Why school outposts abroad are about far more than money
Independent school branches overseas don't just keep the bursar happy, but provide great CPD for staff and a wealth of learning experiences
Come for the x, stay for the y……. There is an article by Braden Kowitz on the Google Venture website which talks about the difference between the apparent value of a product and its discoverable value. He explains that apparent value can be described as the feature which gets you signed up to a product, whilst discoverable value is the outcome of building a deeper relationship with that product over time.
This got me thinking about the reasons why many schools start to venture into the international franchising market, and what might make them choose to remain or even expand their activity. There is a good deal of hard work involved in establishing a partnership with an organisation which is going to carry your name overseas. Even in a standard franchising model where, in exchange for a moderate annual royalty, you have little involvement in the school bearing your name, if your homework isn’t carefully done you will run into problems.
Doing thorough due diligence is essential, not just from a business perspective but also from a philosophical one. You need be sure that you are working with a business which operates by good international standards to be confident that you aren’t going to be adversely impacted by activity in other strands of the business.
On the philosophical front, with an increasingly mobile teacher market comes the growing likelihood that a poorly-resourced school carrying your name (or even a well-run one which takes its concern with making a profit a touch too far) can send former employees into the world having formed an unfavourable impression about the values by which you live.
"Building a school from the ground up...gives educators the opportunity to think more deeply about what they do."
So is it worth the effort? The obvious benefit (apparent value) is financial, and in these straitened times an additional income stream from royalty payments is always welcome in supporting the home school’s ambitions. So you now have a happy bursar: is this the extent of the benefits? Not at all; I would argue that this is only a small part of the potential gain, and that the advantages of ensuring a high level of involvement when opening, supporting and proactively maintaining links with your overseas branch(es) are, in fact, manifold.
First, there are the professional development opportunities arising from getting your senior and middle leaders involved in school design from scratch. Established schools are generally a morass of historical routines, policies and complex work-arounds. Designing and building a school from the ground up, and supporting the founding team in building a curriculum model and developing their protocols for the smooth running of the school gives educators the opportunity to think more deeply about what they do, and why.
Second, if you can commit to supporting quality assurance, there are opportunities beyond those offered by UK inspectorates for staff to spend time developing a framework and refining it in action. Quality assurance visits also give UK-based staff the opportunity to see how qualification frameworks and teaching schemes are influenced by context; the appreciation of schemes of work and knowledge systems as subjective is a valuable perspective.
"Schools can become important vehicles for fostering a sense of global community in our young people."
Third, the genuine connections which can be forged between students and staff, not simply through exchanges and one-off events but through day-to-day interaction and collaboration on projects, benefits everyone concerned. When they are well-structured, these interactions become the norm, rather than being viewed as special occasions. This helps foster a less superficial understanding of other areas of the world in students. At a time when politics and opinion seem to be becoming increasingly partisan, with countries turning inwards against perceived threats, schools can therefore become important vehicles for fostering a sense of global community in our young people through their international links.
Finally, the sharing of good practice can highlight the fact that no one school has all the answers. Whilst the home school may be the template for international activity, there are always things to learn and ideas to try out back home. Particularly now, in this pandemic era, the ability of schools to share their experiences and suggestions of how to offer the best educational experience possible, whilst also providing a shared forum for discussing the challenges of life in schools is truly invaluable.
In summary, your board may well appreciate the appeal of an international franchise, but staff and parents may be understandably concerned about the value of a close relationship with a school many thousands of miles away. You could, however, position it as an exercise in discoverable value, as described by Brad. You come for the financial upside, but stay for the educational experiences.
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