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International schools - the good and the bad?

(32 Posts)
SSSandy2 Mon 04-Jun-07 15:50:00

Dd (6) is not happy in her local school although it is supposed to be a good school, it obviously isn't working well for her. So I'm going to view two international schools which have a place for year 2. Bit worried about dd living in an expat bubble and the amount of coming and going with families and staff moving on.

How have you found international schools? Are they monitored/rated?

LIZS Mon 04-Jun-07 16:49:42

ds attended an International school for 4 years form Preschool to Grade 1 (aged 3 -7)From our experience there are lots of things to take into consideration.

Does it follow the IB syllabus and is it officially recognised. They are sort of monitored if affiliated but we found the conclusions less than incisive and the inspection not frequent. Individually the schools monitor how successful they think they are in relation to others and some may adopt a testing regime (like SATS) from a particular system, but there does n't seem to be a standard check or test of children's progress outside IB exams. Even within an IB curriculum there is scope to put a particular cultural style on what and how it is taught, so one might seem more American , another more British. If you choose an IB school do look ahead as to what subjects get covered/dropped later on. The IB overall seems to work.

What is annual pupil turnover like (ds's was around a 1/3) and what is the ratio of local children to Expat. Do they remix the classes every year to accommodate new and old, native English speakers and ESL students. How do they assimmilate non-English speakers without compromising teaching overall, how much German is taught and spoken and how do they interact with the local culture and community.

Similarly annual Staff turnover ? How do they ensure consistency of teaching within each year group especially since teachers come from varying backgrounds and have trained differently, with different inbuilt expectations of particular age groups. We found this a huge issue both during the year and when the next year began as some children were already more advanced than others.

Leadership - heads also come and go more frequently than you might see elsewhere. In 6 years (4 of which ds attended the school) we have known a complete turnover of all 5 headship positions (one for each part of the school plus overall), some more than once. This has a knock on effect on staff morale, the curriculum and general attitudes.

Sorry this is a bit long but in retrospect we were pretty naive, partly through ds being our first child and not knowing what to expect, what our options were (we had to decide without having lived there yet) and partly because what we thought was a short term decision turned out to be for longer. I'm not sure we'd have made the same decision again but then again International school was ultimately the right route in many ways for ds. Truth is there is huge variation in standards and value for money. Remember many Expats have their fees funded by large companies so you don't always get what you pay for. Anyway, I hope this rambling helps.

SSSandy2 Mon 04-Jun-07 16:57:31

That's a VERY helpful post LIZS. Thank you very much for your thoughts. Both schools follow the NC but one works towards the IB, the other towards GCE/A levels. There are really a lot of points I need to raise when I'm there that I hadn't really thought of.

LIZS Mon 04-Jun-07 18:34:39

Glad it helped. In that case you need to find out at what point and how they make the transition to IB, as it is a rather different approach to learning , less taught, more inquiring and proactive. Have you had a look at the IB website ?

SSSandy2 Mon 04-Jun-07 19:11:59

No, I haven't LIZS but I'll have a google for it now. Thanks!

Cadmum Mon 04-Jun-07 19:46:23

LIZS advice is brilliant! I sure wish I had asked before we spent a fortune on this really poor International School...

This particular school does follow the PYP (Primary Years Program for IB) which seems to amount to not an awful lot of learning. I would be really worried for any child that does not do many hours of extra work (particularly in maths) that had to return to the UK school system at some point.

The teacher turn-over is a HUGE issue. Here in Austria there is a really strong union and once a teacher has been in the school for 3 years they are considered permanent staff so rather than risk having too many teachers that are on permanent contract, the school tends to let them go after 3 years...

Children do come and go all year. This can be really hard for your child if you are there long term.

ESL children get more time and attention (deservedly so) but that can mean that native speakers are not challenged enough.

Learning support or Enrichment Programs seem few and far between so worth asking about if your child might need either.

Our school seems to know that they have a 'captive audience' since there are not many options for educating your children in English so it doesn't seem as though it is a 'private school' although it sure is pricey!

I am not sure who monitored the school this year but they didn't seem to notice that the work outside one of the grade four classrooms has been there since September so certainly does not include anything by the newer students!!!

Look closely at the facilities At our children's school the playground seems designed to accommodate 40 children but actually has up to 400! The library is rarely open after school and the cafeteria closes 1/2 hour after the school day ends making it a real challenge for parents with younger siblings to wait for after school activities to end

Leadership turnover is a real issue here too. The Head, Deputy Head and the Director in primary are all new this year.

Sorry for the ramble/novel.

I am really trying to find one positive thing to say but nothing springs to mind...except that the High School is supposed to be better!

Cadmum Mon 04-Jun-07 19:48:19

sorry for the typos...I am feeding dd2 who is wiggly and hot with a fever.

SSSandy2 Mon 04-Jun-07 19:50:08

Thanks for that cadmum. This really isn't sounding too good. Actually considering what you pay, I was expecting a higher standard of education. So glad I asked you all!

Bit stumped for an alternative now though...

SSSandy2 Mon 04-Jun-07 19:52:30

poor little thing. Mine never eats when she has fever whatever I do.

Smurfgirl Mon 04-Jun-07 19:55:26

I went to international school (Belgium if thats helpful?)

Lots of fun, loads of facilities and lots of 'similar' people - middle class etc it was non-selective but most people were pretty bright.

Teaching was not fantastic tbh. V.relaxed.

NurseyJo Mon 04-Jun-07 19:57:19

Message withdrawn

SSSandy2 Mon 04-Jun-07 19:58:28

I'm in Berlin NJ.
Smurfgirl how long did you attend that school?

