When I began my international teaching career, I assumed that an international school was the same the world over and that for a school to call itself international, there must naturally be some accreditation to show that the school meets certain standards. I was sure that a school could not just call itself international but I now know that this assumption was mistaken. After 20 years in international education, and having studied the research related to international education, I feel qualified to answer the question posed above.
The first international schools are considered to be The International School of Geneva and Yokohama International School, both founded in 1924. Since then, and especially in the last decade, there has been an explosion in the number of schools calling themselves international. With this in mind it is important for parents to consider what makes a school into an international school. What are the key, defining features that allow an international school to use that title? There are a number of features that help us recognise the real from the fake ones.
A truly international body of students is essential. Without this mixture of cultures, attitudes, ideas and behaviours how can a school call itself international? This is the only way a child can have a true international experience and develop the open-mindedness and tolerance indicative of an international education. Luckily, in my own school we have 75 nationalities, although of course many students themselves have a multi-international background and find it hard to describe their nationality.
The international feel of a school would be lost if only the students were international, and lessons should reflect this diversity. At Compass International School Doha, the teachers come from 44 different countries, with the vast majority having gained their qualifications in the UK.
A true international school will adapt the curriculum to meet the international needs of its students. Whilst a British Style curriculum is the basis for some of the best in class, adapting this to an international setting allows schools to build on the best of British with the UK based International Primary Curriculum (IPC) leading to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). The IBDP is the only curriculum recognised by the best universities in the world as a truly international programme for entry to Higher education. Founded in 1968, this deeply academic and broad-based curriculum is specifically tailored for international students. In order to deliver the IB curriculum, school should be fully accredited IB Organisation World schools. Accreditation for the IPC involves a formal process which is regularly reviewed by external advisors. Likewise, the ability to run the IBDP requires schools to go through a rigorous process, typically taking 2 years to achieve initial accreditation followed by regular, 5-year reviews.
Duke of Edinburgh’s international award
The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award is world recognised as the ideal vehicle to create adventurous, responsible and self-reliant students. This award will play a prominent role in any international school worthy of the name.
Many international schools are part of global partnerships because we recognise that single schools working in isolation do not have the level of challenge and rigor that a top tier schools group provides. Nord Anglia Education is considered to be the leading premium schools organisation has ground-breaking collaborations with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Juilliard School of Performing Arts and UNICEF. Using their network of school leaders, teachers and students, they have created a virtual space for sharing ideas and learning from each other in through their unique Global Campus.
A good international school will provide a wide-range of extra-curricular activities to meet the needs of the child. From award winning choirs and orchestras to STEM clubs and sports, international schools will offer children the opportunity to mix with different groups and different ages beyond those available within their classroom spaces.
In conclusion, whilst many schools call themselves international, few are truly embracing all that this implies. There are many international schools where there is a fixed mindset to adopt one national curriculum or one cultural standard. The best international schools adapt their learning programmes to meet their international environment and their international students. Parents need to consider the above points before selecting the best school for their child.
Simon Porter works for Compass International School Doha as a Physics teacher and staff trainer. He is one of the Times Educational Supplement’s “Subject Geniuses” for Science.
Interested parents might want to try reading Introduction to international education: International schools and their communities by Mary Hayden (2006, Paul Chapman Publishing)