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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Ullmer

What about International Schools?

The number of international schools is growing at a very strong rate. British education is highly valued abroad and there is now a whole generation of teachers who work in international settings. The positive side is well behaved and motivated students in many countries, and the negative is there is a huge variety of ‘British’ schools from the excellent to the awful.

At the top of the tree are the ‘named’ British schools - the Harrows, Dulwich, Shrewsbury etc. These will often be your best ones, with strong resources and clear ethos. They will either be inspected by a U.K. inspectorate or by COBIS. But you will still need to do your homework on them. To give an example, I can refer to a named school which clearly had issues which Governors were not aware of. There was no single central record of staff, references had not been checked properly, staff in key positions did not have the right training and there were no systematic records of how well pupils were doing over time. The failings were well hidden by a strong resources and a sense of prestige in the name of the school, but monitoring of the school was weak, good practice from the mother school had not been shared, and a sense of belief in their own prestige had blinded the mother school to its own failings in organisation and management.

Here it was vital to benchmark findings externally and call in outside specialists to make their own observations. Its important to do this, particularly when governors do not see what the issues are, and have failed in their responsibilities. Clearly you have to tread carefully as this will not make you popular with those who employ you!

Fortunately, many of the issues in this school were able to be addressed, and it achieved a strong COBIS accreditation after the failings were put right. However, to this date I am not sure if local investors realised how close their school had come to failure and I can but hope that good practice will be maintained over time. However, with far larger turn over of staff in international schools, without a strong and capable governing body and stability of Headship, good practice can disappear as soon as good staff move on.

Ethos is also clearly vital. With staff employed on two year contracts, there is a pressure in the worst schools to just get rid of staff they don’t like. This brings about a tremendous pressure to ‘keep your head down’ rather than to explore, flourish and share ideas. Talking with the Head will give you clues as to how much individuality, training and innovation are valued. If you don’t get the chance to speak with Senior staff, then you probably have your answer....!

So, always do your homework and check what you can behind the scenes. International schools are amazing places to work at, but it always pays to find out as much as you can about them beforehand!


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