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Branching out

The UK independent sector is a growing global community, says editor Stephanie Broad

Posted by Hannah Oakman | April 07, 2016 | International

In November 2015, the number of English-medium international schools around the world reached the 8,000 mark, teaching more than four million students. The desire to learn in English has been described by British Council research as a “growing global phenomenon”, helping young people secure top university places and career paths.

A growing number of UK independent schools have set up international branches in recent years. According to the last ISC census, 44 member schools have campuses abroad, educating 24,710 pupils. But ISC schools are only a small part of the picture – according to the International School Consultancy, British schools overseas (BSOs) represent approximately half of all English-medium schools worldwide.

International law firm Bird & Bird says schools have grasped the international growth opportunity ‘with both hands’ and many others are in the process of doing so. Partner Mark Abell, writing in our recent Internationalising Schools supplement, says: “They offer a variety of reasons, but they generally revolve around securing a substantial long-term income stream, so securing the future of the school, and improving the education that they offer children, both at their home school in the UK and in the new markets they are entering.”

A well-known example is Repton School, founded in 1557. The school was approached in 2005 about the idea of establishing a sister school in Dubai. At that time there were no other schools affiliated to British independent schools in the Middle East and the education provision for international families in Dubai was much narrower than it is today. In 2007 Repton School Dubai was established, on a 23-acre campus, with local education partners Evolvence Knowledge Investments (EKI). The school now caters for some 2,400 pupils aged from three to 18.

In 2013, in collaboration with EKI, two new Repton schools were opened in the UAE – Repton Abu Dhabi, for three- to 18-year-olds, and Foremarke School, Dubai, for three- to 11-year-olds.

Students at Geneva English School

Up until 2013 the partnership had been managed at an operational level by deploying the staff and resources of Repton School. However, as the partner schools expanded, in 2013 the governors established Repton International Schools Ltd (RISL).

While RISL serves to strengthen further the international outlook of Repton, it has no external investors or shareholders. The additional income generated by the RISL business is reinvested to improve facilities and to provide financial support that enables Repton to select pupils on merit and without regard to financial means.

In India, international education group Riverston has established a new joint venture with Pooja Talwar of the Talbros Group. Riverston Talwar Education Ltd will operate specialist centres in Delhi and Mumbai as well as a training academy. These London Learning Centres will provide support for children with special educational needs and for training and development in international schools. The first centre opened in March 2016.

Creating a diverse community gives our pupils a sense of what is really important about one another - John Attwater

Professor Michael Lewis, executive chairman of the Riverston Group, says: “My colleague Jackie Harland and I have for many years sought to establish Riverston in India. I am delighted that, after considerable research into the local Indian education market over many years, we have signed an agreement with Pooja Talwar. That the Talwar family have chosen Riverston as their partners is testament to the excellence Riverston provides in the international educational marketplace as a specialist provider. The success we have enjoyed in supporting UK and international students, including those with additional learning needs, has been considerable. To be able to establish our proven model and open multiple facilities throughout India with such an enthusiastic local partner is hugely encouraging.”

The Geneva English School, a British international school located on Lake Geneva, has announced its plans to develop a secondary school. A year-seven intake will begin from September 2016 on the current primary campus, with a new secondary campus for September 2017. The school, established in 1961, has only provided learning for primary and early years children until now. Throughout the last 50 years, it has actively worked to maintain its small-school ethos, limiting its intake to fewer than 300 children to ensure that the personal and academic development of every individual child is met. 

“The secondary school will continue this same focus and, in so doing, provide an alternative choice amidst the many expansive international schools within the region, some of which have student populations in excess of 1,500,” says Mark Williams, chairman of the GES board of governors. “The development by Geneva English School will be good news for the expatriate and local families living in and around Geneva, particularly those who have already chosen the primary school for its size and community spirit as well as its strong academic standards.” 

Headmaster Stephen Baird adds: “Being surrounded by nature, with the expanse of Lake Geneva in front of us and the stunning view of Mont Blanc, and the fact that our buildings are small and not intimidating mean that children feel settled and eager to learn almost immediately. Importantly, everyone, both teachers and students, know each other. We intend to encompass this same school community spirit within our new secondary school.” 

The secondary school, which will be located on a separate campus in the vicinity of the primary school, will extend further from 2017 onwards to cater for students all the way to 18 and entry to university. The school will follow the national curriculum of England with an international context and offer IGCSEs. 

Moving overseas is not without its risk – Mark Abell continues: “The risks that schools face when venturing abroad revolve mainly around protecting their reputation and ensuring the quality of both the education and pastoral care provided by their ‘sister’ schools in foreign markets. Ensuring that their ethos – the DNA of the school – becomes a part and parcel of the overseas schools bearing its name is also a key challenge. Appropriate structuring of the venture should mean that there is no substantial financial risk to the school.”

Students at Geneva English School

As well as moving overseas, many British schools welcome a significant number of international students to the UK. According to the latest ISC census, the majority of international students come from mainland China, Hong Kong, Russia, Germany and the rest of the European Economic Area (EEA).

Most international pupils at UK independent schools live in Britain with their parents, but just over five percent of pupils’ parents live overseas. This represents 27,211 ISC pupils, indicating the attraction of a British education to the global market.

Recruiting international students is not without its administrative burden. Since 2009, schools recruiting pupils from outside the EEA must hold a tier four sponsor licence from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Almost 700 schools are registered with UKVI under tier four to sponsor international pupils and have a responsibility to carry out regular checks on the immigration status of students in their care.

However, the benefits far outweigh the challenges, particularly in preparing students for life beyond school. John Attwater, headmaster of King Edward’s Witley in Surrey, says: “The presence of overseas students is a brilliant opportunity to prepare all of our children for their future as leaders in the modern world. At King Edward’s, our community is a cosmopolitan one where around a third of the student body come from some 42 different countries. It works really well for these students: the diversity of nationalities ensures English is the lingua franca and an environment rooted in the Surrey countryside, where their day-pupil friends (a third of the school community) live and grow up, gives them a fully British experience and a real sense of place. 

“For our British majority, growing up alongside people from different parts of the world encourages global-mindedness, from first-hand experience rather than through media or other preconception. To have their eyes opened to the possibility of study abroad (which is their friends’ experience already) opens up horizons of universities in Europe, the USA or further afield as real and exciting possibilities. Many of our students will end up in multinational companies with careers taking them throughout the world and where the imperative to be able to understand and work alongside people from very different backgrounds and cultures will be crucial to get ahead. And lastly, as I always say to parents, they will never need to stay in a hotel again: with friends all over the world, that gap year is sorted.

“Most importantly, creating a diverse community, but one based and steeped in a single nation’s tradition, gives our pupils a sense of what is really important about one another and an understanding which we can only hope will help their generation towards a more peaceful world.”

Independent Schools Council: www.isc.co.uk 

International School Consultancy: www.iscresearch.com 

Repton School: www.repton.org.uk

Riverston Group: www.riverstongroup.com 

Geneva English School: www.geschool.ch 

King Edward’s Witley: www.kesw.org 

Bird & Bird: www.twobirds.com

Read more from Bird & Bird in our special Internationalising Schools supplement.

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