For a city whose name is writ large in the history books, named after Peter the Great and containing some of the most impressive palaces in the world, St Petersburg is somewhat of a backwater, when it comes to international schools.
Capital of Russia for 200 years and a cosmopolitan, western-looking city during that period, St Petersburg has nurtured the giants of Russian literature and the arts and, more recently, Vladimir Putin. Amazingly, despite the almost unspeakable horrors of revolution, siege and tyranny (by both the left and the right), the city is getting back on its feet and regaining some of its former sparkle.
Since the 1990’s, the population has grown to around five million and the re-birth of the city has brought a flow of risk-taking, opportunity-sniffing expats. However, although St Petersburg is closer to Europe than Moscow, the lingering fear of the Russian bear still deters all but a small number of expats from relocating here with their families. Consequently, the demand for an educational programme, taught in English, is still relatively limited.
The Peter and Paul Fortress on the island of Petrogradsky was the first building to rise up on these inhospitable northern marshes and fittingly is the final stop for the Romanov dynasty, who are all (including the last assassinated tsar) buried here. Nowadays, it is also the resting place of three, out of four, of the international schools considered by this guide, the British School of St Petersburg, Brookes St Petersburg and the International Academy of St Petersburg.
All three schools have opened in this century (although the International Academy, in a different guise, first appeared in 1993) but their academic programmes are quite different. The British School, unsurprisingly, teaches an English curriculum (currently, only up to the age of nine but intending to expand upwards), Brookes St Petersburg is a candidate for the International Baccalaureate Primary and Middle Years Programmes and the International Academy offers an adapted American school preparatory programme aimed at US university entrance.
The fourth school, Cambridge International School St Petersburg, is farther to the north of the centre and close to the Gulf of Finland. The students are almost entirely Russian and this is obviously their market (other campuses in Moscow and Tashkent) but they teach an English programme, culminating in A Levels, as well as the Russian curriculum.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in St Petersburg considered by expats'.
Unless one parent is Russian or the language is used at home, it is unlikely that expats will choose a state school, even though it is one of the best mass-education systems in the world, producing a higher literacy rate than most West European countries. Chalk and cheese are close companions compared to Russian and either English or American systems; everything is different, alphabet, language, number of terms, holidays and final qualifications. This means that transitioning from one to another is an enormous ask for most children and not one chosen by many families.
None of the international schools have been established very long and only one (International Academy of St Petersburg) is externally accredited so we can only advise that the ones above have been brought to our attention for parents to consider. We will keep a watching brief on them and hope that we have more reports soon, which will give us a clearer picture of the ones that expats have a good opinion of.