Opening a brand new school is not easy. When St Peter’s School, York was founded almost 1400 years ago, those responsible neglected to leave behind an instruction manual for the benefit of future generations. It was a glaring omission, and not one that can be easily forgiven.
Times have since moved on and our focus has shifted towards the establishment of international schools. This is a far more complicated proposition than a school at home, and one for which the manuals are only just being written. So why do it?
If you were to ask me personally, the glib response might be “because it’s my job”. However, as you may imagine, it goes slightly deeper than that. In my role as director of international schools, I have the rare privilege of managing the global partnerships for St Peter’s School, York. I came into the role as a seasoned expat with direct experience of establishing schools overseas, where British-style education is the dominant force.
“If you’re only doing it for the money, you perhaps need to think again.”
Meanwhile at home, things within the UK independent sector aren’t looking too rosy. The spectre of VAT on school fees is looming and there is a general climate of uncertainty. It’s therefore no surprise that an increasing number of schools are considering international expansion as an alternative source of revenue. However, if you’re only doing it for the money, you perhaps need to think again.
Clearly there needs to be a financial benefit from opening an international school, however this should be the by-product of what you plan to achieve. At St Peter’s, we are incredibly proud of how we do things. Our vision is to prepare our pupils for confident, successful, and fulfilled adult lives so they can go on to have a positive impact on their world. We combine academic excellence with an exciting programme of co-curricular opportunities. We believe that we have something to offer that should be shared as widely as possible. This is what the board of St Peter’s challenged me to do.
“The schools will benefit from our 1,396 years of experience.”
The result of this challenge was our first international school on the beautiful island of Hainan, China. More recently, we announced our plans to establish a high-quality international school in Muscat, Oman. Both schools will offer a world-class education, incorporating elements of the British Curriculum, with an array of co-curricular opportunities. It goes without saying that they will also benefit from our 1,396 years of experience!
The journey to any new school is the result of months, sometimes years, of discussion and planning. This role is made immeasurably easier if you have a good partner by your side. In both China and Oman, we have been blessed to find local partners that share our values, educational approach, and ethos.
Partner selection is the key to any international school project. With a great partner you can do anything, with a bad partner you can’t do a thing. The pandemic stalled our first project. Travel restrictions and the joys of quarantine (remember that?) made travel virtually impossible. Even though an agreement had been reached on paper, this could never be signed until we could meet and stare each other in the eyes.
The moment restrictions were lifted, I took the very first flight to China and agreements were signed shortly thereafter. My one tip therefore for any school considering an international venture is not to rush into it. No matter how good the deal might seem, take the time to find the right partner. One who holds the very same things important as you do. As the old saying goes “marry in haste, repent at leisure”.
“A global presence will have a positive impact on your own school’s brand recognition.”
As a final thought, it’s worth highlighting that with any international school, the benefits flow in both directions. A global presence will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your own school’s brand recognition. You might also witness a flow of students coming to the UK to have the “authentic educational experience.
Current pupils will benefit from collaborations with our international partners, whether that takes place online or via exchange visits. Teachers and support staff may also take advantage of CPD opportunities arising from the partnership.
I mentioned earlier that part of our aim at St Peter’s is to prepare pupils for successful and fulfilled adult lives. My hope is that as we build our international community of schools, all our pupils will become part of a wider, more global alumni network that will carry this spirit of collaboration and cultural understanding with them as they make a success of their lives. That is the essence of why we do it.