How to Choose an International School (Part 2)
Updated: May 29, 2022
In Part 1 of this article, we examined two factors when choosing an international school, namely the differences in having international students & staff vs. local students & staff.
In this Part 2, we will take a look at three other points to consider when deciding your priorities and preferences in choosing your next international school:
Non-profit vs. for-profit schools;
What curriculum is offered; and
How much assistance is offered (from the HR department to in-class support for teachers).
Non-Profit vs. For-Profit schools
A non-profit school is one where all tuition income is invested back into the school’s operating budget. They often have a board of directors made up members of the parent community who are elected by parents and sometimes school staff for a one- or two-year term. There can also be certain board members who are appointed by the ambassador, if the school is affiliated with a particular embassy. In certain schools, a faculty member may also play a key role, representing school staff as a member of the board of directors. Non-profit schools’ major investments are usually faculty retention and professional development, facility improvements and expansion, and school resources. Salary pay scales and annual budget & expenditures are often transparent and published with non-profit schools.
For-profit schools may have some of the characteristics as outlined above, but also have the directive to earn money for the school owners, investors and/or board of directors. This results in tuition income being split between the school operating budget and private bank accounts. In some cases, this can result in lower teacher salaries, no budget for professional development, limited classroom resources, and low staff retention. Salary pay scales and annual budget & expenditures are rarely transparent with for-profit schools. In fact, faculty contracts might state that disclosing your salary to another employee of the school is grounds for dismissal. For this reason, salary negotiation is vital before signing any contract with a for-profit school.
What Curriculum is Offered
These days, there is a wide variety of curriculum offered in international schools, often becoming a major marketing component for both parents and faculty choosing between different schools. For many, the gold standard is the International Baccalaureate (IB), originating from an organization in Switzerland that seeks to equalize the final two years of high school with externally-graded exams. An IB diploma allows graduating students to be accepted at a growing number of universities around the world. In recent years, the Japanese government has expressed its intention to convert its high schools to IB schools, with the goal of reaching 200 IB schools by 2023. Schools with the IB DP can also include the Primary Years Program (PYP) and Middle Years Program (MYP) for grades 1-10 (ages 6-16).
There are also schools that provide other countries’ curriculum, all offered in English:
British curriculum including the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and/or A-levels,
American curriculum such as the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) also offering Advanced Placement (AP) courses,
Canadian curriculum in the form of BC-, Alberta-, Manitoba- or Ontario-certified school programs, and
Australian curriculum, amongst others.
In addition to offering these international curricular programs, schools may also be mandated to offer their country’s national curriculum in tandem. This can become quite challenging for the international teacher, who may be completely unfamiliar with the national curriculum. Planning for the school year can prove to be especially difficult if those national curricular documents are not readily available in English.
How Much Assistance is Offered
International schools often have HR departments that are charged with the on-boarding procedures for new faculty, such as helping them with work visa applications, flight reservations, receiving of shipment of household goods, apartment searches, furniture installation, medical insurance registration, and obtaining a local bank account, a residence permit, a driver’s licence, etc.
In some cases, schools might have a “New Faculty Coordinator” whose role it is to help answer new faculty’s questions prior to arrival and smooth their transition to the new country and school. These coordinators might arrange for cultural and shopping trips, language courses, and orientation activities in the first weeks of arrival.
Something else to consider is the amount of support teachers get in their classrooms. Oftentimes, local staff are hired as educational or lab assistants to help with classroom supervision, transitions (moving students from one classroom to the next), lesson prep, translation, and small group learning. On the one hand, this help can be beneficial for time constraints, language assistance, and offering a local cultural context. But it can also be quite daunting for a new teacher to find themselves tasked with supervising the daily workload of one or two staff members.
It's fundamental to consider many factors before choosing your next international school. Doing thorough research and knowing what to expect before applying at a new school becomes vital for a future successful move. Still not sure where to look for a new teaching position overseas? Check out my recent blog posts:
"Choosing your Next International Destination" - Four things to consider when choosing your next destination;
"Where to find an International Teaching Position" - Three places to look for a teaching job overseas; and
"How to Find an International Teaching Position" - Six steps to finding an international teaching job.
Be sure to first contact Jacqueline at JPMint. Consulting to help you put your best foot forward when you are ready to start applying. There are many services available to help your candidacy stand out and land you the job you have always wanted.