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  • Writer's pictureJ. Mallais

What Makes a Tier-1 School?

What qualities does a school need to have to be considered a Tier-1 school? And who determines whether a school is Tier-1, Tier-2, Tier-3, and so on? In actual fact, these terms are highly subjective and really depend on a great number of factors and the person judging the quality of a school. What qualifies a Tier-1 school for one person might not even matter to another person. So let's examine some possibilities...

Here are TWELVE aspects to consider when determining what makes a "Tier-1 School":

Student Attitude

No one can deny that teaching a group of interested, passionate and dedicated students is a teacher's dream. Many schools make this dream a reality by carefully selecting their student population, even going so far as giving scholarships to local students who show promise. A good question to ask is what are the criteria for a student to join the school?

​Student Achievement

  • How do graduates from the school fare in the real world? Do they go on to become contributing world citizens who accomplish amazing things and give back to society?

  • If applying to universities, are students offered scholarships? Can they be successfully placed at top universities? Do they complete their degrees?

  • A school's integrity plays a pivotal role in Tier-1 status: are students honestly and transparently earning the achievement on their transcripts?

Diversity & Inclusivity

  • Are students and staff an open, welcome and valued representation of the world at large (ex. POC, LGBTQIA+)?

  • Are students with special needs accepted and find the learning support they need to thrive at school?

  • Are non-native English speakers represented both in the teaching staff and the student population, with supports built in for their growth and success?

Investment in School

Is tuition fully being reinvested in school facilities & programs, and teacher retention & professional development each year?

School Improvements

  • Are there improvements made to the school facilities each year, whether it be new buildings, equipment, technology, etc?

  • Are programs being developed each year, such as new course offerings that reflect growing trends, and improvements made to existing ones?

  • Are resources being added to each year, such as library materials, musical instruments, and PE equipment?

  • Is there a feedback loop in place to ensure that the school is constantly building on what they have and reaching higher?

School Prestige

Word-of-mouth and school visits (PD workshops & conferences, sports competitions, accreditation visits) can help reinforce or update a school's reputation around the world. School Leadership teams can also greatly influence a school's standing on the international circuit. What is the school's reputation based on?

Curriculum & School Accreditation

  • Does the school have a set curriculum or framework in place, such as IB, American, British, Canadian, Australian, Singaporean, etc?

  • In addition to having a set curriculum, is there are wide range of courses being offered to reflect the richness of the arts, physical education, and world languages?

  • Is the school accredited through one of the international accreditation bodies, such as CIS, COBIS, MSA, NEASC, WASC, etc.?


  • Sometimes the location makes or breaks a school, and directly affects student and staff health & safety (crime, political upheaval, pollution, medical care). A stable work environment cannot be overlooked. What is the current situation in the school's location?

  • What kind of travel opportunities are there - both domestic and international? How about the potential and ease for family & friends visiting - flights, visas, distance?

  • How will the weather affect the school year? Consider both classroom and home environments.

Assistance & Support

  • ​What kind of assistance is offered at the school? Look at their Teacher Induction & Orientation program, HR Department, Maintenance and Cleaning Staff, Classroom Educational Assistants, IT Tech Help, Parent Volunteer Community, Health & Safety Committee, and procedures for ordering and acquiring classroom supplies.

  • Also, how supported do teachers feel at the school? Are their voice, mental health, and life-work balance all being considered?

Teacher & School Leader Qualification

  • ​Are teachers and school leaders qualified for their jobs, taking into consideration both their education and experience?

  • Is there a fair and transparent Evaluation Process for all staff members, including school leadership?

​Teacher Contract

  • ​What kind of benefits package are teachers offered at the school? Check here to see the Top 10 benefits of an overseas teaching contract.

  • Which leads to the savings potential: how much can a teacher save on one year's salary? This will not only be determined by the size of their salary but also taxes, the teacher's spending habits, and cost of living of the host country.

  • Teaching schedule and class sizes will be a huge determinant in a quality school: are teachers seen as a valuable investment and equal partner in the school community OR are they a replaceable commodity to be used up and replaced?

  • Do teachers teach in their area of expertise OR are they expected to plug up holes when the school is short on certain subject teachers?

Teacher Growth & Retention

  • Can teachers grow professionally within the school?

  • In addition to PD (in-house and external), what new opportunities exist to retain teachers for more than their initial contracts?

  • What are the average stays for a teacher and an admin at the school?

  • Are there internal chances to go into leadership positions?

  • Are teachers encouraged and maybe even financially supported by the school to pursue post-graduate degrees to expand their field of knowledge?

It's important to note that very few international schools will possess all twelve categories in abundance, thus making the ranking of schools very difficult and subjective. However, doing your research, including asking pertinent questions during your interview process, can help you decide if this is the right school for you. Having someone to turn to who has the years of experience on the international circuit, including a vast network of teachers and school admin as a ready source for up-to-date information, will also help you determine which school to pursue: that's where I come in. In addition to editing your resume and cover letter, I work closely with you every step of the way, offering advice and finding you job opportunities you might not know about. Interested in learning more how I can help you in your job search? You can find out what services are offered here on my website. You can also contact me at for your inquiries and I'll respond within 24 hours. I'm here to help!

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