Education in Europe

Helping a family to find a good school in their new location has never been more important. Time and again, research has proved that poor family adjustment is one of the biggest causes of assignment failure. We offer advice from school leaders and education consultants on choosing a school in Europe.

Hastings International School Spain

Hastings International School, Spain

Many of Europe’s state schools are the envy of the world for their high-quality teaching staff and excellent academic results, and the reputation of some of the big-name private and international schools is well known. Finding a home and school that tick all the boxes is no easy task, however, as it is the most desirable – and hence most expensive – locations that often fall within the catchment areas of good schools.Oversubscribed state schools in England, for example, will require families to live nearby if they are to stand a chance of being offered a place, so it’s important to ensure that their chosen home is affordable and falls within the designated area of their chosen school.Likewise, deciding between state schools, independent (private) fee-paying schools and an international school will depend on budget, as well as on other considerations, such as length of assignment and the standard of education available in the area.On a longer assignment or permanent transfer, families are likely to want to make more of an effort to integrate into the local community and concentrate on developing their knowledge of the language, making the country’s state and independent schools an attractive option.

Which school system?

Europe’s state-education systems differ enormously. Students will be required to have a working knowledge of the relevant country’s language if they are hoping to attend a local school, although there are a small number of state-funded bilingual schools in some European countries (the Netherlands, for example), which may also teach in English.School search and education advice - connect with our in-country expertsIf budget allows, relocating families may prefer the option of an established international school. International schools typically provide an English-medium education, often with globally recognised curricula and high standards of teaching and learning. They welcome children of many different nationalities.

A growing demand for school places

Germany, France and the Netherlands are experiencing the most growth in Europe at the moment, with the Brexit deadline pushing some multinational companies to relocate staff out of London and the UK, certain European cities are seeing a growing demand for school places. Deutsche Bank has been block-booking hundreds of international school places in Frankfurt as it prepares to relocate some of its staff and – as a Brexit relocation hotspot – the city is seeing unprecedented demand for school places.International schools in the Netherlands are also at capacity, but this situation is supplemented by an excellent state school system.According to ISC Research the seven current international schools cater for 4,100 students but demand is likely to see schools expanding and new campuses opening. The picture is similar across Europe; with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) relocating to Amsterdam and other organisations doing the same as a result of Brexit, international schools in the Netherlands are preparing themselves for a further wave of applications.Paris is also preparing for an influx of high-earning employees relocating to the city, with an estimate of 10,000 jobs moving, many bringing with them families with school-age children. With banks such as Goldman Sachs and HSBC preparing to relocate staff to the city, the International School of Paris, an IB World School, has already seen an increase in enquiries. With quite fortuitous timing, it opened a new middle school campus in September 2018 catering for an additional 350 students.As the world’s spotlight is firmly on Brexit locations, it is advisable that families on a relocation to the region contact schools as soon as their assignment is confirmed to ensure that they don’t miss out on places. The banks and financial sector are favouring the cities of Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Paris but other industry sectors will have their own preferences based on location and business requirements in particular EU countries. On the eve of Brexit relocation movement is still slow as organisations continue to assess the implications amidst uncertainty.

International accreditation

When it comes to selecting an international school overseas, it is important to look for a school that is a member of a respected organisation such as COBIS (the Council of British International Schools) or CIS (the Council of International Schools) and is accredited. For details of school associations, see our Directories section.

Visit the schools

No matter how much information about their preferred schools families gather in advance, there is no substitute for visiting a school in person.Sue Dunnachie, marketing consultant at Mougins School, on France’s Côte d’Azur, offers some advice on what parents on a school visit should look out for.“Much depends on the atmosphere amongst the staff and students and the welcome one receives,” she says. “Does the admissions department spend time with the family, show an interest in the student as an individual, and give realistic answers to any questions they may have? Is the headteacher prepared to take the time to see you? Are you able to see classes at work and check the school facilities? Is extra tuition given to students for whom English is a second language, or who have some learning difficulties?“How much importance is placed on those subjects that are not purely academic, such as sport, music, art and theatre? It is vital to remember that, although the academic achievements of a student are important, other qualities will form the confident young adult ready to face the challenges which lie ahead.”Typically, international schools are well set up to receive relocating pupils, and have systems in place to help children settle in quickly and painlessly, but this should never be taken for granted.“Moving is an emotional experience and how transitions are dealt with will have a huge impact on the social and emotional aspects of a child’s wellbeing,” says Mary-Lyn Campbell, head of school at Inter-Community School (ICS) Zurich. “The ICS Transition Programme involves the Senior Leadership Team, teachers, staff and the Parents’ Association (PA) and its purpose is to ease the transition and offer students and families a successful start at ICS.”David Willows, director of admissions and advancement at the International School of Brussels, believes that schools are a bit like people. “They all have ‘personalities’, generating a particular feeling or atmosphere, which goes way beyond a simple analysis of the curriculum offered, the number and range of sports teams, or success in getting kids into the best colleges.”He adds, “In the end, the best schools are not out there giving you the ‘hard sell’, even in times of global financial crisis; they are simply wanting to help you choose the best school for your child – even if it isn’t theirs!”

Don’t forget the parents

Sue Dunnachie argues that relocating children are likely to settle and find their feet in their new surroundings faster than their parents, so it is wise to look out for a school with a good support network for the whole family.“Children have a facility to adapt which does not always come so easily to adults,” she says. “As soon as friendships are formed, life becomes easier. It can be more challenging for parents, who are dealing with the daily hurdles of life in a foreign language with which they may not be familiar. This is why a welcoming school which offers pastoral care to the whole family is important.”Parent Teacher Associations are a really helpful way of involving the whole family in the life of the school and introducing new starts to the rest of the community. They are useful sources of advice and information for quickly making the new location feel like home.“Before families arrive, our Parents’ Association (PA) reaches out to offer assistance,” says ICS’s Ms Campbell. “Volunteers connect with new families to answer questions about their children’s transitions to their new classes and assist with neighbourhood questions. Language representatives provide invaluable help with translations and organise a number of events to welcome new families to the community.”In the end, the choice of school will be a personal one, and parents will need to make it based on the individual needs of their child. “Above all,” says Sue Dunnachie, “try to make a change of school and country a positive experience. It will offer the chance to establish lifelong friendships that are rich and rewarding.”
Relocate Guide to International Education & Schools 2019/20 watch the video
This article is from Relocate Global's Guide to International Education & Schools 2019/20 which is packed with expert tips and information for those relocating and the professionals supporting them. 
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