The challenges of establishing an international school

Fiona McKenzie, managing director of Gabbitas Middle East, outlines the challenges and solutions of managing a school overseas

The dramatic increase in the number of British schools opening branch campuses in locations across the globe has largely been fuelled by demand from both local and expat parents. These parents want to give their children a world-class education and help them gain access to top universities and global employment opportunities. 

However, embarking on developing and managing a school overseas requires serious consideration and a clear understanding of what lies ahead on the journey from conception to delivery and beyond.

The first step is to gain an in-depth understanding of the current education landscape and the prevailing market forces. What are parents looking for? What is the competition like? What role do the local regulators play?

The challenge for opening any new school is choosing a realistic opening date to fit with the academic education cycle; schools cannot afford to miss the start of the academic year. 

In terms of HR, it is crucial to have a timeline setting out when the key people need to be brought on board. 

A founding principal should ideally be in post at least a year before the planned opening date. They will be responsible for establishing the curriculum, recruiting the key team members as well as bringing the school to market. For this, they will need to be supported by an admissions and marketing team who are familiar with the local environment.

Teacher recruitment is another key aspect and recruiting good staff can prove challenging in some parts of the world. Salary is an element but the overall package and opportunities for professional development are also important in this competitive field.

Pupil recruitment in the early life cycle of the school is mission critical. The growth of pupil numbers, either below or above target, can present challenges in terms of staffing as well as the cost implication; both need to be managed carefully.

The key is to deliver what was promised, to flag up and be open about any challenges and most of all to try to stay true to the integrity and purpose of the initial vision for the school.

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