The future of international education

What will international education look like in 2030? Should all independent schools go international? Jo Golding attends COBIS’ annual conference to get some answers

The Council of British International Schools (COBIS) held its 38th annual conference from 11–13 May this year to look at the future of international education. And with the amount of British independent schools opening up branches overseas, it’s clear the market is not only stable, but growing.

I spoke to Anne Keeling, communications director of ISC Research, which exhibited at the event, about whether all independent schools should consider going international.

She said: “If they want to build their brand and look for diverse ways of raising income then it’s a really viable option. British education is in huge demand overseas, especially in Asia.

“When there’s a British brand aligned with a school, it gives the parents confidence.

“But if you’re going to do it, you need to do it properly. You need to have the infrastructure in place. You can’t have a head leading a school in the UK, whilst trying to open an international branch at the same time. The best way to do it is to establish an international team, which will grow as you progress throughout the journey.

You can’t have a head leading a school in the UK, whilst trying to open an international branch at the same time

“Take it slow and do your research. It might be your bursar, business manager or someone external, perhaps an alumnus, who will do the initial development work so you’re not pulling your leadership staff away from their job.”

Small independent schools can get involved too because there are many different ways that you can work internationally. While opening an overseas branch is one option, you might decide to just provide the teaching and learning ethos for a school that’s opening up, in a more managerial role. Your name might not be known overseas in this case, but you’d still financially benefit.

ISC Research, which hosts the International School Awards with International School Leaders magazine, attended the conference to build its brand with schools less engaged in the market, and to share best practice.

Keeling said: “Because of our research we get a big sense of the market, but these conferences are really good for hearing it directly from the head or senior leader and to have those individual conversations.

“Organisations like COBIS are so valuable because whether you’re an international school on your own in a city or in a highly competitive situation, you might still feel quite isolated. As a membership you’re all working together; it’s really good for heads to have that opportunity.”

For schools thinking about expanding internationally, ISC Research can provide useful data to help make an informed decision, as well as help schools find an investor and anything else needed along the way.

School leaders came to the conference to discuss the future of international education

The power of technology

The conference also allowed COBIS to make important announcements such as its three-year partnership with ACRO Criminal Records Office to enhance international child protection. ACRO and COBIS will work to promote the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC) as a rigorous safeguarding tool to reduce risk in British international schools worldwide.

COBIS’ first cohort of training schools (see the full story on page 10) were revealed, which will help to address the current teacher supply challenge in the UK and overseas.

Professor Deborah Eyre, COBIS board director and chair of the COBIS teacher supply committee said: “Our research has shown that international experience supports retention, and that many teachers move in both directions between the UK and international school sectors. Teachers who work overseas gain valuable transferrable skills, in part from the high quality of professional development opportunities.”

Part of the event was about how we can harness the power of technology not only in the future, but right now. Priya Lakhani OBE is the founder CEO of CENTURY Tech, an artificially intelligent learning platform for teachers and students.

She spoke at the COBIS conference about how the platform works, how robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are often confused, and also reassured teachers by saying, “robotics will not run our schools”.

The AI technology used by the platform understands how an individual learns best and adapts to provide the support or challenge each student requires. “This machine is the only one in the world that doesn’t just know you got it wrong, but why,” said Lakhani.

This machine is the only one in the world that doesn’t just know you got it wrong, but why

Teachers can see data on how each student is doing. They don’t have to manually input assessment data into a system, it’s already there to view.

Five schools in attendance at the conference are already using the system, for the past nine months, with 71,680 smart recommendations made in total. “That’s the power of AI in education,” said Lakhani. CENTURY Tech is offering a two-week taster session of AI to schools at no cost.

Lakhani’s talk highlighted how technology used improperly can actually add to teachers’ workloads.

For example, taking the basic learning management system of a child doing homework, getting it marked and getting little feedback, and putting it on a tablet is only digitising a “broken system”.

Instead, platforms such as CENTURY, bring in a new way of doing things that can really reduce workload, and empower teachers in the process.

What does your vision of international education for 2030 look like? Will you be integrating any ideas from the conference into your own schools? Email jo.golding@wildfirecomms.co.uk or tweet @IE_Today.