British international schools lead through global change

New data from COBIS shows the continued appeal of a high-quality international British education. COBIS members globally are responding to fast-evolving trends in edutech, wellbeing, curriculum and qualification choice, staff and student diversity.

Group of students having international online conference with other students on the screen in the classroom at school

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The global education and schools sector is highly competitive and booming. The British curriculum of A levels, AS levels, IGCSEs and GCSE has long been regarded by parents, schools, employers and international universities as a globally accepted gold standard in international education. The addition of more vocationally focused qualifications, like the BTech, which are becoming more widely accepted by universities around the world, supports the British curriculum’s ongoing international relevance.Indeed, data from membership body the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), which represents more than 400 schools and organisations globally, finds in its newly published 2023 Annual Research Survey schools continuing to deliver and remaining as popular as ever with parents of all nationalities.The survey also shows how COBIS member schools, which educate 200,000 students and employ over 17,000 teachers, are innovating in response to AI, well-being, and the expansion of quality, internationally transferable vocational, as well as academic, qualifications.
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British international schools – strength through diversity

Commenting, Dr Fiona Rogers, deputy CEO and director of professional development and research at COBIS, said: “The findings of the '2023 COBIS Annual Research Survey' show that the sector is continuing to go from strength to strength, but also facing ongoing challenges around wellbeing and mental health, teacher supply, and responding to new developments such as AI."COBIS schools are not standing still, and the report highlights how they are adapting their curriculum and wider offer to continue to ensure that they provide the best possible educational opportunities and support for their school communities.”The survey, conducted in October and November 2023 in partnership with GL Education, is based on 161 respondent COBIS-member schools in 80 countries worldwide. It shows student numbers have increased for the majority of COBIS schools across Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Asia, Africa and the Americas.The combination of highly transferable British curriculum qualifications coupled with an international outlook is appealing to both globally mobile and local families.Among respondent schools, the average percentage of local nationals (including dual nationality) in the student body is 46% while the proportion of UK nationals (including dual nationality) is 15%. The average number of student nationalities per school is 39, ranging from a minimum of one nationality to a maximum of 107.Recognising this rich diversity in their school communities, 80% of respondent schools have invested in progressing their equity, diversity and inclusion intentions across key areas. These include policies and procedures (74%), staff training (72%), curriculum (70%) and student voice (67%).This coincides with a net 19% of respondent schools reporting their workforce has become more diverse. Demographic trends and skills shortages are encouraging all employers to look to new talent pools: 28% of respondent COBIS schools are actively focused on recruiting more diversely to ensure the best possible teaching and support staff to remain competitive and offer high-quality education.The study also found increased focus on recruiting international staff already in-country, training new teachers within schools, and employing newly qualified and early-career teachers more. With around 90% of schools finding recruitment challenging, but 94% confidently able to attract and recruit high-calibre candidates, having diversity as a core consideration is likely to improve overall employee, as well as student, experience and retention.

Student wellbeing – a holistic approach

The link between physical and mental wellbeing and education attainment is well-established and highly relevant. Over the past two years, a majority (61%) of schools have increased their focus on wellbeing within the curriculum.COBIS asked schools what trends they had observed in this arena over the past two years. Reflecting trends in communities at large, schools reported significant rises in wellbeing issues (67%), mental health issues (64%), social and behavioural issues (49%) and unacceptable online behaviour (39%).Almost 90% of schools had a person with designated responsibility for wellbeing in addition to the headteacher. For 20% this was a standalone role, highlighting its significance. For 80% of schools, this role was combined with another.A significant proportion of schools have increased their focus on digital skills/literacy (46%), environmental topics (39%), 21st-century skills and life skills (both 37%) to ensure education and preparation for life.A quarter (25%) of respondent schools teach students how to use artificial intelligence (AI) responsibly, with a further 44% currently considering how to do so. Over two-thirds of schools have offered (or intend to offer) training for staff on AI. A third of schools are considering developing school policies on the use of AI, while others have adapted or are considering adapting existing policies following advances in AI and technology.

Curriculum choice in British international schools

Among all COBIS member schools, among 11 curricula offered overall, international GCSE (97%) and A level/AS levels (53%/40%), examinations remain the most popular. Around 35% of schools offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma, with the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) the awarding body in 26% of examinations. Cambridge Assessment International Education (70%), Edexcel/Pearson (57%) and AQA rank as the most commonly used examination boards by all COBIS schools.In terms of how students are assessed, 25% switched to a new exam board last year, while 17% of schools are broadening the focus of international education. They are adding value to their secondary assessments,  recognising student diversity and supporting wellbeing, by introducing or developing a portfolio of super-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities and experiences to encourage attainment in all aspects of education – creative, physical, social, emotional and academic.Around one in ten respondent schools (9%) are also reducing academic and scheduling pressures by decreasing the number of GCSEs students are encouraged to take. Fourteen per cent are responding to diverse needs in their student communities and those of employers to consider offering more vocational qualifications.Again highlighting how a quality accredited British international education is the passport for achievement and success globally, university and higher education remain the most popular choice for British international school alumni. Of the total 5,430 leavers across all responding schools at the end of the previous academic year, 93% went on to university; 45% to university in the UK.

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