Assessing global education systems

How can employers ensure that their employees have access to the best education information? At the start of a new academic year, we look at how to help relocating families select the right curriculum.

Navigating the pathways of global education systems
test2 Navigating school choice and education support is a key mission for employers needing to retain their talent in relocation hotspots across the globe. As the new academic year begins, and with schools and pupils celebrating exam results, from the IB to GCSE, IGCSE and A Level, we look at how to help relocating families to select the right curriculum. Are exam results the way to benchmark success? How can employers ensure their employees have access to the best education information?Concern about their children’s education can lead parents to refuse an international assignment or a relocation move. If they accept and the school or curriculum they’ve chosen turns out to be the wrong fit for their child, assignment failure can result. It’s therefore in employers’ interests to have an understanding of education issues, so they can help parents make informed choices.Employers also need knowledge of education in the countries and regions in which they operate so that they can assess job candidates’ suitability for the role they have applied for.

Celebrating successful exam results

Over the summer, pupils have received the results of GCSE, IGCSE, A Level and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. Recent reforms to both GCSE and A Level have inevitably seen teething troubles, but employers will welcome the increase in entries in A Level STEM subjects and the proportion of top grades awarded in French, German and Spanish at A Level.The International GCSE (IGCSE) has been a popular choice among independent schools, with ten times as many international schools worldwide offering the IGCSE as the GCSE, according to ISC Research. Taken in over 145 countries and more than 4,800 schools around the world, Cambridge IGCSE is the world’s most popular international qualification for 14- to 16-year-olds. Each year, there are over 800,000 subject entries for Cambridge IGCSE exams.Explains a spokesman for Cambridge International Examinations, “The main difference between UK GCSE and Cambridge IGCSE is that our syllabuses are designed for an international context. This means that they avoid cultural bias and the questions are designed to be accessible to those who are not native English speakers. So, for example, we make sure we are testing content knowledge, not English-language skills, in a history exam, and we wouldn’t include a case-study question about a situation that would only be familiar to students in certain countries.”The IGCSE is regarded as similar in style and rigour to the old O Level, offering a more academically challenging option than the GCSE. With recent reforms to the GCSE system in England, however, this is set to change. Since 2015, the government has made sweeping changes to GCSEs to address issues such as grade inflation.At the same time as GCSEs have been reformed, A Levels have also undergone substantial change. They have been decoupled from AS Levels to become standalone qualifications once more, with less coursework and an emphasis on examinations at the end of the two years of study.
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However, this year’s results have drawn criticism from headteachers, as they appear to show that it is much harder to get an A or A* grade in the 13 newly reformed A Levels than in subjects which have yet to be reformed, such as maths, geography, religious studies, languages or drama.
As standards in the state sector rise, independent schools are under increasing pressure to achieve results that justify their fees.

The IB: an internationally transferable curriculum

The IB is becoming an increasingly popular choice for globally mobile families, thanks to its international transferability, rigour and breadth of study. Taught in thousands of schools in popular relocation destinations worldwide, including many independent and international schools and some state schools in the UK, it covers the full range of ages, from three to 19.Richard Parker, principal of the International School of London Surrey, points out, “The IB is recognised by universities across the world, and their qualifications are transferable in a way that national qualifications are not. It is also a holistic approach to education and sees different disciplines as complementing each other, rather than being separate. It is a more rounded education, whether you are globally mobile or not.”Another factor parents may consider when choosing a school is how their native language will be supported. ISL has a strong reputation for its support of students’ mother tongues, which Richard Parker believes is critical to its ability to attract globally mobile families. He says, “Research has shown that fluency in one’s mother tongue has a huge impact on one’s ability to conceptualise in all subjects, and it is therefore a skill that should be nurtured.”You can find a wealth of information on school and curriculum choice in key relocation hotspots around the world in our highly rated Guide to International Education & Schools and Guide to Education & Schools in the UK.

