Writing and Consulting for The Good Schools Guide International
When it comes to intelligence gathering on behalf of wealthy families looking for a good international school for their offspring, many parents are coming to rely on information gleaned not by a James Bond or George Smiley, but an army of doughty mothers recruited as researchers by the London-based Good Schools Guide [International] to ask difficult questions and probe local scandal, in sometimes dangerous places. Financial Times
We're looking for parents who are (native English-speaking) ex-pats, and who may not be educational professionals but are experienced in looking at and dealing with schools for their own children.
Above all, we are looking for snappy, fun-to-read writers, who write like they talk, can research (through the school materials but mostly from talking to other parents) and then visit a school, and finally combine all of that information and their own opinions into a sharp, interesting, well-constructed review, written in a brisk and even irreverent style.
The editor needs to have the ability to tell about a school truthfully but very much from her own point of view and those of the parents she talks to about it (very important part...the information does not just come from school visits. In fact, the visit is the last part of the puzzle). The idea is to give distant prospective parents an inside view, and information they cannot glean for themselves by just reading the school's own PR materials or the straight regurgitated facts from other guide books.
The Good Schools Guide International covers schools worldwide that cater to the English-speaking expatriate population. It’s published by Lucas Publications, who also publish the UK-based Good Schools Guide. In case you're not familiar with the latter, it’s a breezy, subjective guide written by parents for parents about state, private, junior and senior schools in the UK. The reviews are unsolicited, selected and paid for by the guide and not the school. The decision to review a school is determined well before the school is contacted, largely as a result of parental word-of-mouth and enthusiasm, plus background research of available materials.
Since 'good' can mean many things to parents with all kinds of children, when the GSG says 'good,' it means any school that parents would move to be close to, or change their lives in some way to get their children into it. Reviews are written as if one parent who liked the school were recommending it, warts and all, to another parent...and in such a way that parents can read between the lines to determine whether it is right for their child. It might be an intensely competitive academic school, perfect for the highly motivated overachiever, or it might be a school that does a great job of finding a place for every type of student. The thing is that the parents of the children there really love it.
Lucas Publishing decided to develop an international guide when informal research indicated that there was no guide quite like this available to English-speaking families moving abroad.
Unlike The Good Schools Guide, which started and still is in printed book form (as well as online), the GSGI has been a web site from the very first. Like The Good Schools Guide site, which has free links to every school in the UK, the GSGI site has free links to British, American and international schools in each country we cover.
Access to the GSGI-selected school reviews, country and city expat survival articles, transitioning information and other parents' comments is available only by subscription.
We are looking for knowledgeable parents in various countries who know the schools where they live and can write about them, but who would be willing to advise parents needing overall educational and even cultural advice about the country to which they're moving.
These writers (all called “editors” by the GSGI) work on a freelance basis reviewing the best schools in their countries (or city), and write about them for a flat fee per school. The reviews will be published on the website. In total, each editor is paid to write:
- A write-up on each school the editor - and local parents - deem appropriate
- an overview about the educational situation in his/her host country
- an article about living as an expat in that country
- a list of all local schools expats might choose (good or bad), with contact details and a brief paragraph about each
- these are in addition to serving as that city's GSGI education consultant, as needed (details below)
Generally, one editor covers a city, and writes about all local English-speaking school systems even though the systems can be quite different. Most editors either are, or easily become, familiar with both systems (the American and British being the most different from each other), and are able to write about them with authority.
Briefly the process works like this: Through numerous conversations, an editor ascertains from enough other parents (and their children) that a school really is considered locally to be good. Then he or she talks to parents from the school in question to make sure their opinions live up to local reputation.
If so, the editor schedules a visit to the school, and interviews as many people as possible there (head, teachers, college councilors, students etc). The editor looks at test scores, where students go when they leave (university, or other local schools), how well they make the transition to schools back home or in their next foreign posting, the state of the physical plant, playing fields, loos, computer labs, art studios etc, interprets attitudes and approaches to problems, bullying, drugs etc, and gets a feel for the school culture and atmosphere generally.
She (or he) then writes about the whole school in a forthright, conversational, fun-to-read, even irreverent manner- in fact, exactly as one would chat in person. (If we seem to be repeating ourselves, we are….for emphasis)
This writing style is very important, and is one of the things that sets the GSGI apart from other guides. The write-up is much more observational than straight fact…facts are mentioned in context with comment (as to how this or that policy, required course, lunch plan, etc works, is liked by parents or students, causes problems, etc).
All write-ups will include a link to the school’s own site, where most of the obvious facts (lists of courses, sports, clubs, etc) are already published. Your write-up is full of your observations….it is subjective, independent and only available from the GSGI.
Schools are never rubbished; they're described as clearly as possible so that parents can tell straight out, or read between the lines to determine which is the best one for their child.
Each editor first comes up with a list of all schools catering to English-speaking expats.
We don't choose "the best of a bad lot". We review only the schools we feel compare favorably with like schools in the rest of the world.
If some of the local schools (or even all) are truly bog-standard, or the editor simply cannot find enough parents with children actively attending to develop a reliable picture (the first step before the editor decides whether to make a personal school visit), then she includes them in a list called "Schools Considered by Expats" with a few non-committal sentences describing them.
