Your Guide to Choosing an International School

Your Guide to Choosing an International School

by Erika Wentworth, with Barbara F. Schaetti

Why choose an international school? There are several reasons why expatriate parents opt for independent international schools for their children. But what factors influence their decision and how is the final selection made? Barbara Schaetti, Principal of Transitions Dynamics, joins me to offer FOCUSnews readers her perspective on what makes international education the right choice for many expatriate families.
Easing the Transition to the UK

International education facilitates the transition to the UK by providing students from other countries with an expat-focused environment designed to meet their needs. All expatriates regardless of nationality find common ground in an international school setting, especially if the school offers a network of support, however informally, for psycho-social adjustment. International school communities understand mobility, transitions, and cultural adjustments. Everyone knows what it’s like to be “the new kid” in school and typically make a greater effort to be friendly to the newcomer than might be the case in a local school.

Peer Support Networks for Parents and Children
International schools form the hub of expatriate communities. As such, they offer social opportunities as well as an academic education. Through the international school community, parents and students can develop friendships with others just as mobile as they, just as used to living and interacting across cultural differences. Local communities, on the other hand, may be wary of forming friendships with expatriates who they know will someday be leaving.

Easing Repatriation
The international school system offers parents one way of providing for their children a measure of continuity in a discontinuous life. This is particularly true for American/English-language families for whom the curriculum may be at least somewhat familiar, and also for those families of all national and linguistic backgrounds who are multi-movers. Single sojourn non-English speaking families (unless they attend institutions modelled on their own home country’s curriculum) will not find the same sense of continuity through an international school; however, their reasons for attending an international school in the first place may be different. Some plan to earn the International Baccalaureate (IB) and attend higher institutions abroad, particularly in the US.

When a Local School is the Right Choice
Independent, international schooling is a popular choice for many expatriates. There are some situations, however, in which choosing a local school can be the right direction to take. Children typically learn the local language very quickly when attending a local school, and certainly learn the host culture more thoroughly than when attending an international school. If the sojourn is relatively short (2 or 3 years) and the child relatively young (still in the earlier years of academic preparation, with exams not yet a critical issue) the advantages of a local school may balance with or even outweigh those of an international school.

Choosing Between International Schools
When choosing any school, international or local, parents must ensure that the school’s educational philosophy matches their own insofar as possible. Is the curriculum progressive or traditional? Does it emphasise rote learning or critical thinking? Does it allow corporal punishment or insist upon cooperative problem solving? Evaluate the school according to your own requirements and the needs of your child, assessing such things as proximity to your home, curriculum and diplomas offered, degree of ‘internationalism’ (if that is important to you), cost, and whether your sponsoring organisation restricts your choice of schools, placement availability, academic rigour, etc.

In equal measure with all these, parents should consider the degree to which a school formally recognises and addresses the psycho-social dimensions of international mobility. If one school has an active transitions programÑproviding both activities to support year-round arrivals and leave-takings, and education about how to successfully engage an internationally mobile lifestyle Ñthen that school has a distinct advantage over one which doesn’t offer a comprehensive programme.

Luckily for expatriate parents living in the London area, many local international schools have taken steps in this direction. For instance, American Community Schools (ACS) recently sponsored a British Chamber of Commerce Seminar entitled ‘Cross-Cultural Challenges: Relocating Families to the UK’. The PTO (Parent Teacher Organisation) of the American School of London has invited speakers into the community to discuss the expatriate experience. TASIS England American School has formed PIRC (Parent Information and Resource Center), which is an office and newsletter through which parents can get information about managing the psycho-social dimensions of international transitions. And Southbank International School is in its second year of developing a Transitions Resource Team and Programme, has provided a series of presentations for parents, is developing a parent resource center, and is institutionalising arrival and leave-taking activities and classroom-based education for students.

European Council of International Schools (ECIS)
21 Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hampshire, GU32 3EL
Tel: 01730 268244 Fax 01730 267914

International Schools Association (ISA)
Rue de Carouge 28, CH-1205, Geneva
Tel: + 41 22 708 1184 Fax: + 41 22 708 1188

International School Services, Inc. (ISS)
PO Box 5910, Princeton, NJ 08543, USA
A US-based nonprofit educational organisation providing support services to American and international schools overseas. The ISS Directory of Overseas Schools is a comprehensive guide to over 400 English-language, American curriculum schools listed by country.

American School in London
2-8 Loudoun Road
London, NW8 0NP
Tel: 171-449 1200, Fax: 171-449 1350
Head of School: William C. Mules
Curriculum: US
Exams: SAT and Advanced Placement (AP)
Age Range: 4-19

American Community Schools, England (ACS)
ACS has three schools in Greater London, each with its own Head and Principals but with a common central administration under the direction of the Superintendent. Campuses in Cobham and Egham, Surrey and at Hillingdon in Middlesex.
Tel: 01932 867251
Fax: 01932 869790
Superintendent: Malcolm J Kay
Curriculum: US, International Baccalaureate (IB)
Exams: SAT, Advanced Placement (AP)
Age Range: 3-19

Southbank International School
36-38 Kensington Park Road
London, W11 3BU
Tel: 44 171 229 8230, Fax: 44 171 229 3784
Headmaster: Milton E Toubkin
Curriculum: US, International Baccalaureate (IB)
Exams: SAT
Age Range: 3-18

TASIS England American School
Coldharbour Lane
Thorpe TW20 8TE
Tel: 1932 565252, Fax: 1932 564644
Curriculum: US
Exams: SAT, Advanced Placement (AP)
Age Range: 4-18

Barbara F. Schaetti is a former FOCUS speaker and is Principal of Transition Dynamics, a consultancy specialising in the human dimensions of change. Barbara works extensively with expatriate families, coaching them throughout the expatriate lifecycle in the practice of Personal Leadership, a way of being and of interacting with the expatriate experience that emphasises living from the “inside-out.”