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How to choose an international school

When a family moves to a new country, it will inevitably cause upheaval, but one of the main concerns for parents will be choosing the right school for their child. Of course, experienced expats, will have more idea about what to look for when choosing an international school. For families moving abroad for the first time, selecting the right school can be stressful, with parents naturally anxious to make the right decision.

For younger children, the task, although challenging, is easier as there is less riding on the decision. For parents selecting a British international school in Hong Kong, exam results could shape their child’s future, so making the right choice is vital. For this reason, we have decided to produce an article that is tailored specifically for families who are moving abroad for the first time rather than experience expats. Here are our tips for what to consider when choosing an international school.

Be honest about your child’s strengths and weaknesses

You should always try to choose an international school which will be more tailored to your child’s interests and abilities. For example, if your child excels at music or science, you should ensure that the school has excellent facilities in these areas, whereas if these areas are your child’s weakness, they become less of a priority. Students that are generally strong academically need to go to a school where they will be challenged and not held back by others to reach their potential.

As parents, we all believe that are child is excellent at everything, and sometimes we have aspirations for them that either don’t match theirs or are beyond their realistic capabilities. You, therefore, need to consider personality traits such as how they would respond to being separated from siblings or how they react to pressure and stress. School reports and test results will indicate academic abilities and personality traits outside of the home, which can help you draw up a shortlist.

The final decision on school should be taken by yourself and not your child, although your decision should be based on what is best for their education and future, while not putting aside their happiness.

Do your research!

Ideally, you want to draw up a shortlist of potential schools, so you will need to do quite a lot of research. Look at the school’s website, read reliable review pages and forums and if possible, speak to other parents. Your employer may offer some advice and suggestions as they will already have experience with other expats being in the same position. We would suggest producing a spreadsheet that includes all the criteria that will affect your final decision, such as fees, facilities and, of course, proximity to your new home.

Visit the school

We appreciate that this is not always possible if you are moving to a new country for the first time. However, some families will make a preliminary visit to find accommodation, meet their employer or just get a feel for their new country. If this is something you can do, this would be the perfect time to visit the schools, ideally with your child. It will allow you to see the school for yourself, gauge the mood of the students and teachers, as well as inspecting the facilities, particularly the ones that are of most interest to your child.

Meet the teaching staff

Meeting the headteacher is always a good start, but they will only give you an overview of what goes on in the school. Try to meet a few teachers, particularly those who teach the subjects your child is interested in. They will give you an indication of what lessons will be like, class sizes and what relevant extracurricular activities are available. They may also suggest other independent people who you could speak to who could share their thoughts on the school. 

Finally, it is an opportunity to assess the teaching environment for yourself. Although this is subjective based on gut feeling, we always believe that if you have good or bad initial thoughts about the school, they are usually for a reason. You may not base your final decision on them, but you should consider them.

Do your principles match those of the school?

All schools will have a set of principles that they follow. It may be religion, teaching methods or other values, but if they aren’t in line with your principles, it is likely to cause friction in the long term. The most contentious areas usually surround pastoral care and the school’s discipline policy, so it is worth asking about these issues when you visit the school. Most international schools are superb when it comes to helping new students adapt to their environment, but, again, you may want to check that you agree with their approach.

Employers may have corporate packages

Many large organisations have established contracts with international schools. If your employment package includes tuition fees for your child, effectively, the company will decide which school your child will attend. However, it is worth discussing the matter with your employer’s relocation agents to obtain as much information as possible. There are likely to be some elements of the fees that you will need to pay yourself. Establishing all the facts will give you greater peace of mind and save you from any nasty surprises.

The practicalities

Most international schools will have deadlines by which time you must submit your applications. Often this will involve collating significant amounts of paperwork that must be included with the application. You should apply in plenty of time as more information may be requested. Most international schools will require you to pay an application fee, and transfers from abroad can take longer.

We would suggest that you arrive in your new country at least a week before term starts as this will allow you to make any final arrangements and give your child some time to adjust to their new surroundings. You may also need to arrange time off work for the first few days to ensure that they are settled and get to and from school safely.