The impact of Covid-19 has escalated a decision several independent schools were already preparing to face: that of a possible merger, sale or even closure. However, the demand for British independent education is not in demise. Far from it. The British education brand is as desired as it has ever been, if not more so. But its greatest demand lies overseas; not only in the brand itself, but in access to the brand.
Many non-British parents around the world want a British education for their child. As the most recent survey fromISC Research has shown, they recognise the benefits of learning in the language of English, they like the rigorous approach to behaviour management, teaching and learning, and personal growth, and the progression it offers to British and global universities. The wealthiest, most aspirational parents want the very best of British education from the most prestigious of British brands that money can buy. And they want it all on their home turf.
This is a reality today, and is accessible to most families with financial means in all major cities around the world. Originally emerging in the form of international schools delivering the National Curriculum of England and offering GCSEs and A-levels, the international school market now encompasses a wide breadth of school types.
Included in this choice, are the foreign campuses of a range of Britain’s independent school sector, as well as international schools that are managed or serviced by British independent schools. Adcote, Sutton Valance, Lucton, Hurtwood House, Harrow, Dulwich, Marlborough, Wellington, Repton, Shrewsbury, Brighton, Malvern and King’s College Wimbledon, are just some of the 47 British independent schools with a brand presence overseas. Some of these are in the form of brand name schools, others are in the form of a service agreement with a partnering international school. All combined, they involve 163 foreign campuses, and more are on their way.
“The innovative nature of many contemporary international schools highlighted what the best education can achieve.”
Out of adversity comes opportunity. The impact of Covid-19 demonstrated the benefits of independent education around the world, both for adapting to need and mobilising change. The innovative nature of many contemporary international schools highlighted what the best education can achieve, even when campuses had to close at a moment’s notice.
Some of the most inspirational education delivered during the pandemic was evidenced in international schools, several of which were associated with British independent school brands. This included best practice in online learning, device provision, tech support, wellbeing focus, assessment, extra-curricular opportunities, and parental engagement. Flagship schools, cited for such provision by the global media, have raised the bar for the entire international schools market. They have also resulted in more enquiries from families who, previously, had never considered an international school as an option.
Through our research, international school headteachers are confirming that, as the pandemic has continued, they are experiencing increased enquiries from such parents who are armed with very specific requests, from distance learning provision, to top-up teaching, and from sanitisation protocols, to wellbeing support.
“Development projects are forging ahead, investors are actively seeking brand partners, and service agreements continue to be negotiated.”
As a result, even with the impact of Covid-19, more British independent school brand presence overseas is expected. Development projects are forging ahead, investors are actively seeking brand partners, and service agreements continue to be negotiated, particularly in East and South East Asia.
What does this mean for British schools overseas? We know that the British education brand abroad is highly prized and in demand with families prepared to pay premium prices, if they are able, for the best possible provision. We also know that parents are increasingly demanding; they are well informed, selective, expect value for money, and are prepared to move their child between schools for, what they consider to be, the best education experience within their price point.
No longer can a school guarantee any child will remain with them for their entire school journey, regardless of expatriate or local status. However, the desire for an education aligned to a British style of teaching and learning is a defining factor for many parents around the world.
“The British brand abroad has to come with understanding and consideration for its host country and culture.”
What does it mean for British independent schools in the UK? We know that the preference of most international parents today is to keep their child living at home, or at least within their home culture, until their senior years, if not until higher education. This means that schools need to be prepared to look to opportunities overseas in order to harness the best international potential.
A variety of business models exist, and a school does not have to risk its own finances or brand reputation to achieve this. However, the school also has to recognise that an international presence requires an international mindset. The British brand abroad has to come with understanding and consideration for its host country and culture, its host language and learning traditions, its host family expectations and needs, and a bicultural ethos that will ensure a successful host and home country partnership.