Families matter: how to choose the right school

Education is the most important decision a relocating parent has to make. We investigate curriculum choice, how to find the best school for families and children, and the importance a truly international experience in international education.

Claudine Hakim, Head of Student Support/Head of Admissions, International School of London (ISL), Alessandra Gnudi, Executive Director of FOCUS, Colin Bell of COBIS and Kieran Earley, CEO of the British School in the Netherlands (BSN), look at the issues around the importance of relocation support for families with school-age children on international assignment.Watch the video - or read the transcript, below. 

Changing curriculum and choosing schools

Question one: How do you make the decision about which curriculum to follow? Once you’re in a specific school system, is it possible to swap your children into another curriculum if you’re relocated to a different country?

Claudine Hakim, ISL: I think it depends on the age of a child. If it’s primary education or even up to age 14, transferring from one education to another, it’s not ideal but it’s doable. Obviously at 14 in many countries that’s a turning point where you’re either doing GCSEs or starting the American high school diploma, or in our case we’re an IB school. Having said that, with the diploma, you could join at 16, not 14, to do the diploma years. So, I think it’s the age of the child that would determine.Alessandra Gnudi, FOCUS: Talking about the choice of the curriculum, that depends on how long the family is staying in a country and where they go next. Because some schools cannot be found in some countries, I think it’s really important, if possible, to choose a curriculum that you would find in the next location if you know what that is. But to what Claudine said, if the children are young, I think there is no problem in transferring to another system. As they move to secondary age then that’s a bit more complicated.Colin Bell, COBIS: I suggest that it’s not just what the curriculum is, it’s how it’s delivered by the schools. Clearly, you’d want very forward-thinking innovative schools that use a range of different resources and that obviously have high-quality teachers to deliver that curriculum.Also high-quality schools whether it’s in the UK or overseas, it’s all about the transition as well, so how they on-board as it were. Families and children entering into the school as well. Also providing that whether it’s assessment information or safeguarding information so when they do go into other schools then that’s all available to the next set of professionals.Kieran Earley, BSN: Very briefly I’d echo all of those comments. That first point of contact with the school is so crucial. You should be having, in my view, a very personalised and tailored service for your families, giving those families that information up front and seeing it. If they can make a visit and have a personalised tour that really helps. You all know that the decision for your people to move is often predicated upon their ability to get the right place at the right school. If you get it wrong and there is an unhappiness with the school – whether it’s curriculum or another aspect of the education being provided – that can work very badly for you in terms of the productivity of your employee.We know for a fact that 70% of the parents that choose to join our school have done that – pretty much they’ve made that choice before they’ve come to visit us. In some senses they have a sense of where they want to go and that’s about good websites. Colin made the point earlier. Clear and transparent information, reputation, and also my point about that would be that sometimes you might make a choice based upon cost and that sometimes isn’t the best position to be in. You really do get what you pay for and with schools too so don’t let that maybe be the thing that determines the choice. It is about quality overall. It can be a very good investment to pay a bit more perhaps.

Soft skills in education

Question 2: How do you determine whether a school is expert at teaching soft skills?

Kieran Earley: You’d want to be seeing that determined effort to delineate what those skills are at a very early stage and how they run through the child’s experience in the school.I think there is also a broader element to that as well. This is where the visit is so important. You know that when you walk in to a business or an organisation you put your nose in the air and you get a feel and smell of the place quite quickly. It’s the same with schools. You can see when children are happy. You can see when they are purposeful. You can see when they’re learning well. You can see that there is a positive environment in which they might be happy.

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So a number of clubs that are available for example. That’s massively important too, that you have determined staff who are prepared to go beyond the norm and the extra effort to deliver clubs and opportunities for children. Those are the things that add character in my view and children can try things and fail and maybe be successful. That’s about range and breadth of curriculum so I think you’re right to extend the point beyond curriculum to extra curriculum. That should be very explicit in the stories that the school is telling about itself, via social media channels, via its website. You can pick up on that quite quickly when you visit too so I think that’s a really important element to pick up on.Colin Bell: Again, first impressions count. I totally concur with Kieran. I guess leadership – good schools, excellent schools, outstanding schools – everyone is a leader in the school. So it’s not just whoever is the headmistress or headmaster. Clearly those schools that are going to attract and recruit and retain staff and families will have those similarities. I just think high performing schools live it and breathe it.Claudine Hakim: Building on the visit to the school is also the student voice. We have had families who do the recce. They visit several schools and then narrow it down but having a student visit as well or have at least an opportunity if they can’t physically go to engage with the school in some way With technology these days it’s easy to arrange a Skype call or conversation. And if it feels right for the child that is also something to consider.

Education: providing a truly international experience

Question 3: How important is it to provide an international experience?

Kieran Earley: In terms of increasing that international mindfulness, that global mindedness, those softer skills, about tolerance and understanding and how different cultures interact, those are things that you’ve all learned because you’re globally minded and have been around the world and maybe made mistakes yourselves and you all read Erin Meyer’s Culture Map. International schools at their best are an absolute – they’re an ecosystem of that experience and children learn that and pick that up. As we know they’re very shrewd and those experiences stay with them for life. I think the children that leave the BSN and great international schools as we have in the panel here, they are enriched for life by their experience among those global communities.Claudine Hakim: I agree with hiring staff, not only teachers – staff from a variety of nationalities. I think that really enriches the workplace, enriches the discussion around the table, in addition to by default having the students. But recently – we’re up to have a CIS re-accreditation visit coming up and we’ve been discussing what we mean by diversity.We follow the IB but a lot of the times if you look at what is being covered in the curriculum because you have a choice of what topics you’re covering – it might be very much western. If in your classroom you have students from Saudi Arabia and Korea and the Netherlands or wherever in the world, we are now having discussions with our teachers about putting those topics on the table so if we’re looking at revolution it doesn’t have to be the industrial revolution or it doesn’t have to be a particular world war. Why don’t we look at current issues or even issues related to the countries where our students are from? That will give you that enriched diversity that we are talking about.

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