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What should parents look for in an international school?

As parents, we all want what is best for children, and one of the main factors is their education. When we are in our home countries, this is something that can be challenging enough, but when you are working overseas, it can cause more headaches. Fortunately, here in Hong Kong, English is widely spoken, and most schools have English programs, so there are plenty of options. However, with the increased choice, you will inevitably get more confusion and uncertainty.

As the leading international school in Hong Kong, we appreciate the concerns that you will be experiencing and always try to be as open and transparent as possible with all parents as well as students. There is nothing worse as a parent than dropping your child off at school and heading to work, worrying if you have made the right choice. However, by considering some of the points in our guide regarding what we think parents should look for, we hope that it will ease some of your fears.

1. Research your options available

Before you can really appreciate what you should look for in an international school, you need to do some general research about what schools are available. Find out what curriculum is taught, where do the majority of the pupils come from, what age groups attend and, of course, how much it will cost per term. Many expat companies include international schooling as part of their package, so the final point for these families is less relevant. Still, if you are self-funding, it could potentially be a huge factor.

You can get a lot of this information by reading forums and by speaking other parents. Try to draw up a shortlist of 3-4 schools and then research them in more depth.

2. If possible, try to visit the schools

If you are based in Hong Kong, or you are planning to visit, we would recommend that you make an appointment to see the schools on your shortlist. It is at this point that you start to be a little more aware of what you should be looking for. As a general rule, if your first impressions of the school are good, your child will probably be happy at this school. However, if you do have immediate concerns and alarm bells are ringing, you may be wise to have second thoughts. Gut feeling is a useful guide, and you know your child better than anyone.

3. How do the pupils appear?

After you have taken your initial gut feeling on board, we would recommend that you take a walk around the school to getting a feeling for the students. Are they smartly dressed and polite, do they seem happy and relaxed? These are all factors that, as a parent, you should observe, where possible try to watch the students both in class and during the breaks as it will give you a better indication of how they interact with teachers and their peers.

Of course, the things that you are looking for is if the children are polite and well-presented it suggests that there is good discipline in the school and that the students take pride in their appearance. Obviously, if the pupils are happy and relaxed in school time, this is a positive sign and needs little explanation.  

4. What is your overall impression of the teachers and other staff members?

We all want our children to be happy at school, but the primary purpose of them being there is to learn. Do the teachers appear knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subject, and are the students enjoying their learning experience? Likewise, what support is offered to pupils who are maybe falling behind or those who are more advanced than their peers? Do the teachers appear happy in their work and generally get along, or is there an undercurrent disharmony? These are all critical factors when it comes to choosing which international school is right for your child.

5. The campus

While the people within a school are the most critical ingredient, the school buildings and facilities also have a significant role to play. When you walk around the school, you should try to take note of the condition of the classrooms, the computer equipment and how well maintained the common areas are. If anything is below the standard that you would expect, this could be a concern as may suggest that the school is being underfunded.

In the best international schools, funding is never a problem, and it enables them to attract the best teachers and have the best all-round facilities for students. Schools that lack financing tend to be inferior and attract lower-quality teachers. Not surprisingly, your child’s education would suffer, and it is common for students and teachers to quickly become disenchanted.

6. Out of school activities

One of the best things about attending an outstanding international school is the extracurricular activities. Most international schools offer plenty of out of school clubs covering a diverse range of interests which most students thoroughly enjoy. At Harrow, we have some superb sports facilities and are always keen to promote other activities, including those connected to music and the arts. As a parent, this is worth noting, as it will help to broaden your child’s education as well as allow them to participate in different things.

7. Your child’s reaction

Finally, the most crucial factor of all from a parent’s point of view, how did your son or daughter react when they visited the school? If your child was very enthusiastic about the school and the opportunities that it would present them, this is great! International schools are likely to be very different from what they will have experienced in the past so, if they are a little uncertain at first, it is best to give them some time to mull things over.

Of course, some schools and students don’t gel together, and as a parent, you must judge if you think it is your child adjusting to the new environment or whether it is a genuine cause for concern. Regardless of if they love or hate the school, it is probably a good idea to get them to elaborate more to ensure that their motivations are appropriate.