She also gives parents guidelines in that country's "Educational Overview" as to pointed questions to ask, information as to how other parents have coped, or tutoring required to make up for inferior class work or teachers.
This way, readers don't think we've simply overlooked those schools. But only the best are reviewed (and show up on the list with an GSGI icon to show there is a full GSGI write-up). The full list is available on the free part of the site (with details for a refined search on location and various other features), but the full reviews and articles are only available by subscription.
The important thing is that parents be able to plan for their children's education as well as possible, even if that means there are no good local options in that country (or they’re so good there are endless waiting lists and there isn’t a prayer of getting in), and the parent must turn to home schooling or boarding school….or turn down the posting.
In addition to the writing, editors are available to serve, as needed and as arranged to suit their own schedules, as GSGI education consultants to families who are relocating to their host countries. The advice is usually educational initially, but we have found there is likely to be a need for broader advice on a range of subjects...what it's really like to live there, from someone who was new, too, not so long ago.
The Good Schools Guide International will receive a percentage of 30%, and the advisor 70%. The contact, administration, billing and payments are handled by the GSG office in London. Scheduling and other logistics will be handled between advisor and advisee so as to work out the most convenient and efficient arrangements for both.
Orientation, Training and Editorial Support
Once on board, you will be sent a brief GSGI style guide, list of possible questions for principals and teachers (and students, parents, etc), templates of letters (to heads, schools etc), step-by-step guide and enough other miscellaneous articles to level a small forest, all of which makes it very easy to absorb the GSG culture.
More importantly, there is also as much training, editing and ongoing help from the GSGI office as is needed. No matter how prickly or peculiar the problem, we can usually figure it out.
And Now For Something Completely Different ...
The other two articles each editor is asked to write, mentioned above, are described more fully here:
1.) a general overview about the educational situation in his/her host country:
- how difficult it is to transfer from a type of school system in other countries to the same one in this country;
- how the schools (British, IB, American etc) measure up generally to the best ones in other countries;
- whether tutoring is usually required to help students catch up once they either arrive or leave the country;
- whether going to a local (non-English-speaking) school is an option especially for little children, etc;.
- what transportation or local traffic is like, as it might affect after-school activities, school sports, or family involvement or volunteering, or attendance at school events;
- do children take school shuttles, or public transportation to school;
- which neighborhoods are favoured for which schools;
- whether any of the local state (public) schools are an option (in other words, something you would choose even if you have the budget for one of the local independent schools? So good you would choose it over choices at home or boarding school? Or are they not great but adequate? Or are they so ghastly you should turn down the posting or home school rather before sending your children through the front door?).
That article can be written after several (or all) schools have been visited, by which time the writer should have pretty strong ideas about what general advice and information to give about the whole picture.
2.) an article about moving to and being an expat in that country- not just a Chamber of Commerce white bread description (available in any guide book), but with real info that newcomers need. For instance,
- how do you deal with a trip to the grocery store, and learn how to cook the bizarre things for sale there- not only so your family won't starve, but so you can take advantage of these unusual vegetables and mystery meats.
- What weird things are in the markets? Do the stallholders enjoy the sport of cheating the unaware, or can they be trusted to help newcomers figure out the right money from an extended palm-full?
- Do some stores take credit cards or cheques, or do you always have to have cash?
- How complicated is it to set up your banking arrangements?
- How hard is it to get a phone, or to hook up to the internet? Can you do it at home, or do you have to find an internet cafe?
- What do you do about mobile phones? Pay as you go, or do you have to have a contract?
- How hard is it to get childcare? Domestic staff? Arrange carpools?
- How hard is it to get people to work on your house? How long do you have to wait? Are they trustworthy?
- How is the plumbing in most houses...ancient?
- Do neighbours know each other, and how do you meet new local people, if at all? Are they friendly or guarded (generally)?
- Are local people open to doing play groups, so your children can get to know local children, or are they so family-oriented that they never make real friends outside of that closed circle?
- Do most expats mix only with others of their nationality, or with other expats, and how do they meet? Through church, volunteer activities (like what?), school, the Embassy?
- Do people live in neighbourhoods mixed with locals, or do they live in gated compounds?
- What about clubs….joining private ones or finding expat woman’s organizations?
- How do you deal with healthcare, from basic doctors to emergencies (local hospitals or must you hop on a flight home).
Most of this is not available through guide books, and you - an expat - will know more than anyone what YOU would have liked to know before coming...and what info you're still missing. Some of the above can be incorporated into the school reviews, but you now have an idea of what the GSGI is trying to offer throughout all of its information.
Once you've read through all of this, and particularly studied the style and tone of the school reviews, and still think you would feel comfortable writing in that style (or being bullied and edited by us until you do), then let us know and send a CV and a short writing sample about living in your host city (bearing in mind the chatty, informal style of the guide) to [email protected]
We'll send you the above-mentioned ton of material that will give you a good idea of the general culture of the Good Schools Guide International, style guide, sample letters and questions to head masters, step-by-step guide for doing write-ups, write-up format, etc.