Opportunities, challenges: Global expansion for UK schools

SPONSORED: Fiona McKenzie, Director of Gabbitas Middle East, explores the factors schools should consider before expanding internationally

There are many reasons for considering opening an overseas branch of a successful British school. There is demand from expat families who desire continuity of curriculum and language, as well as demand from wealthy local families who want a learning approach and qualifications delivered to the highest British standards, to provide their children with the best opportunities to succeed in a global environment.

For schools thinking about expanding internationally there are various factors to consider before signing on the dotted line.

It is important to be clear about the core purpose of the proposed expansion. What does the parent school want from the expansion? Is it to do with internationalism and broadening the reach of the school or is it to do with the financial returns? Whatever the motive, implementing the new school will be costly in terms of the time for senior leaders and the governors.

Having decided to go ahead, the governors need to think through the vision for the new school. How much will it be able to replicate the mothership? Jonathan Hughes D’Aeth, former Head of Repton Dubai, commented: “Translating the ethos of a school into a different cultural setting is challenging, especially when the new school may be double the size, offer a different curriculum and be subject to local regulations which impose unique challenges to the running of a school. At Repton we preserved the house system, the uniform and much of the educational ethos of the school but we had to recognise that we were operating in an Islamic culture and some adaptations had to be made to be locally compliant.”

Fiona McKenzie

Creating the right ownership model will be fundamental to success. Will the school provide the capital? If it is a private investor, what role will they play and how much say will they have in the running of the school? It is important to be clear about the financial model and how the fee levels and overall size of the school will deliver the return on capital invested given the local regulations and prevailing market conditions.

Plus, it’s crucial to understand the implications of the Opco/PropCo arrangements and their impact on the nature of the school and its governance.

The debate about curriculum is another factor; delivering the same curriculum as the parent school may make sense but is it practical and appropriate in a new country? Jonathan added: “It is important to realise the impact of national requirements on curriculum content and to take account of any additional subjects which must be fitted into the timetable. In the UAE compulsory Arabic, Islamic Studies and Social Studies take up to 20% of curriculum time.”

Ultimately, a school is only as good as its leadership and its teachers, so recruiting and retaining staff who embody the vision of an expanding school is critical. This challenge can be compounded by the fact that some countries operate their own teacher licensing regulations and ministries may have final approval over who is appointed. In addition, many countries will have quotas in place to ensure a percentage of the staff are hired from the local population.

Key to delivering and running a happy and successful ‘sister’ school is finding the right partner. One who you can trust and work with will be essential for a long-lasting and successful relationship. If this relationship works well, it will help you ensure that the ethos of the school stays true to its original foundations whilst simultaneously securing its future viability.

For more info, please visit: gabbitas.com