Perhaps, being a haven for just about every global nationality is one of the reasons that London is also home to a great variety of schools, not necessarily fully international, in terms of curricula, but certainly with an international feel.
London is, literally, one of the most expensive places to live in the world and also one of the slowest when it comes to getting from A to B. This means that expats have to be realistic about where they can afford to live and accept that the calming pills, needed to handle the school run, will be an additional item in the budget.
The traditional British, who automatically sent their children to private schools, always chose to live in a narrow range of neighbourhoods, radiating outwards from the western and southern edges of Hyde Park, bounded by the River Thames to the south. A few, mainly more intellectual types, risked living north of ‘The Park’ (Hyde Park), where there has always been, and still is, a good choice of hothouse, academic schools.
Times and prices change and some of the more conventional inhabitants now live in the previously uncharted area south of the Thames or the wastes of west and southwest London. Once there, they and the expats, who have joined them, have the choice of the traffic-laden commute to the majority of international schools in the centre, or to settle for a local alternative.
A few lucky expats, who can afford it, still live in the fashionable school-filled enclaves of Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington or Knightsbridge, where there is the luxury of walking to school or at least only having to squeeze the 4x4 down a well-worn rat run. Alternatively, they choose a slightly more suburban lifestyle and take advantage of the large houses with gardens and the several excellent schools around Wimbledon, Barnes, Richmond and Kingston.
Genuinely international schools (ie those not teaching the National Curriculum for England) are fairly thin on the ground but it only takes a mildly adventurous (expat) spirit to brave the British school system. It can be a bit daunting to get through the application part and some of the best schools are heavily over-subscribed, but once in, the curriculum is reliable, sound and well-known. To make matters even more appealing for the internationally minded, there are almost no schools in London that don't have at least some children from overseas...whether temporary expats or permanent immigrants. So the line between international schools and not-international schools gets blurrier all the time.
Schools with international curricula
We have not included the ones who offer the curriculum of a particular country taught in the students’ mother-tongue (France excepted). Neither have we included the religious schools that teach a different culture as well as curriculum.
Unsurprisingly, as there are so many French families living here, there is a wide selection of French schools in London, of which the largest and best known is the Lycée Francais Charles de Gaulle and its four feeder schools including École André Malraux. Another French junior school, located in west London is École Francais Jacques Prévert.In direct competition, with its established competitor, is the École Jeannine Manuel, a sister school to its huge French counterpart in Paris. Perhaps hoping to spread the ‘entente cordial’ is the tactfully named and fairly recently opened Lycée International de Londres Winston Churchill. Finally there is the College Francais Bilingue, based in Campden, north London as well as others that we have not mentioned.
If you are looking for the International Baccalaureate route, there are several London schools that teach parts of the programme but the most international amongst them include Dwight School London, Halycon School, International School of London, Marymount International School (London), International Community School, London and Southbank International School.
English private schools
Most independent schools in London have a broadly ‘international’ ethos (as do the majority of UK boarding schools), although schools that use the term, such as Hill House International, are rare. In fact, Hill House is really another posh London prep school teaching the National Curriculum for England and the syllabus for the Common Entrance exam (albeit with a high proportion of international pupils).
The proportion of expats varies from school to school but it is rare to find a popular school in central London without at least two or three expats or dual nationality students in each class and, quite often, they equal and, very occasionally, outnumber the students who are 100 per cent British. The curriculum in these schools is almost always the National Curriculum for England, followed by GCSEs and A Levels, with only a tiny number (but amongst them the highly academic King’s College School (Wimbledon), North London Collegiate School and Godolphin & Latymer) offering the IB Diploma.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best international schools in London considered by expats'.
Nearly 40 per cent of London’s population were born elsewhere, so it makes sense that free public schools should automatically be international in approach. The nationalities and backgrounds in the area where you choose to live will have a massive influence on the demographic of the local schools, as entrance is based on the catchment area, drawn around the school.
The more popular the school, the higher the price of the houses that fall into the catchment, which can shrink to a radius of a few hundred yards. Parents often weigh up the savings in school fees against the extra cost of the mortgage, and competition for houses next to the best schools is ferocious. This is understandable because the standard of schools varies enormously and whilst a lot of schools are very successful in both academic and pastoral terms, there are, unfortunately, some shockers to be avoided.