Moscow is a vibrant, growing city with plenty to offer expat families, including a viable choice of schools and numerous kindergartens.
There are now four main schools that cater to the needs of the native English-speaking community in Moscow: the well established Anglo-American School (AAS), which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2009, the British International School (BIS), the English International School (EIS), which opened in 2006 and the International School of Moscow (ISM), which opened in 2007. There are some nation-specific schools such as the Swedish, Korean, French and German schools which cater for speakers of their own nationalities.
Although some of the schools still claim to have waiting lists, this is not necessarily the case due to the high number of expat families that left during 2008-2009. However, fees remain high and places continue to be filled.
Special Education Needs
Unfortunately Russia overall isn’t as well set up for special education needs as in other countries, lagging well behind the UK or US. Language is also a problem and, as the international schools are reasonably small, they are only set up to a certain extent for SEN. Parents with SEN children should seriously do their homework before committing to moving to Moscow.
Entertainment of Small (and Large) Children
It is worthwhile taking entertainment and after-school activities into account as well. A child who is used to a house and garden may end up living in a high-rise apartment block. In this case, you will need to ask what sports and extra-curricular activities are provided year round by your child’s school as these become crucial in terms of diversion and boredom distractors. Although there are many sporting activities offered in Moscow, most expats don’t speak the language and therefore won’t be able to interface with trainers and sports club administrators in order to take advantage of their services. Thus it is crucial that your child have his or her fill of activities and sports while at school, otherwise you will end up with a bored child exhausted from spending too much time in a car.
Increasingly, your choice of school will depend on where you live as children are spending more and more time commuting and the traffic situation is getting worse by the month. You must ask yourself how long you wish your child to spend in a car in traffic jams when you consider where you are going to live. And the traffic in Moscow is terrible. Multiple lanes of traffic can become so encamped, with no exit or end in sight, that it is not unusual to see trucks and cars taking to the pavements - and alarmed pedestrians scuttling out of the way as this irregular new traffic lane develops! The GSGI editor (another Harriet) saw traffic sit so long one day in downtown Moscow that an entire tourist coach had time to send an emmissary into a traffic island kiosk to procure beer for everyone on board.
AAS is adjacent to the Pokrovsky Hills compound. Rosinka is another gated compound about half an hour or more from AAS and closer to BIS, but which is served by a dedicated school bus. EIS is the only school easily reachable by Metro. School buses are provided by all the schools at extra cost. You are strongly advised to visit the schools to see which suits you better before selecting where you live. It would also be a very good idea to do dummy school runs during weekdays at pick up and drop off times to test how long it takes to get to the school. You don’t want your child coming home after two hours in the car, still having to face homework.
School Summaries (in order of opening):
Anglo-American School (AAS)
AAS has settled very nicely indeed into its own purpose-built campus and seems to go from strength to strength, currently building an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a new drama theatre, offering the best facilities and resources of all the international schools. More of an American school in terms of curriculum, organisation and culture, it offers Kindergarten to Grade 12 and follows the US college preparatory curriculum, up until Grade 11 where students can follow either the US or the IB programmes. Much emphasis is given to sport and travelling: for instance, basketball, football teams are selected to represent the school with similar Eastern European schools at Kiev, Prague, Warsaw and Budapest as well as schools further west.
Public speaking and Model United Nation teams are sent to places such as Helsinki, Egypt and the UK to represent their school. This gives the children great exposure to the outside world as part of a school team, but bear in mind that not all children are selected, and that the trips cost extra. The school offers a strong sense of community with lots of events, such as a Discovery Week soon after the start of the school year where children are sent to several destinations as part of a bonding exercise, which can certainly help to break the ice for a child new to the school.
There are many opportunities for parents to meet other parents through social events, but on a more day-to-day level, there’s the comfortable and well-supplied school canteen (cappuccino pretty good!). The school organises lunches for mothers and regular coffee mornings. Much attention is paid to communication between parents and staff and weekly newsletters are sent out by e-mail as well as a monthly newsletter. Parents can also be involved with the school as substitute teachers.
