Julia Knight

What makes a good international school?

What are the the things a teacher should know beforehand?


Everyone always says 'research' is the number one thing for teachers hopping off to a far away teaching nirvana and they would be right, but it isn't until you are deep inside the doors of an international school that you suddenly have a plethora of questions you probably should have asked.

Visas:

Who is responsible for you and your family's visas? If the answer is the school will take care of visas, confirm for who. Some schools only pay for the teachers - and they expect you to go to immigration and sift through the bureaucracy and pay for the privilege with no help from school admin. Some schools will pay for a spouse but not a dependent and vice versa. If you have to pay for your own visas, you might want to question why you are paying to work for the school. Shouldn't it be the other way round?

Health:

Similar to visas, a good healthcare package should include the family and be a well rounded package covering accident and emergency as well as check-ups. Always ask the school to add your spouse or dependent if they aren't covered. Medical expenses are exorbitant and it goes without saying they should be the least of your worries when a loved one is poorly.

Website:

Make sure the website is full of useful information and not just pretty pictures and promises of up-coming events or plans. The website should have regular updates from the HT about recent events. Look for the messages for unusual events such as a forced closure - the wording can be a good indicator of sentiment towards staff. The website should have live links to different aspects of the school but remember it is another 'sales' technique to attract students and staff.

School Places:

What does 'free' actually mean? There are hidden costs in some school's 'free' offer. Some schools charge a fee for school dinners or 'material costs' which if, you have older children sitting their IGCSEs, you will have to pay for exam entry plus the cost of text books (which presumably are re-used). You may also have a child who requires AEN, so worth checking these provisions as an indicator of your future school.

Online Forums:

Can often be a difficult and inaccurate place to glean information from. Some forums are designed so that teachers can say what they feel about individual schools but caution is always advised as the background and circumstances may not be included in the 'truthful' account of a school. Others refuse to allow naming for legal reasons but with some tweaking to wording and through private messages, you might find them useful.

Staffing:

A good international school should include a balanced contingent of staff both female and male and in leadership roles. They should be from a variety of international backgrounds, with perhaps more from the country of curriculum origin. There is no way to gauge salaries but again researching forums and websites comparing costs of living are very helpful.

Accreditation and Add-ons:

Look for the accreditation and dates obtained but do not rely on an accreditation to be a testament to a school's morale level. High turnover and frequent advertising of jobs is usually an indicator that all may not be well underneath the veneer. You should always ask what duties, if any are required aside from your teaching commitments. Some schools pay overtime for ECA (extra curricular activities) and some expect you to do more than one per week including staffing for Breakfast and Homework Clubs.

Support and Good Practice:

Mentoring and support for new overseas arrivals is a must, if the lady from reprographics turns up to greet you at the airport and doesn't speak English, you may well be in trouble. Staff Inductions and Inset days will throw light on areas of CPD (Continued Professional Development) and demonstrate the seriousness of the school- always ask about this in your interview, if anything it shows your commitment to improving practice.

If you are able to visit beforehand, ask to look at places such as libraries and classrooms- check the equipment in rooms, is it in need of a refurb? Or are resources up to date and in good condition?

International schools are money-making businesses with profits to be made and shareholders to please, however there are some excellent schools with good governance and reputations. My advice is research and ask lots of questions- if the answers are sketchy or you are put off, you might have to rethink your plans. Utilise all social networking and internet search engines and good luck in your search.


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