How to make the most of an international school Open Day

Everything prospective parents, employers and relocation professionals need to know when researching and looking around global schools.

The British School in the Netherlands

The British School in the Netherlands

A good way to get a feel for the culture and ethos of a school is to attend an Open Day. Often the school will have talks from members of staff, governors and pupils – with useful advice about admissions policies, school life and academic results – and prospective parents are given a tour of the facilities. This is the perfect opportunity to get a good feel for the school and the type of children it produces. It is also a chance to see the school’s campus and facilities first hand.One of the key ingredients for a successful expatriate assignment is a happy family who feel connected with the community – and the right school plays a huge part in this. Rami Madani, head of school at The International School of Kuala Lumpur, says, “The expatriate experience needs to be a success for the whole family and the choice of school often plays a critical role in contributing to this success, creating an instant community and providing opportunities for involvement. It is therefore vital to thoroughly research, and if possible, arrange a campus tour so that you can meet with key faculty, parents and students and see the school in action. Researching the school’s culture, values and approach to inclusion is every bit as important as understanding the curriculum and academic results.”

Draw up a shortlist

Linda Belonje from KIS International School Bangkok in Thailand suggests doing research online and then making a shortlist of 3-6 schools. She says, “Make an appointment to visit your shortlisted schools. Try to visit during term time, as schools usually do maintenance during the holidays and you won’t be able to see learning in action. Make a list of questions of characteristics that are most important to you and bring this to each of your visits. Ask to be connected to other families at the school so you can also ask them questions.”The main points to consider on a school visit are:
  • Do you feel welcome as you enter the school?
  • Are the staff friendly and confident?
  • Are pupils involved in the school tour? Are the children friendly, polite and confident?
  • Are the school resources well treated and respected?
  • How long has the head teacher been in post? This provides evidence of stable leadership
  • Can parents visit during break or at lunchtime to see how the pupils interact? Do children have a good relationship with staff?
  • Are the administrative staff friendly and helpful? They are the people with whom you will be communicating on a daily basis
  • How does the school communicate with parents? Does it produce regular newsletters? Can you see copies?
  • What are the displays on the walls like? Are there photos of children engaging in interesting activities, such as field trips and community involvement?
  • Will the child have an orientation visit or be given a buddy to help him or her settle in?
  • What extracurricular activities are available and how many of them are free?
  • How much scope is there for involvement in a parents’ organisation? Does the school offer programmes and support for accompanying partners?
David Willows, director of admissions and advancement at the International School of Brussels in Belgium, advises, “Visit each school, meet the people who work there, talk to them about the hopes, fears and expectations you have for your children, and ask lots of questions about the school’s values and philosophy of learning.”

What to look for in an international school

For families who are not familiar with international schools – what they offer and how they work – it can be hard to know what to look for and how to identify the best school for your child. Mark London, head of marketing at ACS International Schools, explains, “With schools based in both the UK and in Qatar, at ACS International Schools we advise parents to plan well in advance and find out as much information as possible about different options – look at school websites, previous inspections and reports, and school directories.” 
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Mr London adds, “Virtual tours of school campuses are useful too, but be sure to visit each school and talk to teachers, staff and existing families in person to get a sense of its true atmosphere. There is a lot to be said for following your gut feeling about where your child will be happy and thrive.  “International schools are also especially well placed to support relocating families on arrival, with resources such as expert school counsellors for each division, family transition teams and ‘buddy’ programmes.”To read more on international schools, see ‘International Schools: what you need to know’

Experience school culture through different channels

Once you have decided upon a school for your child, it is recommended to have more than one visit, to experience different aspects of school life. Joanne O’Connor, community liaison officer at 3e International School, Beijing, says, “While a parent’s typical first impression is gleaned through a school tour, experiencing the school from difference perspectives, such as visiting during a public community event, helps parents gauge a greater feel for the community and consistency of the school philosophy in action. Usually the energy, culture and values of a school are difficult to experience solely via a school tour.”
 Advice on how to apply to a school
Ms O’Connor also offers advice for parents who many not have the opportunity to visit the school before making the decision, for example if they are moving to a different country. She says, “Different perspectives could include phone or email discussions with key admissions, academic, community and management staff, following them on Facebook or WeChat (in China), and viewing their event videos on their website.”Other factors to consider when looking at schools are boarding facilities and curriculum options. For further advice, see below.BoardingCurriculum

For more information on choosing the right school, see our guides: Education & Schools in the UK and International Education & Schools.


For the latest education news, articles and practical advice, see our Education & Schools section.

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