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3 pieces of advice on expanding your school's brand overseas

Ian Stewart Jones, Vice President of GEMS Education, Abu Dhabi Schools, offers his tips for success in opening new schools abroad

Posted by Julian Owen | March 03, 2018 | International

Quality education is increasingly becoming big business, both for schools in the UK and internationally. If managed well, expanding your school beyond its home shores can raise the profile of your brand internationally and encourage more pupils through the doors of all schools within the group.  

As a principal who has opened a number of schools abroad in recent years, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way and offer my advice for ensuring your school expansion is successful. 

1. Know your market 

The first step is to gain a deep understanding of the market you are planning to expand your school’s brand into, so you can identify the gaps and ensure the school’s provision can fill them. 

You need to keep your finger on the pulse of changing markets. In places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for example, there has been a historic trend of expensive new schools being built to attract high-earning expatriate families. But more recently, there is a growing appetite across the region for new schools that cater for a much broader market. 

You are considering making a major investment in the future of your school brand, so take steps to ensure you identify and respond to the changing educational and cultural requirements of the region you are entering into. This will help you shape firm foundations for the success of your new school. 

Ian Stewart Jones

2. Understand how parents make school choices

It is important to get a clear picture of how parents in the area you want to branch into go about choosing a school for their child – this will help inform decisions being made about how and where to market your new school. 

Research we conducted recently revealed, somewhat surprisingly, that parents in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) often visit a school’s website first, then speak to other parents to get their views before they consider visiting the school or enquiring about fees.

This insight helped us to focus marketing budget for a fledgling school on targeted activity, such as social media campaigns and events where prospective families could meet and chat with existing parents to get their views. This was a really effective way to increase enquiries, and ultimately bring more students through the school gates. 

3. Monitor school performance 

The importance of monitoring the performance of a new school from the get go cannot be underestimated. 

At the heart of this is a management information system (MIS) that allows you to gather real-time data from all your schools simply, such as details of pupils’ attendance, achievement and conduct – we are rolling the SIMS MIS out across all 26 GEMS National Curriculum for England schools in the UAE to achieve this. 

With accurate and timely data at your fingertips, it is possible to easily identify a school’s strengths, so that good practice can be replicated across the group. It is also possible to spot when pupil progress starts to dip so that you can act quickly to support the school in raising attainment.

Expanding your school into new markets can be both challenging and immensely rewarding. With a clear vision of how your new school will meet the needs of families in the area – and the right tools to ensure those needs are met – the groundwork will be in place for success. 

GEMS schools educate around 190,000 students from over 176 countries. To find out how SIMS can support your international school, visit;

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