Finding A Good School For Expat Children

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA
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Finding a school that offers a first-class education for expat children is a tough task for families moving abroad.

Standards and qualifications can vary widely between countries and many state-run services fail to deliver.

Choice of schools may be limited in some cities, so what are the points to look for when deciding on the best education for expat children?

Doing your homework helps – and this guide shows expats how to make the right decision.

Searching For A Good Expat School

Put some time into drawing up a shortlist of suitable schools.

If you are in an expat community, ask other parents about local private and state-run institutions as they are likely to give you a more detailed picture of the pros and cons of each school rather than having to rely on publicity blurbs.

You should have a checklist of the main factors important to you and your children.

The most important are typically the curriculum and qualifications your children are working towards, along with the school’s attitude to multi-lingual teaching for children who do not speak the local language at home.

Don’t forget to find out what happens to children when they move on into higher education.

State-run schools

The quality of a state-funded education varies widely around the world.

A rough guide to the state-run schooling system in many countries can be found under the latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings for mathematics, science and reading.

China tops each ranking, but the results are skewed because the testing only covered four major cities and not the entire country.

In comparison, the UK ranked 18th for maths and 15th for both science and reading, while Australia comes 30th for maths, 18thfor science and 17th for reading.

In general, Asia-Pacific countries rank much higher in each test than those in North America or Europe.

The big question to resolve about state-run schools is if your child can learn in the local language, as state schools rarely offer multi-lingual teaching even if they support learning foreign languages.

International schools

International schools are aimed at expat families. Most countries have international schools that follow a similar curriculum to ease learning issues when children move countries.

English is the main teaching language.

International schools are not selective, which means children do not have to qualify or pass tests to join the roll.

Look for accreditation to the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) or the Council of International Schools (CIS) that guarantees basic standards.

International Baccalaureate

More than 5,000 international schools serving more than a million learners in 150 countries follow the international baccalaureate program.

The qualification is accepted in many countries and covers children from the age of three to 19-years-old in four stages.

For expat parents, the baccalaureate offers an accepted qualification worldwide and a high standard of teaching. While the curriculum is common across all schools offering the baccalaureate, children can move between schools or countries without losing out on teaching.

Schools in the programme also teach in English or English and a local language if they are bilingual.

Universities around the world accept the international baccalaureate diploma for entry to degree courses. The IB web site lists the requirements for each country’s higher education institutions. Like other qualifications acceptance may depend on topics covered or grades.

Private schools

Most countries have private schools that run alongside the state-run system, but standards and the acceptance level of any end qualifications vary.

Private schools come as day schools, while many accept boarders.

The option is for expats who perhaps want to leave children in their home country when on assignment overseas.

Education costs for expat families

The cost of international and private schooling differs between countries. The highest costs tend to be in Asia-Pacific countries, but that doesn’t mean many schools in Europe and North America don’t charge eye-watering fees as well.

Besides tuition costs, parents should factor in uniforms, sports gear, a regular allowance, books and day trips, which can add a significant amount to the term cost. Boarders pay more because of their accommodation, food and other services.

The highest average international school fees are in Shanghai, China, with a monthly cost of £2,000.

Switzerland also ranks as expensive. Expat parents can expect to pay fees of around £1,500 a month.

A full list of average education costs for international schools by city is published by the International Schools Database.

Find a school for expat children FAQ

Schools will embark on a charm offensive to lure expat families to join them, but parents really must dig deep to look behind the marketing machine to see if the school is right for their children.

This guide has some tips and links to places to look, but there’s no substitute for visiting the school and asking other parents about their experiences.

Here are some answer to the most asked questions expat parents have about finding an international or private school.

How do I know if a school is right for my child?

You probably won’t find out until your child has attended the school for a term or two.
 
All you can do is ask other expat parents about their experiences and do your best to investigate how the school works and how your child will fit in.
 
This guide has some links to rankings and where to find international schools in the city where you plan to live, but you really need an independent assessment to make a reasoned decision.

Can I assess the teaching standards at an international school?

If the school delivers the international baccalaureate, it’s easy to compare exam results and teaching standards between schools in different countries as they teach the same curriculum.
 
Some rankings are published online showing the world top 50 private IB schools, the top IB schools in the UK and the top rankers in Europe.

How can expat parents find international schools?

Just go online and search ‘international schools in’ while adding your location or try the online Good Schools Guide

Is the International Baccalaureate a worthwhile qualification?

The baccalaureate is well regarded and equivalent to state school qualifications in many countries.
 
Like A levels in the UK, the grade and subjects of the baccalaureate influence if a student is accepted for a degree course at university.
 
Discussing grades etc with a higher education institution to make sure the IB for your child dovetails into the qualifications they need to go to university.

Which countries offer the best education?

Britain, the USA and Australia top the best education rankings with European nations mostly taking the rest of the top 10 rankings.

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