A very international British education

Relocate07.07.15, as the international schools market goes from strength to strength, evidence suggests that a British curriculum is likely to increase its dominance in international schools across the globe, and that overseas families will continue to seek places at independent schools in the UK. HMC member schools Dulwich College, Harrow School, Shrewsbury School and Wellington College are referenced.

According to the 2015 Independent School Council (ISC) Census, independent schools in the UK offering a traditional British education have recorded the highest number of pupils since records began in 1974.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, puts this down to consistent high standards and a "tremendous record" of academic achievement, but also believes that there are stimulating opportunities for pupils outside the classroom and a professional approach to pastoral care.

"It is no surprise that British independent schools are seen as amongst the best in the world," says Mr Lenon. The figures from this year's ISC Census show that many families relocating to the UK would agree. There are currently 16,821 non-British pupils whose parents live in the UK. Of these, more than 40 per cent come from EEA countries and a further 15 per cent come from the US. On top of this, there are 4,175 other British pupils whose parents live overseas.

But it is the export of a British education that has seen the biggest growth over the last few years. While there are only around 350 ISC-affiliated schools, the overseas campuses of ISC schools are just a small part of the growing number of British schools overseas (BSOs). The International Schools Consultancy, which researches and analyses data from the international schools sector, estimates that there are more than 3,000 BSOs, representing around half of all English-medium international schools worldwide.

Overseas campuses of some of the best-known British independent schools are already positioned in global relocation hotspots. Dulwich College has had a school in Shanghai since 2003, and Harrow and Wellington also have outposts in China. Earlier this year, new school projects were approved in Hong Kong, including Shrewsbury School, which also has a campus in Bangkok.

Commenting on the new school approval, Matthew Collins, chairman of the governing body of Shrewsbury School, said, "The partnership between our great school in the UK, founded almost 500 years ago, and South East Asia is uniquely strong. The governors, headmaster and teachers here in England share the excitement of the Hong Kong team at the opening of the new school – and look forward to more students benefiting from the world-class Shrewsbury education already provided in the UK and Thailand."

International qualifications

At this year's Council of British International Schools (COBIS) annual conference in London, CEO Colin Bell announced that there were now 236 COBIS member and accredited member schools in more than 68 countries. Sixty-five new schools have joined the association since last year, and many more schools are applying.

Data from the COBIS annual survey earlier this year revealed that these schools educate around 100,000 pupils and employ more than 12,000 teachers and support staff. The results also show that the curriculum most commonly taught by responding COBIS schools worldwide is the UK curriculum, at 99 per cent.

The examinations most commonly taken in responding COBIS schools in the previous academic year were international GCSE (47 per cent of schools), A Level (31 per cent of schools) and AS Level (27 per cent of schools).

The International GCSE (iGCSE) is an internationally recognised qualification. Though it is at the same level as the GCSE, the iGCSE is intended to have a broader approach to learning, and greater international transferability, than traditional UK-based qualifications.

According to the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) examining board, the main awarding body of the iGCSE to UK schools, the iGCSE has become well established on the international education scene, and is now an internationally recognised qualification for 14- to 16-year-olds, taught in more than 2,600 schools worldwide.

Michael O'Sullivan, chief executive of CIE, believes that the iGCSE helps students to gain a global perspective on their learning.

"The desire to learn by looking beyond our own society is more evident than ever," says Mr O'Sullivan, "with more than a million pupils taking Cambridge examinations around the world. These students want to maximise their potential by having an education with international characteristics. This allows them to gain globally recognised qualifications, and to look beyond their own country in their education.

"For pupils and their parents, education is the key to achieving personal goals, such as improved employment and higher-education prospects. Increasingly, those goals have a global perspective, and pupils want access to the world's leading universities wherever they are. They see an international education, such as that offered by Cambridge, as a means to achieve this."

Benefiting the UK economy

Access to international higher education is becoming increasingly important for families across the globe, and many are looking to an education based on the UK curriculum to help their children acquire the qualifications necessary to gain entry into the top higher-education institutions.

Former Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities Greg Clark believes that education is an important enabler of UK economic growth and one of our most successful exports. "Education is global," said Mr Clark. "In recognition of this, the government published its International Education Strategy in July 2013, setting out the case and strategy for a step change in the way government supports the education sector to grow internationally."

Alongside the publication of the International Education Strategy, the government department UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) established an education unit to support UK education and training organisations to win business overseas, with the aim of helping the sector to secure £3 billion of new business by 2020 as part of its 2020 Export Drive.

According to UKTI Education, its responsibilities are to identify "tangible, large-scale education projects" in a number of priority markets. As set out in a report from the unit earlier this year, these projects will be the focus of the team's delivery work over the next few years and include "high-value education opportunities" in China, Kazakhstan, Latin America (particularly Peru and Colombia), Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Ensuring quality

The government has also put its weight behind an accreditation mark for British Schools overseas. In a letter to BSOs, Jackie McHanwell, of the Department for Education (DfE), set out the government's plans to launch a 'state emblem' for BSOs that have passed inspections by a government-approved inspectorate.

"We have been seeking to patent a logo to cement the BSO brand," said Ms McHanwell in her letter. "This would be something which every school with a successful BSO inspection could use in its publicity material to indicate that it had met our quality standards."

After his extensive lobbying activities, Trevor Rowell, chairman of COBIS, is delighted that the British Government plans to register the term British Schools Overseas as a registered 'official sign'. The emblem is still awaiting official approval from the World Property Organisation (WPO), but every school that has had a successful BSO inspection within the last three years may use this emblem in its publicity.

The UK government operates a system of inspections for British schools overseas, run by a number of approved providers. It is a voluntary scheme and looks in detail at similar aspects of education and welfare to the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) in England. These include the quality of the curriculum and teaching, the welfare of pupils, health and safety, and the suitability of the school premises.

By achieving UK-inspection-based approval, schools should be able to demonstrate that they provide a British education that has similar characteristics to an education in an independent school in the UK.

Inspectorates are required to publish on their website the results of all inspections for the past three years, but all reports can also be found on the central UK government website, gov.uk

With more people working overseas than ever before, the demand for high-quality British international schools has never been greater. And, with the backing of the UK government and the commitment from world-class UK independent schools to continue expanding into popular relocation destinations, globally mobile families are in a strong position to take advantage of a British international education wherever in the world they choose to call home.

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