice, students have a better chance of securing a place at a quality school by making admissions enquiries early.”

The global rise of the International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a well-established international programme of learning, as of July 2017 there are over 4900 schools around the world offering one or more IB programmes. Many international schools across the globe offer the IB, due to the transferable nature of the learning programme and the typically transient academic lives of their pupils.“Wherever students have studied the IB before coming to the UK, its fundamental approach to learning and assessments is the same worldwide, allowing students to seamlessly pick up their studies where they left off,” says Linda Kavanagh, dean of admissions at ACS Egham International School.“Whilst an IB programme will vary slightly in content from school to school, a flexibility that adds to its strength, IB students around the world are fundamentally assessed against the same criteria, set by the IB, outside local government intervention. The IB provides a continuity and rigour that few other qualifications can boast, and its increasing popularity is reflected in the growing number of IB students worldwide year on year.”
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But the IB does not only offer this ‘seamless’ transition for students of the programme. Ms Kavanagh believes that an IB school could also offer the potential for successful integration for those who have chosen a different curriculum.“For those students coming from a non-IB school,” she says, “the programme, through its focus on skills and research, coupled with its global outlook, allows students to integrate smoothly.”

Problematic moves – supporting exam-age students

For parents who have chosen internationally transferable curriculum options for their children with repatriation or further international moves in mind, the final stage of student assessment and end-of-school examinations will be clearly mapped out.However, for those families that find themselves in the difficult position of re-entering the UK after studying a potentially incompatible programme of learning overseas, the path ahead will not be so straightforward.“Transitioning back into the UK education system is a very difficult proposition for many students,” says education consultant Elizabeth Sawyer, of Bennett School Placement.“Despite some changes and increased flexibility in the UK system, it remains an ‘exam-bound’ system, and if students step out of it at certain points, it can be virtually impossible for them to step back in at the age-appropriate year.”One of the most difficult times for children to repatriate to the UK is any time during Years 10 or 11 (age 14–16), when they are completing the GCSE programme. As this is a two-year course and the exams are regulated and controlled by different examination boards across different schools in the UK, it can be impossible for a student to change schools at the end of Year 10, even if he or she is already studying for GCSEs.“For example,” says Ms Sawyer, “if the student has already embarked on a GCSE programme in one school, it is unlikely that the subject offerings, curriculum and examination board at School A will align with those of School B.”In fact, if a student has not yet started the GCSE programme at all, a UK school is unlikely to accept them into Year 11, given that a year of coursework will have been missed. For families considering an assignment outside the UK, therefore, it is crucial that they give thought to the GCSE years well in advance, so that they may plan accordingly.“With appropriate planning,” says Elizabeth Sawyer, “there are ways for students to repatriate successfully, assuming a degree of flexibility. One suggestion is for families to discuss the timing of moves with their corporations ahead of time and try to avoid moving students during Years 10 or 11. This may involve agreeing that an assignment will be three years instead of two, or vice versa, such that students may return home either before or after GCSES, but not during the two-year programme.“If students return to the UK after Year 11 without having completed GCSEs, we have found that there is an increasing willingness on the part of schools to accept them for the next stage of education – A-level or the IB Diploma programme – even without the GCSE credential.“Sometimes, if a family is repatriating to the part of the UK where they originally came from and can be back in touch with the student’s original school, this can be a good approach. The former school of a student will often be willing to make exceptions and be accommodating where other schools might not.”

Timing: understanding the different structures of academic calendars

Another consideration that can be overlooked by families is the significant disparity between academic calendars in the northern and southern hemispheres. The academic year in the southern hemisphere typically aligns with the calendar year (approximately between January/February and November/December).In the northern hemisphere, the academic year typically runs from late summer/early autumn to late spring/early summer.When moving between hemispheres, parents are advised to discuss in detail with the new school the best method of dealing with a transition to a different point in the academic year. There might be the option of either repeating a half-year of study or jumping ahead – which, of course, will come with its own unique set of challenges, and the child may need to be offered extra support by the school.There are clearly many considerations for globally mobile parents with older children approaching exam age. The boom in international schools and British schools across the world offering internationally transferable programmes of learning could be the answer for many, but, with the costs that are likely to be incurred in sending their children to such schools, many families will prefer to take advantage of the local state-school provision.Whichever option parents choose, they will always have to be thinking one step ahead when it comes to their child’s education and will need support, help and advice when making those ‘make-or-break’ decisions.“We have worked with families who have chosen any one of these paths,” concludes Elizabeth Sawyer, “and we have seen students transition very successfully, even late into secondary schooling. The trick to such success is planning ahead, so that families will be well-prepared in all ways: psychological, academic and financial.”This is a revised version of an article that appeared on our website on 9 December 2013.
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