The benefit of international schools

With almost 9,000 international schools worldwide to choose from, David Tongue, Principal and CEO of St George’s British International School in Rome, outlines the benefits – for both expats and locals alike – of the international schools network.

St Georges British International School Rome

St George’s British International School in Rome

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The number of international schools has increased exponentially in a remarkably short space of time ­– from around 2,000 at the turn of the millennium to almost 9,000 today.Much of this growth has been fuelled by a huge increase in demand from local families who see the numerous benefits of having their children educated in English and following a British or international curriculum, which leads to qualifications that are recognised and accredited the world over. Among the main reasons driving this increase in demand from local pupils are the desire to achieve native fluency in the global language of finance, business and commerce; accessing the world’s leading and most competitive university systems and institutions; and ensuring that children are prepared if a family needs to relocate overseas at any point.
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At the same time, many traditionally expatriate schools have become increasingly desirable with local families and, in some locations, the number of expatriate families are decreasing due to an increase in remote working and an upskilled local population. In other contexts, relocating families are no longer receiving relocation packages that allow for the most expensive international schooling options. All of these factors have seen international pupils ‘squeezed out’ of the market as commercial forces take hold.But with increasing numbers of international schools setting up, and many catering predominantly for a local population, it can make selecting a school even more difficult for expatriate parents relocating to a city. With some global cities now housing over a hundred international schools, one of the first decisions a relocating family should consider making is whether they wish to consider schools that are predominantly for local pupils, those that are predominantly for international pupils or those that serve the needs of both groups. There is often no correct answer to this question and it will frequently depend on the family’s priorities, the length of their anticipated stay and their children’s prior experiences and background. It is also likely to depend on the cultural distance between the country a family is from (or moving from) and the country they are moving to. The greater the distance, the harder cultural assimilation will be and the more challenges a child is likely to face settling into their new school if they are one of only a small number of overseas pupils.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsSome of the benefits of schools that cater predominantly for an international population for relocating families include:
  1. As many new pupils tend to arrive at the school year on year, the school is more likely to be able to support new pupils settling in – this can make a child’s transition into the school more seamless.
  2. The school is more likely to offer family and community support, which will provide the whole family with a network in their new home.
  3. The school is likely to be more ‘culturally familiar’ to a child and they are less likely to feel ‘culturally isolated’.
  4. In most international schools serving the needs of predominantly international pupils, English tends to become the lingua franca of the school which not only ensures that native English speaking pupils can access all social interactions, it tends to ensure that the quality of English spoken by non-native speakers is higher and improves more rapidly.
  5. Whilst not always the case, traditional international schools catering for expatriate pupils tend to be not-for-profit and more established. This means that all of the fee revenue is invested back into the school and the school has a clear reputation and history within its location on which a prospective family can judge it.
Some of the benefits of schools that cater predominantly for a local population include:
  1. As overseas pupils are exposed to the local culture to a much greater extent, they are likely to achieve cultural assimilation more rapidly and feel more settled in the country beyond the parameters of the school.
  2. As families tend to enjoy greater interaction with the local population they can feel ultimately more at home and less like they are living in an ‘expatriate bubble’.
  3. Overseas pupils in international schools catering predominantly for a local population are likely to pick up the local language at a much faster rate than those in a predominantly expatriate setting.
  4. Whilst not always the case, schools catering for a predominantly local population tend to be more recent and have frequently received a huge investment in their facilities and resourcing (often from a wealthy local donor or owner).
Much of a family’s decision making process will be influenced by the projected length of their stay, their desire to adopt and embrace their new home’s culture, the importance the family places on internationalism and their aspirations for their children.David Tongue is the Principal and CEO of St George’s British International School in Rome, which caters for pupils from more than 80 different nationalities. He and his family have previously lived and worked in Europe, South America, Asia and the Middle East.
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