IPSEF 2024 – Inside information

Delegates at last week’s IPSEF Global Conference gained valuable insights into new and emerging international school markets and how to successfully navigate them.

Emerging markets for British international schools, the importance of early childhood education and why having a clear AI policy is vital, were just some of the subjects covered at the action packed IPSEF Global Conference 2024 held in London last week.Over 200 global delegates with an interest in international education came together for a lively and informative programme including investors, heads of school, lawyers and education consultants. Speakers included Ashwin Goel of L.E.K Consulting; Ivor McGettigan, head of education at UAE law firm Al Tamimi; Freddie Coke from ISC Research; Anita Gleave, CEO of Chatsworth Schools and senior executives from the international operations of Wellington, Reigate Grammar,  Ardingly College and Charterhouse.“The speakers and panels were hugely informative but the real power of the day came from the participants meeting together to share expertise and network,” said chair and RSA Academics education consultant Jonathan Hughes D’Aeth.The conference kicked off with a compelling reminder from Darren Coxon, former education director of Brighton College and founder of CoxonAI on why every school should be taking AI seriously: “We are at a tipping point,” he said, “it’s time to get serious. AI literacy is so important and we need to make sure our young people control it, not the other way round. Every school needs its own three-year AI literacy curriculum and policy that comes from the head or CEO.”

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The keynote speech from Ashwin Goel, a partner at L.E.K Consulting provided valuable intelligence on K12 market trends and opportunities for British schools abroad. According to L.E.K, the market is expected to grow at a steady rate driven by growing affordability and a parental preference for both an international and Anglophone education. L.E.K’s research indicates global markets will need 500 new premium schools over the next five years. “Look for markets growing fast that are highly utilised – these have the most unmet mends,” advised Goel. These include Middle Eastern markets such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Asian markets including Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. He advised against expansion into China due to its lack of growth and India because its low pricing is not supportive of premium K-12 schools.As one of the most buoyant markets for British international schools,  the Middle East was a major focus of the conference. A session on setting up an international school in Saudi Arabia, sponsored by law firm Al Tamimi & Co, provided information on market growth in Riyadh following the Regional Headquarters Programme, designed to encourage multinational companies to establish their regional headquarters in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), specifically in Riyadh, to serve operations in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).“There is an insatiable demand for education in KSA,” said Ivor McGettigan, partner and head of education at Al Tamimi: Saudi Arabia will need an extra 1.2 million school places by 2030. “Saudis have a bias for UK and US education – a lot of the population was educated there.”A panel session on the Middle East reaffirmed its attraction for British schools looking to expand internationally. “The appetite for British education in Riyadh is incredible,” said Sean Davey, global business director at Reigate Grammar school International, which has one school in Riyadh and another due to open another in September, along with the first British school in Sharjah. Opening in the region has its challenges, cautions Davey: “Developing strong relationships is vital, it’s not about taking, but about giving too. You need to be genuine, flexible, involved and adaptable -  and to look for solutions, not problems.”The eagerly anticipated session on emerging markets reinforced some solid locations and introduced new areas to consider. Freddie Cloke, head of school development at ISC Research identified the most growth in markets in Asia, specifically Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam with emerging markets in Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt. “These areas all show strong economic growth, rising middle classes and influx of expats and favourable government policies,” he said. Anita Gleave, CEO of Chatsworth Schools, reminded delegates that there is more to Saudi Arabia than Riyadh – “The KSA is not just Riyadh,” she says. “It is the land of opportunity and the speed of change is staggering. It is an emerging market with traction.”Pam Mundy, executive director, Pam Mundy Associates highlighted the importance of early years education and the opportunities for expansion. This makes total sense with increasing numbers of dual career couples often reluctant to take up an international assignment plus demand from local parents. As she pointed out, whoever takes the child by the hand takes the parents by the heart. As she explained, we hear a lot about future schools but the future is now not tomorrow. The children who are in schools right now, some of them will be a chief executive by 2044. There is incredible amount of skill in a very small child and an incredible amount of ability that we don't always recognise. Her pitch to investors and schools was to recognise the power of engaging with parents and take them with you because the quality of education you take into another territory is really important.A session spotlighting the US also identified potential growth markets for British schools, particularly in Florida, the San Francisco and LA areas and Latin America. “It is a market where private high schools dominate and parents are used to paying significant fees,” said Alex McGrath, founder and  managing director of Castlegate Education which helps UK schools expand internationally. “There are particular opportunities for acquisition in the US, for British schools to take over schools which are poorly run and managed.”Other sessions at the conference covered designing a school from scratch and lessons learned from those schools which have expanded into India.

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