The US education system explained

In contrast with the UK system, which focuses on exams and leads students towards increased specialisation, the US system places less emphasis on exams. Students remain generalists all the way through secondary (high) school, at the end of which they can apply to college or university with a composite of qualifications: their grades from all four years of high school averaged into a GPA (Grade Point Average), results of various optional but benchmarked examinations, teacher recommendations, and a transcript of personal achievements and activities.For further insights, and comparisons between the UK and US education systems, see our Guide to International Education & Schools

Shifting the focus from school grades to self-belief

At a time when parents are worried about the pressure piled on their children as they strive for the exam grades they need to access the best universities, research that makes a strong case for ‘self-efficacy’ has been revealed.Nicola Lambros, deputy head of King’s College The British School of Madrid, presented at the COBIS National Conference the findings of her research, which should reassure relocating parents. She explained that schools needed to build students’ self-efficacy (defined as a belief in one’s ability to succeed in a situation or accomplish a task), so their belief in both their academic abilities and their self-regulatory capabilities (their ability to organise themselves, stay focused, and be disciplined in their studies) was very important. Building self-efficacy by ensuring young people loved learning and had “a really strong growth mindset” would result in good grades, she said. Lack of self-efficacy, on the other hand, could lead to a host of problems, including underachievement, childhood depression, dropping out of school and education, and, ultimately, lack of career success. Watch her video interview with Relocate Magazine here

Education that meets future skills needs

Barnaby Sandow, principal of Brunei’s Jerudong International School, believes that better engagement with employers could help schools to understand future skills needs.“I think that, very often, employers are thinking of what they want in terms of vocational training and the specifics of doing the particular job they’re recruiting for. I believe it’s key that we teach children the thinking skills to solve problems themselves, because we don’t actually know what problems they will face when they go out into the world.“Six years ago, the iPad didn’t exist. In another six years, the first children coming into my secondary school will graduate, they’ll come out into the world – and we don’t know what that world will look like.”Find out more in Barnaby Sandow’s video interview with Relocate Magazine

Relocation hotspots

Relocate’s education guides provide practical advice on admissions changes and challenges across relocation hotspots worldwide, including destinations in the US, APAC, the UK, and particularly Europe as employers consider the implications of Brexit.

The Netherlands

As Brexit negotiations gather pace, the Netherlands is one of the countries emerging as a possible location for companies moving employees from the UK. It’s good news, then, that relocating there is relatively easy. The education options on offer are one of the attractions, with even the state system offering an international-style education.Relocate spoke to Kieran Earley, CEO and principal of the British School in the Netherlands. “This is an interesting time,” he said, “because there are potential growth areas, with companies potentially moving across from the UK, so we have to be responsive to that. The economy is strong, and it’s a very stable, sensible country that’s doing a lot of great stuff.”Mr Earley is very aware of the importance of having good contacts with local businesses that can potentially offer students business experience or internships. “You need to be connected with your local community. You need to be finding out what’s happening and where, and we’re determined to do that.”Watch a video of our interview with Kieran Earley here.


The education choice in France is likely to fall between state-run local schools and fee-paying private or international schools. However, the integration of expat children into the French system can prove challenging, not only because of language issues but also as a result of teaching methods that are more rigorous than those of many other countries.The long school days and a different perception of the teacher’s role and authority can also be difficult for expat children to accept, explains Martina Meinhold, founder and owner of Paris-based Management Mobility Consulting, a past winner of Relocate’s award for Best International Destination Services Provider.France has around 110 international schools. In Paris and its western suburbs, parents have a wide choice, but this is not the case throughout the country. IB schools can be found in Lyon, Nice, Aix-en-Provence and Sophia Antipolis, near Nice, Ms Meinhof says.


Germany is leading the way in the EU economy, and is one of the countries most likely to receive a flow of relocatees from organisations ranging from banks to automotive. It offers plenty of education choices for relocating families.With elections coming up, potential contenders for the Chancellor’s role are emphasising the importance of the German language, even suggesting that English could lose its status as the preferred language for business. If this happens, relocating families may want to seek out international-school options.Find out how Munich’s Bavarian International School inspires and challenges young minds and supports relocating families.

