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Moving with children? Take time to choose the right school!

Finding a new school can be one of the more stressful aspects of relocating to another country — especially when moving overseas for the first time. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of school, and you may find options rather limited in some countries. Below are some suggestions to, hopefully, make this decision-making process a little easier.

Choices, choices: where to look and what to research

Depending on where you go, there will be different ways of finding the perfect school for your child. Social media can be useful to find out what schools are doing on a day-to-day basis and reveal how members of the school community feel about key issues. Major newspapers and social media forums may contain information like rankings of local state, private, or international schools, costs per semester/term/year, and entry requirements (if any).

Ask your new employer or (future) colleagues who are also parents for first-hand experience of different schools. Or join expat websites and forums to find out more. Some expat- or teacher-focused websites may contain more specific information and data about schools.

You may find it harder to figure out exact costs or details of how to apply unless you contact the school directly. Some schools may require a deposit or “family payment” to join a waiting list. Others may allow for flexibility in payment or even provide scholarships if certain conditions are met. Try to arrange to speak to someone before your arrival or see if you can take a tour of the school to get a sense of the learning environment and community.

Schools will often emphasise their small class sizes, but what is seen as “small” is dependent on the country’s own state educational system. In some countries, anything below 25 is seen as “small”, which may differ from your own experiences in school! What can sometimes be further misleading is that the average class size across the whole school may be advertised as “small”, but core exam classes may be considerably larger — again, this is worth checking.

Should I pay or should I go local? What to consider with international schools

If you’re lucky, you may not need to make a choice at all! Some employers partially or fully fund places in certain schools — check this or ask for advice from your new employer, as they may have some helpful local knowledge.

If cost is not a significant issue, then it would be wise to research nearby international schools, too. They will usually teach multiple languages, including English, and have a much more diverse curriculum and extracurricular programme than most local state or independent schools can provide. Check the school’s language(s) of instruction, so there are no surprises when your child first enters the classroom or when you attend your first parent/teacher conference! It is also worth looking at the school’s website for an idea of the staff, their qualification levels, and whether it is truly “international”.

International schools usually follow an internationally recognised curriculum model such as the International Baccalaureate, iGCSE/A-Level, or Common Core/Advanced Placement. But many also offer more than one route to accommodate students from different nationalities and backgrounds. Your child may also have to study the full or watered-down version of the local curriculum and may even need to sit exams in the local language.

Beware though: some schools claiming to be “international” are only so by name and may not be the best choice if you want your child to mix with others who share the same mother tongue or nationality. It can be quite a lonely experience being the only student in a school from your home country or having no one who speaks your language. In our own experience, this was something we kept in mind when we were making plans to move on from the Middle East.

Think global, go local: things to consider with local state or public school

If you are moving for a longer period of time or even permanently, then it may be worth considering a local school to cut costs and help your child immerse in the local community quicker. English is often taught as a first foreign language in many local schools around the world, but the quality will vary dramatically! And what is deemed as “first language” in one country may not be the same in another. Check school websites to see whether they employ specialist language teachers and if they offer additional language classes or courses (IELTS, Cambridge English Qualifications).

In a local school your child will almost certainly follow the national curriculum unless the school uses a hybrid model like many international schools do — check this carefully, as the grading systems and assessment methods may vary dramatically and could have an impact on future applications to other schools and, later, universities. If you have any doubts about this, then it may be best to work in reverse and check whether schools and universities of interest accept the qualifications offered in the school you’re considering and, if so, what is required.

The language barrier can be an issue in a state or public school, too. Some children react better and learn the local language quicker than others. Schools may be able to provide teaching assistants for in-class support, language support sessions, or other means to help your child. Some schools may even be able to recommend after-school tutors from the local community or, in certain curriculums, sit self-taught courses in your native language with online or in-person tutors to help guide your child.

What about home schooling?

Home schooling may be a viable option if costs are too high for an international school or if you have doubts over the quality and suitability of schools in your new location. You can choose to follow self-taught courses and sit exams at a designated site or follow alternative curriculum models according to the needs of your child. Home schooling, though, is illegal in some countries, so check what you can and can’t do before you fully commit to this.

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