A recent international school leaders conference, organised by Pearson, included a panel on the future market for international schools. With panellists from ISC Research, COBIS, and ECIS, this session covered a lot of ground. It looked at a range of themes including: admissions; teacher recruitment and retention; student profile; wellbeing; future thinking and new ideas; increasing competitiveness in the market; and the changing role of parents. In this article, two of the panellists share their thoughts on some of these issues.
Pia Maske, East Asia field-based researcher, ISC Research
The last fifteen years have seen several global crises that have resulted in a repatriation of Western expatriates back to their home countries, including the 2008 financial crash, the oil and gas crisis between 2014 and 2016, and the Covid pandemic.
International schools that have been heavily reliant on the enrolment of children from such families have felt most impact. Many schools have had to adapt their marketing, admissions and, for some, their tuition fees, to broaden their access. For other international schools, demand from local families and non-Western expatriates had already driven a demographic shift that meant such schools were not impacted so drastically by global crises affecting the expatriate sector.
“Although demand is high, so is competition between schools.”
Today, partly due to the global crises and also due to demand, most international schools enrol a significant proportion of local children and expatriates from all countries and regions of the world. Although demand is high, so is competition between schools and many promote their international education offering and its potential to attract new admissions.
This promise of an international education has resulted in parents selecting an international school for their child as a pathway to higher education in the US or UK – and many students achieve this. However, the new International School Student Profile report from ISC Research suggests that international school students have more expectations of their international school education than that. They are drawing upon the reflective, critical thinking skills that they have developed to challenge elements of their own education.
Youth-led movements, several of which have recently been formed and actively supported by well-educated international school students and alumni, such as The Organisation to Decolonise International Schools (ODIS) and Reset Revolution, are speaking out and taking action to promote change.
In addition to issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ), and sustainability, these organisations and groups are challenging a common assumption that an international education results in the development of international mindedness.
“Youth-led movements such as The Organisation to Decolonise International Schools are speaking out and taking action to promote change.”
ISC Research studied this in more detail for its new report. The research suggests that there is confusion regarding the meaning of international mindedness. Although many international schools adopt the International Baccalaureate’s definition of international mindedness, many use it loosely or interchangeably with such terms as “global mindedness” and “cultural intelligence”.
With no current solution designed to effectively measure and track the development of international mindedness of students between the ages of 3 to 18, it is currently very difficult for schools to assess. A survey conducted by ISC Research with international school students, teachers and alumni during the summer of 2021 indicates that 100% of respondents said that international mindedness had not knowingly been measured in their classrooms.
“It is currently very difficult for schools to assess international mindedness.”
International schools can offer students a pathway to global higher education and can provide the opportunity to bring diverse cultures together in order to engage in conversations important towards the development of international mindedness, however further work is necessary if international schools are to deliver on a promise of developing it.
Fiona Rogers, deputy CEO and director of professional development and research, COBIS
There is an incredible diversity of schools across the British international schools sector, but despite the breadth and variety, there are common issues or key themes which are significant for many schools in the current climate. Two of these, which are inextricably linked, are wellbeing, and teacher recruitment and retention.
Wellbeing is not a new focus for schools, but the events of the past two years have been a catalyst for schools to increase their work in this area.
Schools have had different strands to consider – students, staff, but also the wider school community. Many international schools – particularly those with a large proportion of international families – found themselves playing an increased role in supporting the wellbeing of their wider community during the pandemic.
Looking to student wellbeing and mental health, in some countries children were not physically in school for very prolonged periods. During periods of school closures, schools have had to develop new approaches to supporting pupil wellbeing remotely, and faced many new challenges. How do you provide pastoral or safeguarding support for a child with difficulties in their home environment, when they can’t physically leave their problematic home environment? And with students returning to school in many places, the research is already starting to appear suggesting that the wellbeing implications are likely to be long-running.
“During periods of school closures, schools have had to develop new approaches to supporting pupil wellbeing remotely.”
Staff wellbeing – which has been magnified by the challenges arising as a result of the pandemic – has become a key priority for schools, with clear links to recruitment and retention. But it is important to flag the wellbeing of school leaders as a crucial consideration for the sector as a whole.
So many school leaders pushed themselves to the limit over the past two years – and continue to do so – putting the wellbeing of their school communities first, and ensuring continuity of high-quality teaching and learning in the face of adversity.
To ensure the ongoing success of the sector however, it is vital that we start to see an increased focus on looking after the wellbeing of leaders in our schools. To borrow a common theme – we need to support our leaders to put their own oxygen mask on first.
“90 per cent of school leaders felt that it was challenging to recruit the required quality of permanent staff.”
Turning to teacher recruitment and retention, even before Covid-19, research conducted by COBIS and ISC Research on Teacher Supply in British International Schools found that c.90 per cent of school leaders felt that it was challenging to recruit the required quality of permanent staff.
And the pandemic has undoubtedly had an impact on teacher recruitment and retention, including wellbeing implications for staff that have not been able to travel or see family for many months, international staff choosing to return home, challenges with visas and travel for new international school staff, etc.
Looking at recruitment for the most recent academic year, many heads have reported an increase in recruitment of teachers already working internationally, and in some cases an increase in appointment of local staff. The international schools sector has been talking for a number of years about the idea “growing your own” teachers, and the opportunities for training new teachers (with internationally recognised qualifications) within the international school environment.
“The increase in local recruitment and school-based training is something that is likely to continue to grow in the coming years.”
COBIS has been advocating the idea that teaching is a global profession, to support the growth of the global teacher workforce and facilitate the movement of teachers between domestic and international markets. The increase in local recruitment and school-based training is something that is likely to continue to grow in the coming years, and will be crucial to meet the need for high-quality teachers in a growing market.
The UK Department for Education’s plans for iQTS (due to be piloted from September 2022) – an international teaching qualification based on English Qualified Teacher Status – could play an interesting role in this, and may well become an attractive option for international schools with a high proportion of local staff, looking to differentiate themselves within the market.
The recording of the full panel discussion can be accessed here. For a wider discussion of these and other issues, join the 40th COBIS Annual Conference – Connect, Reflect, and Explore – 7-9 May 2022 (London, UK and online).
This article first appeared in the latest edition of International Schools Magazine, out now.