How do parents choose international schools?

By Dr Patricia Mertin

I recently read an article in the UK’s Times newspaper that talked about The best international schools in France, Spain and Portugal for Brits moving to Europe (the article is no longer available). It stated that the number of international schools in Europe has risen from 1,607 in 2015 to 2,173 today. Worldwide, there are more than 11,451 international schools and the number will continue to grow.

In fact, anyone anywhere can open a school and call it international. Some schools are financed by companies, others by individuals, and some by groups of parents, but there is no apparent guarantee of quality in any of these schools.

Or is there?

When parents are looking for a school in their home country, they are equipped with their own clear understanding, based on their personal history and experience of the culture of schools, the way they are run, what can be expected, and the respective roles of parents, teachers and the leadership.

 

They will also be aware of the history of the school and may well have contact with previous students and their parents. All of this contributes to a comprehensive picture of the school.

However, in a different country the challenge of finding the right school is greater. Parents may only have moved recently and are busy finding their way round. Thus, finding a school for their children is just one more challenge in coping with daily life in a new setting.

Parents may decide to send their children to a local school so their children can be immersed in a new language and culture. However, many expatriate parents opt for an international school with classes in their native language and a final academic goal or exam similar to their country of origin.

How do parents choose the school?

If there are fellow expats or colleagues from the same company who can advise, that is helpful.

Left to their own devices, parents are most likely to visit the school first. They will very quickly note that international schools are rather different from schools back home. It may be that the school is modern and new and the person who shows them round is lively and enthusiastic, the children seem happy and the staff are friendly—but is that enough?

How can parents know:

  • how well the school is financed, governed and led?
  • how well the school is equipped for learning?
  • how well trained are the teachers? How are they vetted?
  • what is the quality of teaching and learning?
  • are students‘ social and emotional needs considered and respected?
  • what provision is there for special needs?

And most importantly:

  • how safe are their children in school?

None of these questions can be comprehensively answered by a quick tour of the school or brief conversations.

Understanding the process of accreditation can help parents

Parents are often unaware of the process of accreditation for schools which covers all of the points above, and more. 

The process of accreditation involves a regular thorough examination of every aspect of the school, first by the school members themselves and then by a team of experienced educators. It is a never-ending process which ensures that standards are maintained in all areas of school life and learning.

Accreditation signifies to parents that considerable steps have been taken to protect their children, keep them safe, well cared for and that their education continues at the best possible standard in a positive, friendly environment.

International Accreditation by the Council of International Schools (CIS) goes further to reassure parents that the points above have been identified, researched and confirmed by a team of independent, experienced international educators familiar with the process and the requirements for successful accreditation in an international context, which is fundamentally important for students and families embarking on international life, in a new country and culture.


Dr Patricia Mertin has been actively involved in the CIS International Accreditation process since 2003, both as team member and chair of visiting teams. She began her career in education at Goldsmiths College, London University by completing her teacher training in 1969, after which she taught in London and Germany with the British Forces Education Services. Subsequently, she taught in a German state school and was involved in adult education. She completed an external BA in Old High German Literature with London University and an MA in TESOL with Sheffield Hallam University. In 1993, she joined the faculty of the International School of Düsseldorf, where she taught ESL for twenty years. She became ESL department chair in 2003 and also developed the mother tongue programme. She completed a PhD on “the role of culture in second language acquisition” in 2006 with Goldsmiths College, London University. She has been actively involved as a volunteer in the CIS International Accreditation process since 2003, both as team member and chair of visiting teams.