International Schools

many students at desks in school

By World Family Education

The number of English-language international schools is growing rapidly around the world. In many countries, the term “international school” covers both schools that are run by international staff for international students and schools that are run by local staff using international curriculum with a largely local student body. So when researching schools, make sure to look at this distinction.

OVERVIEW

Benefits of International School Education
  • It frees parents from some educational responsibilities.
  • Students have access to school-related activities.
  • School typically has high academic standards.
  • School often has comfortable and positive learning environment.
  • There is opportunity for like-experienced international community.
  • There is generally an accepting community for new families.
  • Potentially there is a smoother cultural transition than local schools.
  • School uses major international language (usually English).
  • School likely has good communication with parents.

Potential Difficulties of International School Education
  • Cost of education is high.
  • Location is usually tied to a major city.
  • Students needs to be proficient in school’s language of instruction (usually English).
  • Family needs to be intentional about engaging local culture outside the school’s “bubble.”
  • School’s academic standards may be higher than your past experiences.
  • Transportation could be a challenge in a large city.
  • The community’s transiency can cause stress as relationships are lost.
  • Discipline may be viewed and implemented very differently than expected.
  • There may be cultural and peer pressures that are different than previous experience.
  • Unique culture of school may create daily cross-cultural transitions for families.

Things to Consider
  • Do you have goals for local language and culture acquisition, and how will you meet those?
  • What are your goals for academics, and will the school enhance the chance for higher education?
  • How well do you know your child’s personality, temperament, learning styles, motivation, and health status?
  • Do you have a reliable way of knowing when your child is under stress or discomfort?
  • Will your child need support or tuition to meet the school’s instructional language standards?
  • Does the school offer support for culture and language acquisition, such as tutoring or mentoring?
  • Does your child have any special learning/behavioral needs, and can the school meet those?
  • What cultural transitions will your child face each day going between home and school?
  • Will you need to supplement learning in your home language, and how will you do that?
  • What will the daily commute to and from school look like?
  • What worldview and philosophical approaches to education will be different from those in your home country?
  • Have you talked to community members and school parents about the reputation and quality of the school?
  • Does the school offer a transition period with flexibility and leniency in grades and policy?
  • Does the school maintain the facilities and provide a safe environment?
  • How much will you as a parent be able to participate in the classroom if needed?
  • What will the visa situation look like?
  • How will you pay for school fees?

Curriculum

Curriculum in international schools varies widely but usually reflects the educational system of the home country of the original founders. This means that many schools model the UK system, and many model the U.S. system. A growing number of schools use the International Baccalaureate (IB) system. Many schools also develop a hybrid curriculum based on their country’s national curriculum.

It is important to understand curriculum used by the schools you are researching and consider outcomes you desire for your kids. That includes what educational system they will transfer back into later in life. Visit the International School Curriculum Options page at World Family Education.

One of the big draws to an international school is the complete package most will offer, including after-school activities and sports. Some will include these in the tuition and fee schedule, but many will charge extra for some of these activities.

School Culture

International schools create a unique cultural context that blends local and international cultures. But these schools also have a special cultural element that exists when international families create a community. The culture in the school is usually so unique that most students will transition between two cultures each day as they go from home to school and back again.

Read more about coping with Transitions at the World Family Education page about that topic.

You can learn much about a school’s culture by looking at its mission statement. A school’s mission statement contains handcrafted wording that should reflect its values and goals, and is the focal point from which all decisions at the school are made. You should reflect on whether or not those values mirror the values that you have as a family.

Most international schools are secular. However, many schools originally meant for children of international religious workers now function as international schools but maintain a religious environment to varying degrees.

If possible, make a visit to the school(s) you are considering — this may be the key to deciding which one offers the best environment for your child. A number of parents we’ve talked to made their choice after touring the campus and discovering that the school “just felt right.”

If your child needs extra assistance for physical, emotional, or learning needs, it’s vital to investigate the support available at the school you are considering.

Interviews & Academic Placement Testing

Some international schools require an interview with you and your child as part of the admission process. They may also administer an academic placement test to ensure that your child enters the school prepared academically for his or her grade level. The school may test preparedness for specific core subjects, such as math and reading.

Be sure to accurately share information that the school requests about your child, and allow your child to take placement tests on their own without any help. It’s in your child’s best interests to be as honest as possible about their academic strengths and weaknesses so that the school can support their success.

Support for Special Needs

If your child needs extra assistance for physical, emotional, or learning needs, it’s vital to investigate the support available at the school you are considering. Many international schools have a special services department and will help create an educational plan tailored to your child’s needs. But these services will vary greatly between schools.

