Set your child up for success by placing them in the right environment
Your family is moving countries and you need to find a perfect new school for your child. Among all of the other things you have to think about when embarking on a new adventure abroad, the task to find the best international school can be overwhelming! A completely new system of schooling means a world of opportunity, but also comes with a sea of questions. Here is a checklist with the key issues to be thinking about.
- Tailor the approach to the child. As with choosing any school, a truthful assessment of your child’s strengths and weaknesses and preferred learning environment is where the process should start, as this will determine the types of things you will be prioritising when looking for an international school. Obviously, if your child is extremely sporty or has high energy levels, a school with extensive grounds or at least good sports facilities will be high on the list. Some children will be passionate about music, technology or art, in which case these need to be nurtured with the time and effort of staff and proper equipment. If they are strong in languages, a bilingual school (or even local language school) could be the best way to develop their talents. If they are extremely academic, they may need to be mentally stretched, as often they can be distracted and naughty if they are not using their brains. Other personality-driven things to consider include how well they respond to pressure and whether to place them with or apart from their siblings. It can be easy to focus on the things you would like to be more pronounced in your child, but start with their natural tendencies. You probably have a good idea of these yourselves and from existing school reports and tests, but it could also be advisable to get a professional opinion. Many education experts provide unbiased testing in verbal reasoning, mental arithmetic, logic, and other skills, the results of which can add greatly to your decision making process.
- The process of choosing a school should be child-focused as far as possible, but the decision should not be down to them. All the same, it is very important to communicate with them on a level that they can understand, to make sure they feel like their opinion matters. When moving to a new country they may feel daunted, as well as excited, so keeping communication open with them about how they are getting on is going to be important as they start their new school and make new friends. Ask their impressions, feelings, hopes, likes and dislikes about choosing a new school, but remember the decision is essentially yours. This means that it is often sensible to go to viewings of the school without your child initially, and to submit them for the entrance test, open day, or second viewing only if you think it is a realistic option. That way, you will not get into any battles over your opinion vs. theirs. If they have a particularly positive reaction to one of the schools that is already in your shortlist of excellent options, everyone will be happy.
- Single sex or co-ed? There is lots of research to show that girls learn better in girls-only environments, whereas often boys learn better around girls. Often the decision to go single-sex is motivated by the desire for better academic results, fewer distractions, and more self-confidence in their academic abilities, particularly in subjects not traditionally associated with their gender. Girls and boys learn in very different ways, and a more gender-specific approach can work very well for some children. Many parents base the decision to go for single-sex schools for their kids on their own experience as a child. This is obviously all good information, but really single-sex schools vary one from another as much as co-ed schools, especially across countries. If you are considering single-sex schools, visit them and speak to them about their vision for their girls or boys and see if you agree with them. All other normal rules apply: meet with parents at the schools and ask about the benefits of the environment, look at the results, but above all base it on your child’s temperament, desire to learn, concentration levels and personality.
- Do you agree with the school’s values and vision? Although it is widely agreed that the most influential conversation in a child’s life is the one being had at home, the ethos of the school also plays a vital role in shaping their perspective on the world. Schools usually have a creed and set of principles, sometimes religious, that they base their education methods on. This includes the school’s discipline policy and its pastoral care provision. Particularly for international children coming from all over the world, it is good to have an understanding of how the school helps the students adapt to their new environment and make the transition less daunting and more exciting.
- Meet the teachers. The head teacher will give you more of a ‘birds-eye’ perspective of the school. Where possible it is also good to speak to the teachers personally about their teaching methods, the syllabus, specific curriculum, discipline/rewards system, afterschool clubs, class size, homework, parent-teacher evenings, and other issues. Teachers will give you the most detailed overview of daily life at the school and the real expectations that will be placed on you and your child. They may be able to put you in touch with previous parents and students, and give you an idea of what their students do next, be it at university or in future careers. It will also give you a sense of whether you like the teaching environment – hopefully you will find a group of teachers who can be memorable, positive influences for your children in the years to come.
- Can they cater for special education needs? Many schools have specially trained special education needs teachers who work with children alongside, or instead of, mainstream classroom learning. If your child requires their support, meet them personally. This is key because of the personal (often one-to-one) nature of the relationship they will have with your son or daughter. Again, it makes all the difference to have the chance to speak to them about your child’s specific situation, your previous experiences of successful teaching methods, the teacher’s experience and qualifications, and their approach. As all parents know, there is a whole support infrastructure that goes into meeting special education needs, and it is good to speak to everyone involved so they are aware of all the details upfront.
- Do your homework! Spend time researching schools, looking through their websites, speaking to existing parents (where possible) and drawing up a shortlist before you look around the schools. Make a spread sheet to keep everything from contact details to uniforms to school fees. The school visits will be much more fruitful if you already have a comparative landscape of the other schools in your mind, particularly if you are new to the area or the country! If you have colleagues whose children attend certain schools, reach out and ask them for candid advice. It may be good to enlist the help of local educational specialists who will be in touch with all of the schools on a regular basis.
- Corporate packages may influence your decision. Companies that move employees around the world often have a relationship with a specific (or a number) of schools. Companies who are paying for school fees as part of the employment package might essentially make the choice for you, in that they will only pay for those schools with which they have partnerships. Speak to the company’s relocation agents about why they chose a partnership with these schools, as well as ensuring they put you in touch with everyone. Be across the details of exactly when and how the company will pay the school fees until, and whether they may taper them off gradually.
- Be across the practicalities and timeline for applying. Particularly if you are applying for more than one school at a time from abroad, it is important to be very aware of the deadlines and to leave enough time to prepare all of the necessary materials beforehand. You may also need to pay admin fees for each application and if transferring money internationally remember that this can take longer. Coordinating international travel and time off work (and school) to make the visits also add to the complications of looking round schools – so make sure you schedule your visits all in one block of time so you can blitz it.
Above all, enjoy the fantastic opportunities that life at international school brings!