The Elementary School follows the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) Primary Years Program (PYP) for students aged 3 to 11. Middle school has chosen not to follow the IB MiddleYears Programme, as it is deemed to still be in development. Instead, the school has customised its own syllabus with inputs from British, American and Canadian syllabi, in accordance with the school’s sponsors - the British, American and Canadian embassies.
British International School (BIS)
The British International School from Kindergarten to Year 13 follows the National Curriculum but the GCSEs taken in Years 10 and 11 are actually International GCSEs (IGCSE) which are said to be superior from the GCSE offered in the UK. This is because there is no coursework component and the final mark is based on the exam only. Therefore there is no opportunity to ‘cheat’ with extra unauthorised help during coursework and the exam is more rigorous. Many independent schools within the UK have considered changing from the GCSE to the IGCSE because it requires more rigour. At Year 12 and 13, either A levels or IB are offered, though most students opt for IB. The several campuses of the British International School family are restricted as they are situated in former Russian school buildings on generally small sites, with the exception of the Rosinka campus.
The British International School has several locations depending on whether the school is primary or secondary or Russian or English National Curriculum. IB is offered only at the Southern Campus. The newest campus, School No 9, opened in 2007 and is purpose-built with a gym, assembly hall/theatre and adequate outdoor playground space. Though there are several BIS campuses, there is no system of inter-campus relationship. Overall, the school is popular with non-native English speaking parents who want their children to learn English.
There is a PTA but parent involvement is regulated. The administration and parent communication is not as organised as would usually be expected from a British school and there is a limited feeling of school life culture with few school trips. Lunches are included in the school fees and seem to be one of the more popular school provided lunches in moscow.
English International School (EIS)
EIS follows the English National Curriculum and is located in a campus to the east of Moscow’s centre, at the end of the yellow Metro line. Since 2009 the school offers A Levels, providing education from ages 3 to 18 (IGCSEs at age 16). The school has adequate outdoor facilities for sports and games but uses a nearby centre for swimming. The Head is active with the expat community in Moscow and has developed strong links with local schools in their area, as well as the other international schools, for football matches etc. There is a good sense of parent involvement and a friendly family feeling throughout the school overall. Events such as Russia Culture Week are organised in addition to a popular summer school programme.
International School of Moscow (ISM)
ISM is the newest international school to open that follows the British curriculum. The school is built on a limited area with several low rise school buildings connected by underground passages. The outside play areas are limited but the school organises sports at facilities nearby. The administration department is small and school matters are fairly regulated by the Headmistress and administration head (a husband and wife team who are due to leave Moscow in 2010 when a new Head will be appointed). A school bus system covers many areas; as with many of the international schools, ISM is located fairly far from the centre of Moscow. A reasonable range of after-school activities is offered. Home provided lunches are not allowed as the expensive catered school lunch is mandatory (although not particulary popular with the children!). The school calendar is busy with different events organised in house and externally: school trips, sports days, performances etc. The school has one of the larger proportions of native English speakers in their classes, with a certain degree of English language proficiency required for acceptance in addition to academic testing before acceptance for certain years/ages.
The Moscow Youth Soccer League runs an annual nine week football league on Saturday mornings from late August to October, open to expat boys and girls aged 5-18 for a small fee. The season’s opening is announced in The Moscow Times. It is a useful way to meet children and parents from other schools.
A Saturday morning basketball league is held at AAS and open to all children for a fee, from late November through to January/Feb with a break for Christmas. Finally, a very popular baseball league open to all children is held at the AAS on Saturday mornings. In all cases, contact the school for further information.
- The Children in Moscow guide is now available online, as is the latest Living in Moscow relocation guide (can be ordered online).
- The British Women’s Club (BWC) runs a Family Network group for children (ages 0-12+) of members who should be either British passport holders or spouses of British passport holders. They hold regular meetings and activities throughout the year for BWC members and their families, a weekly Toddler Swimming group (ages 0-5+), and a monthly Saturday Club for the 6-12+ group; members can contact each other using the FN contact list. Website: www.bwcmoscow.co.uk, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.