Republic of Ireland

As a result of Brexit, Ireland may become more popular as a relocation hotspot. The latest Cartus Market Watch report for the country provides some useful guidance on education. In Ireland, preschool begins at age three, primary education at five, and secondary at 12. The academic year runs from September to June, and the majority of schools are state funded and of a high standard.International schools in the capital, Dublin, include the International School of Dublin (offering the IB Primary Years Programme) and St Andrew’s College (offering the IB Diploma Programme). There is also the Lycée Francais d’Irlande (offering the French Baccalauréate) and Sutton Park, which is associated with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.Also in Dublin, St Killian’s German School follows the Irish primary-school curriculum and teaches German (prior knowledge of German is not a requirement). Nord Anglia International School is due to open in the city in 2018.Availability of places at both state and private schools can be low. We recommend that families research online before a school-search trip begins, so that applications can be made as early as possible. It is also a good idea to shortlist two or three schools, in case the first choice has no space.As state schools provide places based on catchment areas, assignees will need to find a home in the chosen school’s catchment area first and then apply for a place. However, living in the catchment area does not guarantee a place.


Relocate asked Jonathan Massey, headteacher of The New School Rome, for his views on the effect Brexit is having on parents and the school. The school has about 220 students, just over half of whom are from Italian families seeking a British education.“I think there is a degree of uncertainty about Brexit and its impact on the UK,” said Mr Massey. “At the moment, families are raising the issue during enrolment interviews – asking what plans we have for post-Brexit, whether universities in the UK will still accept students from European countries, whether the fees will remain the same.“It hasn’t affected our enrolment yet. The British international schools market is very buoyant, and for that we’re grateful.” However, as Italy may be on the receiving end of some organisations choosing the country as an alternative to the UK, potential inbound and outbound families may balance out.

The rise in boarding school popularity

With uncertainty around Brexit and parents having increasingly busy lives and working long hours, boarding can be the best option, so it’s not surprising that its popularity is growing.Ready for the start of the 2017/18 academic year, ACS Cobham International School, in the UK, has opened a new £15 million boarding house that provides world-class facilities for an additional 113 boys and girls, reflecting increasing demand from global families and busy dual-career couples.Many of Britain’s boarding schools have an international reputation that attracts globally mobile families. One such is Sevenoaks, in Kent, a coeducational day and boarding school for students aged 11–18 that was rated ‘exceptional’ in its latest inspection report.Says head of boarding Nichola Haworth, “Many of our parents are expatriate; they work in a vibrant global mix and recognise a similar mix in the make-up of our international boarding houses. Their children are here because they believe the connections that they make will open up a whole world of opportunity in the future.”Weekly boarding and flexi-boarding can offer a tailored boarding experience to suit the needs of individual families. While weekly boarders can opt to travel home at weekends, flexi-boarders can board for part of the week.“Families often choose weekly boarding for the GCSE and sixth-form years,” says a spokesperson for the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), a professional association of heads of leading independent schools. “This is usually to enable their children to concentrate better on their studies by reducing the time spent travelling to and from school, and by giving them full access to extensive academic and co-curricular facilities throughout the extended boarding day.”

Education consultants

These experts provide a range of services for relocating parents. Some of the leading consultants are:Bowker Consulting, Education, www.crimsoneducation.orgEducatus, Education, Educational Consultants, www.gabbitas.comAnnebet van Mameren, Associates,
Relocate Magazine front cover Autumn 2017
Read more about education choices for relocating families in the Autumn issue of our magazine
For related news and features, visit our Education & Schools section. Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  Get access to our free Global Mobility Toolkit Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centre© 2017. This article first appeared in the Autumn 2017 edition of Relocate magazine, published by Profile Locations, Spray Hill, Hastings Road, Lamberhurst, Kent TN3 8JB. All rights reserved. This publication (or any part thereof) may not be reproduced in any form without the prior written permission of Profile Locations. Profile Locations accepts no liability for the accuracy of the contents or any opinions expressed herein.