How to choose the right school abroad
Choosing the right school for your child is one of the biggest challenges any parent faces. You have to balance so many considerations – a good performance, a suitable teaching ethos, a great anti-bullying policy and above all somewhere you feel your child will fit in and be happy. Parents all over the world face the same challenges at both Primary and Secondary level – but how much more difficult is it if you’re looking for a new school in a different country?
The good news is… it’s not actually that different, except that you may not have the chance to do as many (or any) visits prior to your move. It may feel overwhelming at first but start by making a list of all the things you need to think about and put them in order of priority.
Here’s our top 10 tips to get you started when looking for a school overseas…
…is everything! If your child is settled and happy, loves the school grounds, can make connections and form a social network then the school is a winner; even if it’s academic record isn’t the best.
A child can go to the very best school in the world but if that child isn’t happy and doesn’t make friends he won’t meet his learning potential. It’s a psychological circle – our environment affects our happiness, which affects our ability to function, which in turn affects our environment. An unhappy school child equals an unhappy home child, which equals a negative influence on all aspects of your new life.
Talk to other expats and try to find the opportunity to network with locals to find out more about the schools you’re considering and whether their children are happy there.
2) Additional needs
Changing schools is a big deal for any child but if you have one with additional educational needs you can multiply that stress and uncertainty by 100! Autism Spectrum Disorders and other learning difficulties can make it difficult for the child to socialise and communicate, which leads back to the whole happiness argument. Make sure the school you choose has appropriate facilities to cater for the needs of your child.
3) Development opportunities
Whether it’s advanced maths, playing a musical instrument or football, if your child has a talent you need to make sure the opportunity will be provided for them to practice and develop. In many cases talent is what leads us to our chosen career paths, so don’t underestimate the importance of allowing your child to keep doing what he’s good at.
4) How long will you be there and what’s the curriculum?
This can be more important than you think. If you’re only going to be moving abroad for a short period before repatriating (a year or two, for example) then you may want to pick a school which has a similar structure and curriculum to your home country’s education. Even a year can make a big difference and you need to make sure you child can fit back into your country’s schooling with the minimum disruption and won’t fall behind.
If you are moving on to a different location abroad after a few years, you may decide to choose a school that follows the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma because you will be able to pursue the same curriculum in many countries. If, on the other hand, you’re staying in your new home long term, then a local school might be best as full immersion is often the quickest and best way for a child to adapt to a new culture and language. The long term impact of getting this wrong can be that your child falls behind and can’t get the University placements they will want further down the line.
5) School days and holidays
Different countries have different structures. For example, in Australia the school day is typically 0900-1530 like ours – but terms are divided into 9-11 week blocks with a 2-week holiday separating each one. In Brazil and Germany, the typical school day is 0700-1230 with children home by lunchtime and in China a typical school day is 0800-1700 (!) with a 2-hour lunch break.
The hours your children will spend in school and the timing of their holidays will have an impact on your new life and work routine. It may be determined by location rather than by individual school but you still need to do your research and know what challenges you might be facing.
6) The school run
No one enjoys a school run, period. It’s a stressful time of the day when you’re in direct competition with other families to get to school on time and with everything you need. When you’re choosing a new school don’t forget to look at where it is in relation to your new home and make sure you know how you and your child will get there every day.
7) Religion and culture
If you’re already committed to the move the chances are you will have an understanding of the religious and cultural differences – but don’t forget to find out what this looks like in terms of the school day. Will there be religious ceremonies? Do they differ from your own faith? Will your child be required to attend or will they be optional? There are too many considerations to list here but as always our recommendation is to be as prepared as possible, especially if this is something you feel very strongly about.
Not all education is free. Find out if the schools you’re looking at have tuition fees and then work out whether or not you’ll be able to afford to keeping paying them for the duration of your child’s time there.
9) Academic prowess
This is at the bottom of our list for a reason. Yes, it’s important to get a good education but other considerations – happiness, culture, whether or not you can physically get there, whether or not you can afford to go there – all have to come first. There’s no point setting your heart on the school with the best academic ratings if it’s 10+ miles from your home, not on a public transport route, has tuition fees you can’t afford and has an hour a day of prayer dedication for a faith you’re not comfortable practising.
Again. Just to double check and be sure!
Choosing the right school doesn’t have to mean choosing the best school. It’s all about finding a school that fits the needs of your child. If you get the opportunity to visit pre-move, take it. If you’re doing internet research, apply a little caution and look for the things they’re not telling you (these are likely to be deliberate omissions in the face of positive advertising).
If you have the luxury of moving first and then looking for the right school, this is possibly the best option of all because you can involve your child in the search and choose the one they fall in love with. Every family is different but if you follow our advice and research the right things you won’t go far wrong.
Our last word of advice is don’t stress. If you make a plan and do your research it’s unlikely that you’ll make the wrong choice but be prepared to keep an open mind. If you move and find your child can’t settle, do some more research and move them again. A bad choice isn’t going to be the end of the world as long as you act fast and put it right.
An Expat’s Guide to Choosing a School Overseas
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