Skip to main content

With over 2,000 international schools scattered across the world, globetrotting parents can work virtually anywhere secure in the knowledge that their accompanying offspring won’t have to compromise their education. In fact, in some locations there will be a mind-boggling choice of international schools all competing to offer a British, American, Japanese, German or some experimental type of schooling you haven’t even heard of. That’s easy, right?  Education worries sorted then! Well, not exactly. Like everything else, you have to research your international schools and prepare your children for what will most likely be a major transformation in their lives.

What are international schools?

Let’s take a look at what international schools actually are. OK, so you are off to Nakhon Nowhere in Thailand and are thrilled to discover that listed amongst the international school offerings, there is a British seat of learning. Does this mean it will be just like the independent or state school you are used to at home in swanky Surbiton, Surrey which does have a few foreign students? Um, not quite.

International schools by their very nature are indeed just that – international – and the only familiar trait to a newly arrived expatriate could be the curriculum they purport to follow. They may be based on a particular education system such as British but the student body might be 60% locals and a polyglot of 40% of some other sixty or so nationalities - a veritable United Nations all gabbling away in a multitude of playground languages, maybe fluent in various levels of English, throwing many different cultural values into the school melting pot. Some of the major ways that international schools differ from schools ‘back home’ are:

  • There is a wide range of nationalities and much mobility amongst families with an emphasis on change, adaptability and multi-language learning.
  • Expatriate teaching professionals are generally on contracts and will remain in posts for a limited time period before moving on, which means there could be a lack of continuity amongst staff.
  • International schools usually have a strong emphasis on extra-curricular activities and serve as a community focus point, which means there is more parental involvement and social interaction than there would be in, say, the UK.
  • There is a greater emphasis on cultural awareness and differences that include the celebrating of many different national events such as religious festivals.
  • Classes may consist of up to twenty-five or so different nationalities with varying levels of English and myriad learning styles.

In some countries, affluent locals own international schools either solely or in partnership with a foreign franchise and such establishments may be run by associations, foundations or as businesses for profit. Management control may be in the hands of a despot (and we don’t mean the principal) who ultimately decides on key appointments, school policy and admission criteria. The management structure will greatly impact the ethos of the school.

In fact, some international schools may be more national than international, being established to cater to wealthy students from the home country that want to follow an English-based curriculum to achieve fluency in English and gain entry to overseas universities. Genuine international schools will have a majority of international students, a multinational board, a well-qualified diverse teaching staff, and follow a curriculum that integrates instructional practices of different national systems.

Although having the word “international” in the name does not automatically make it the case, such schools increasingly offer the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s (IBO) Primary, Middle and IB Diploma and Certificate programmes that draw on the best materials from Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Formally established in Europe in 1965, the IB curriculum gives students an international rather than national perspective in education (see the chapter on education systems). Academically rigorous, the IB is not suitable for all students, some of whom may do better in other systems. Parents need to select a school that will allow easy assimilation back into their home country system.

A genuine international school will promote cultural understanding and respect between the various nationalities through activities that range from celebrations of different festivals to cross-cultural studies. In international schools, teachers should be experienced in teaching in multicultural classrooms where they can create positive relationships with all the students and be sensitive to the group and cultural affiliations of each one.


Related articles

  • Special Needs introduction

    Signs of special needs in school age children; how to get help; which type of school to choose; Education, Health and Care Plans ... Read more ... Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need.  Our SEN team helps…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. One month subscription - £0.49 per day Three month subscription - £0.41 per day Six month subscription - £0.33 per day One year subscription - £0.29 per day Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get an exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs. ☑ Receive our monthly newsletter. For further…

  • Where to find a state grammar school

    Identifying and locating grammar schools. Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools.

  • Schools for children with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.

  • State boarding schools

    If you think your child would benefit from a boarding school education, but are put off by the high fees and consequent limited social mix of a typical independent boarding school, you may find that a state boarding school is the answer

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

 GSG Blog >    In the news >


Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

An Education Manifesto from The Good Schools Guide

Just published - The Good Schools Guide 21st edition - 1200 schools fully reviewed and updated. Buy now