More questions to ask when choosing a school overseas

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Overseas education: what to consider and what to avoid

In my previous article, I offered a selection of questions to help anyone choosing a school overseas for their child. Due to the nature of this particular subject; the enormity of it and the individuality of each child, family and school, I could only put the very basic questions into one post.

In fact, there are many more that could be applied, and we’d still only be scratching the surface of how to choose a school.

One reader of ‘Expat Child’, Sarah Turley, took up the baton and typed up such a long comment that I felt it would serve you better if I turned her thoughtful and valid points into an article of their own.

Helping at school

“One major issue which you haven’t included is whether parents are encouraged to help at school and if there is a social life for the parents based around school. This can be a make-or-break support network for accompanying spouses. If your children go to an international school, there will almost certainly be organised activities and parents will be asked to help.

Local schools may not be so welcoming, but if you’re lucky, this may be how you make your local friends as you help together at school. Parental participation is often easier with younger children; as they become older and more independent, you may be asked to help less and less, so it does depend on the age of the children, too.”

I agree that most, if not all, of your potential new friends can be found at the school gate. This generally works very well when your child is young. However, if your child is older, you may find that you being seen anywhere near the school causes them intense embarrassment!

In my experience of international schools, volunteering at the school is completely optional and, if you or your child do not want this interaction, then there is no obligation to do so. And of course, not all parents are accompanying spouses; many are employed, making this impossible to achieve.

Some schools have a strong parent social scene with well organised and well attended events, coffee mornings and trips. Some do not. If this is important to you, make sure to ask.

Differences in culture and education

“Also remember that what you consider normal or preferable may not be what is normal in another culture and educational system, especially if you’re looking at local schools as opposed to international schools.

Compare local schools with each other, not only with your expectations. In the Netherlands, for example, although children start school aged four, they spend two years play-based learning, and the 3Rs don’t start until the third year. If you’re used to the British and American style of teaching, which pushes children to read and write early, even more so in recent years, this can be a huge shock.”

Moving between countries highlights the cultural differences in education and expectations. School starting age is one such difference that can throw many expats, especially if your child is on the cusp of starting school.

How much homework?

“There’s also not much emphasis on homework, unless your child is behind, and here schools and individual teachers do differ widely.”

This, of course, varies from school to school, and country to country, which is why I mentioned asking about expectations in the previous post in this section. We have a lot of homework to battle through each night. It is not fun!

Proximity of school to home

“In my experience, admittedly only in the Netherlands and Germany, the proximity of the school is one of the major factors; if a child has local friends it is easier for them to play with friends without you having to ferry them everywhere or drive across town to pick them up. If there’s any chance of staying for a few years, local friends are very important.”

Choosing a school close to your home is indeed an important factor that I emphasised in this post about how to choose a school for your child.

Saying goodbye to friends

“Again that’s a disadvantage of international schools where the turnover may be high, and it’s sad to be abandoned once again as your friends move on.

As always, it’s all swings and roundabouts, and as long as your child can make a few good friends, they are more likely to do well academically, whichever school you choose.”

Pupil turnover may or may not be an issue for you. In some ways, saying goodbye to friends is a good life lesson, especially if your lifestyle means you move around regularly. In ‘our’ international school turnover seems to be very low, and this in itself has caused problems, as I mentioned in this emotional post a while back.

Special educational needs

Later, on Facebook, Sarah added the following advice, which is very useful information, especially if you have a child with special educational needs…

Extra expenses

“A couple of things I noticed about your article that you might like to add. When you say ‘extras’, you mention stationery, but you don’t say anything about textbooks, workbooks and software which you may be expected to pay for; we were advised to buy a spelling program for our dyslexic son which cost €400 (we didn’t).

Secondary schools here expect you to buy / hire textbooks and provide your own materials, and you may not be able to use them for a second child as they update regularly; primary school books, notebooks, etc. are bought by the school.

Dyslexia and overseas education

Another issue; ask who pays for extra help if your child is dyslexic. This may be a hidden cost and if there is no dedicated remedial teacher at school, you may find yourself spending a great deal of time, effort and money travelling to an independent teacher, out of school hours.

At secondary school, do they have differentiated marking for dyslexic pupils? Especially when learning foreign languages, it is very demoralising to be constantly marked down for spelling because “you were supposed to have learnt it”; many dyslexic children simply cannot learn spelling, in spite of extra training.”

For much more detailed advice and information about choosing a school overseas, my book, ‘Expat Education: An Expat’s Guide to Choosing a School Overseas’ is available on your local Amazon.


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