Read more about educating Children with Special Needs in another culture at World Family Education.

English as a New Language

If English is not your child’s first language, many English-speaking international schools will administer a test to be sure your child can communicate at their grade level in written and spoken English. The school will look at both conversational English and academic English levels. The school may offer, or possibly require, extra assistance in English language learning for your child. Be sure to check with the school to understand their language expectations.

City Life & Commuting

Most international schools are located in cities, so if you are living in a major city, then an international school for your child makes a lot of sense. Sometimes getting around in a major city is a challenge, so you’ll need to consider commute time when looking at schools. Many families choose housing based on school location so that commute time for students is not too much of a burden. Some schools will offer shuttle services, but in most cases you will be on your own to get kids to and from school and activities.

Boarding Programs

Some international schools will offer boarding programs for older students (teens), so even if you do not live in a city, you may be able to send your older kids to a great school through the boarding program. It is really important to fully research any boarding program you may be considering. Read more about evaluating and choosing International School Boarding Programs at World Family Education.

Cost

A good international school education comes with a significant price. In 2017, ECA International calculated the global mean for international education to be USD $15,363 per child per year. China came in the highest with an average annual tuition cost of USD $39,581.

International Schools Database offers a nice resource for finding and comparing internationals schools, and they present a nice statistical breakdown of international education costs in some of the world’s major cities (2018 analysis).

Many people live internationally while working for a company that provides for the cost of international education, but if you have to cover these expenses on your own, it can be overwhelming.

Visa Considerations

For those who do not have a work visa or other long-term visa in the host country, consideration of the visa requirements and process will be critical. Many countries offer visas for students and parents enrolled in international schools, but this is not always the case.

Make sure to have a clear understanding of the visa situation by talking directly with the school you are considering. They will have the best and most up to date information on visas.

Other Details to Consider

  • When evaluating the quality and appropriateness of an international school, consider the school’s accreditation credentials. Make sure that it not only in good standing with the local education department, but also is accredited internationally by a well known and recognized accreditation organization appropriate to its curriculum. See the most widely used international accrediting bodies at International School Accreditation at World Family Education.
  • Look at the school’s history and founders and consider its stability and its reputation over its history.
  • Look for internal surveys that look at parent and student satisfaction. These are often published publicly, or made available to prospective students.
  • Take some time to look through the school’s social media presence to get an idea of the community it represents (keep in mind schools will present the best side publicly).
  • If you can find alumni stories and discussions, you can learn a lot about a school by how former students feel about it.    

Finding Schools

None of these sites is comprehensive, but each has a large selection of schools.

Choosing an International School

International schools: A growing choice — Information from Expatica about the growth of international schools.

How do I choose a good international school? — Also from Expatica, advice for selecting an international school.

Benefits of studying in an international school — Why international schools are a great option, from Study International.

Expatriates: Choosing the best international school — International Citizens offers suggestions for choosing a good school.

How to find the right school abroad for your expat family (for U.S. citizens) — Amy McElroy at Noodle describes the different options for U.S. families living internationally.

How to find the right international high school for your children — International Citizens takes a look specifically at international high schools and selecting the right one for your child.

Helping kids adjust to school in the U.S.A. (for non-U.S. citizens) — A description of the U.S. school system and challenges for international students adapting to it, from International Citizens.

Special Needs

Comprehensive list of Overseas Schools Offering Support to Children with Special Needs (pdf by the U.S. State Department for U.S. military families) — A wonderful resource for finding a school in your location that accommodates special-needs children. Information is useful for families of all nationalities.

Types of Curriculum

The Major International School Curriculums — Learn about types of international school curriculum at World Education News & Review.

International Schools – Understanding the Differences — The International Educator describes the different kinds of international schools from a teacher’s perspective.

Exploring curriculum options — Relocate Magazine examines different types of international school curriculum.

British National Curriculum

The education system in England — Relocate Magazine describes the British National curriculum.

United States Curriculum

The US education system explained — Relocate Magazine looks at curriculum from the United States.

International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate: developing enquiring minds — Relocate Magazine explores the International Baccalaureate program.

Study abroad: The International Baccalaureate Diploma — Expatica looks at the International Baccalaureate program.

Transitioning Between Different Kinds of Curriculum

Managing the challenges of moving between school curricula — Relocate Magazine describes some of the difficulties for students transferring between U.S. and British national curriculum.

American Public School to IB: Our Experience in the MYP Program — The Wander Blogger shares the personal story of her children’s transition from the U.S. school system to an International Baccalaureate program.

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