Beyond the rankings: finding the best international school

Since international schools are all wildly different to one another, Peter Howe takes a closer look at factors that can make all the difference

There are many reasons why you would consider sending your child to an international school. Where an international school experience can be truly special is when you and your child want to have a transformative experience that comes from the diversity that some international schools can offer.

But the international school market is vast, and the term ‘international school’ can refer to schools that are completely different to each other. While international school rankings are available in some countries, they tend to have inconsistent criteria across different locations, and can be like comparing apples with pears. So, what else can you consider in finding the perfect international school for your child?

Location

Consider where in the world you would like your child to be and, crucially, where they want to be. Many international schools also offer boarding opportunities, and so the entire world could be open to them, with destinations you might not have considered.

Some children will want to remain close to their family, but others will flourish elsewhere, with a fully immersive, independent experience that comes from being part of a residential school away from home. Attending international school doesn’t always mean moving to another country. An international education might be right on your doorstep.

Do you want the school to be a gated community, like an island? Or do you want the school to feel integrated with its local community? This might be particularly important in a school that sees community interaction as part of the learning process, and offers exposure to other environments.

Curriculum

Explore the different types of curriculum available around the world through different types of international school and consider what will suit your child the best.

Do you want them to follow your home country’s national curriculum, or do you want them to experience something with more of an international outlook, such as the International Baccalaureate?

When considering the right curriculum for your child, at least three key considerations are worth bearing in mind:

 – Portability of the curriculum: Is this curriculum offered in different locations around the world? If they need to move school, can they pick this curriculum up in another school elsewhere?

 – Recognition and reputation of the curriculum: How well regarded is the curriculum by leading universities and employers? What impact on the world have alumni of this curriculum had? Does it have a strong history of success?

 – Preferred learning styles for your child: Is your child better suited to following structured subject-focused study approaches, or more suited to blended subjects delivered through multi-disciplinary themes? Do they thrive more in a teacher-led or self-directed study environment? Do they prefer to be ‘taught’ or ‘guided’?

Peter Howe

Diversity

While your child may be attending a school, say, in India, if they attend the local American international school this means they might mostly be studying with Americans. 

When familiarity is important to your child, this type of international school may appeal. But others may find a more diverse community has the potential to offer a more transformative experience. Ask yourself how diverse you and your child would like the community to be.

Challenge

Consider how challenging their experience will be from school to school. That challenge comes in many forms:

 – The educational model, teaching and learning methods adopted by the school, with some schools placing heavy emphasis on self-directed study

 – The curriculum followed, with some curricula following clearly defined subjects all taught separately, and others challenging your child to blend subjects together through a thematic learning approach
(such as the IB Diploma Programme’s approach)

 – The diversity of the community. While diversity may nurture creativity, it can also create challenge through divergent cultural beliefs and values

 – The challenge of juggling the academic experience with co-curricular and service expectations, as well as pursuing their own outside interests and passions

The child who is ready for the most challenging of environments is often the child who guides their own education experience and future. 

For more information about UWC visit uwc.org/schools and to apply, visit uwc.org/howtoapply. Peter Howe is Principal at UWC Atlantic College.