Maybe you’ve just got the overseas posting and now it’s time to plan the details of family life, or perhaps you are already living abroad and have made the decision to have children. The expatriate experience can include finding appropriate education for your transnational children. This is not a choice to be made lightly in terms of what is right for children and what is right for your finances. International schools can be amazing places of cosmopolitan learning and intercultural exchange, so here are some things you should know.
1. Expensive and in demand
Sometimes employers will pay for your child’s education but more often now for expats in Europe, they will not. When you look at the eye-watering fees, you might assume that international schools are the domain of the super-rich, but most families do not fall into that category. There are several different types of fees to budget for and these can vary greatly depending on the school; admission fees at the point of application, registration fees to enrol your child and then ongoing tuition fees. Tuition fees for international schools in Europe can range from around €6000 per year for primary school up to €37000 for secondary. The fees generally increase each year with additional reenrolment fees, examination fees and extra charges for sports and activities, plus language support. Some British schools in Europe have uniform policies with associated costs. Due to heavy demand from expats and locals alike, be prepared for entrance tests and wait lists in the more popular expatriate cities.
2. Variance in quality
International schools often operate as private institutions outside of national school standards, independent of government regulations and therefore a spectrum of quality exists. It’s advisable to look for accreditations and authorisations from the Council of International Schools (CIS), The Council of British International Schools, and/or the IB World School accreditation from the International Baccalaureate (IB). Seeking educational expertise and parent reviews is also important in making your choice.
3. Different types
There is a range of international schools in Europe to suit diverse expatriate communities. The European Schools are primarily for the children of EU institution staff based in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain and Luxembourg. International schools based on national language and curriculum, regulated by national ministries of education, such as the French schools and German schools cater mainly to those specific linguistic groups. British International Schools and American international schools follow their respective curriculums with some extra international flavour but are not exclusively for passport holders. Some international schools or bilingual schools in Europe are subsidised by the host national government, reducing some costs for parents and often include compulsory language learning which can help your children to make local friends.
4. Curriculums and educational philosophies
Curriculums and educational approaches that are available in international schools in Europe include the International Baccalaureate curriculum (Primary Years Programme, Middle Years Program, Diploma Program and the Career-related Program), the International Primary Curriculum, the English National Curriculum, regional United States curriculums, the Waldorf philosophy, the United World College Kurt Hahn philosophy and hybrid educational approaches . The choice of curriculum can depend on your child’s needs and their aspirations for further tertiary education. University systems support some curriculums over others. It’s certainly worth doing your homework on these different curriculums.
5. Special educational needs
Thankfully, special needs education is improving in international schools but generally, these schools have been reluctant to provide for children who have difficulty learning. If your child needs extra support, check that the school has a commitment to inclusive education as well as the full resources to provide it.