Cadmum Mon 04-Jun-07 20:00:41

See, smurfgirl had positive a personal experience. There must be really good international schools out there!

For every bad/negtive tale there is likely a positive one.

You just need to be careful and choose wisely and then be on the scene to ensure that your daughter gets what you are paying for.

We have failed our children in this respect...

Where do you live?

LIZS Mon 04-Jun-07 20:02:13

hmm, Cadmum that is very interesting , had thought maybe ours was a one-off or at least less typical but perhaps not ....

SSSandy2 I have heard good things of the Frankfurt one, if that is where you are , I forget (the father of one of ds' friends went there many moons ago and one of ds' classmates moved over there). If it is an option do still explore it, but ask pertinent questions and maybe ask to meet current parents of different backgrounds.

Have to say the ambiguous standard of education ds received was one of the reasons we moved back before we had to make such a decision for dd and 2 years on he is still playing catch-up in basic academics. Don't get me wrong, he enjoyed his school life but it allowed him to coast, despite our concerns, and now even he realises that perhaps it (and we, maybe) let him down

Smurfgirl Mon 04-Jun-07 20:09:36

I did my A'Levels there, also did volunteering 2 afternoons a week in the infants and babysat for loads of primary school families.

More insights ;)

Mine was a British school so they did Sats, has reception -y13, gcses and a'levels. Personally that suited me because coming from the british system it was easier to fit in and I guess it would work both ways. They used to rearrange the classes every time there was a big shift so y3/y7/y10/y12. I never felt out of place because i joined in y13.

I had a mint time, the school facilities were AMAZING compared to what I was used to, loads of school trips, the library etc was well equipped. The primary section did brownies and beavers out of school. There were lots of out of school events involving the school community, I think there I felt more part of a community than I ever did before that v.good. The parents I babysat for were always doing something with the school balls etc.

Lots of teacher turnover but it was managed quite well I think. primary teachers seemed to stay longer though and I think the teaching quality was better.

Anna8888 Tue 05-Jun-07 13:58:17

My sister and I went to European Schools, my sister's children are currently at the International School of Amsterdam and were previously at the International School of Madrid (both IB curriculum right through). My daughter is about to start school at a French-English bilingual school (modified French curriculum) in Paris.

I am in Paris permanently, in all probability, as my partner is French, so I was looking for something that offered stability in the French system with a more international outlook to suit our family. My sister is in all probability going to make another move in her children's school years, so she needs to ensure compatibility between curricula. She finds that there is a lot of pupil turnover, a lot of non mother-tongue English children in the classes (which slows learning for everyone) and that generally, while the standards aren't bad, they are not as high for a school which costs the same amount in the UK.

I loved my school, but it was in a different environment that had high pupil and staff stability. However, there was an issue of growing up in a (rich) expat bubble - the real world seems rather poor and dull in comparison.

SSSandy2 Wed 06-Jun-07 10:36:07

Thanks Anna. There are some state bilingual options here similar perhaps to what you have chosen in Paris but unfortunately no places for year 2 since competition is stiff and they fill their classes easily for year 1. German families like to get their dc into these schools too since the language aspect makes them interesting. They're all full for year 2. There is only one of those I like but unfortunately we can't get in anyway.

Hmm so actually the things I was a bit concerned about at the International Schools would be a problem for dd. Well we're going to look at them on Monday, so see what impression I get. What does concern a me great deal is that with so many dc coming in who don't have enough English to cope with the curriculum, dd and the other native English speakers would necessarily be held back. That's not great, is it?

I can see why it makes more sense for your sister than for you. These are all good points to consider...

SSSandy2 Tue 19-Jun-07 14:55:26

Anna, just found out about the College Voltaire which is a private French school from 3 onwards. That is probably the one your friend's children attend (in the north of Berlin). I will go and have a look at it tomorrow. Never heard of it before TBH. It would mean changing from German to French though as school language so will see what they advise on that when I'm there.

LIZS Tue 19-Jun-07 14:58:08

hi was wondering how the visits had gone ?

SSSandy2 Tue 19-Jun-07 19:07:48

I found one of the international schools good. Liked the head very much, dc I saw didn't look that happy (spelling test!) and the teachers seemed very young (showing my age!). Classes seemed quiet, dc nicely behaved. Just gagging at the cost really which isn't in proportion to what you get in terms of facilities etc. Heard today that the dc there were found 4 years ago to be behind dc in the UK in terms of their standard of German which seems odd but not the end of the world. About 40 percent of dc are longer term residents (as opposed to DC etc)

Other international schools - 1)too far away, 2)financial problems, requisite investment can't be carried out so ruled those out.

I raised the points you mentioned - (really that was so helpful, thanks so much for taking the time to give me your thoughts) and got, I thought, honest replies so see some of the drawbacks you mentioned being a problem for us too.

So wondering now whether this international is the way to go, or German private or possibly the French private even. Have one German private and the French private to look at still. Ruled out the state bilinguals so getting somewhere at least by a slow process of elimination!

MrsSchadenfreude Fri 06-Jul-07 17:01:52

Mrs Schadenfreude thinks she might know Smurfgirl!

smurfgirl Fri 06-Jul-07 17:02:30


MrsSchadenfreude Fri 06-Jul-07 22:27:24

The volunteering in teh primary school bit and babysitting, although I don't think you actually sat for us.

smurfgirl Fri 06-Jul-07 22:28:41

I was there 2000-2002

MrsSchadenfreude Fri 06-Jul-07 22:38:26

Yes, so were we, but I don't think you are the person I'm thinking of as she left later than that. Marc & John (brothers) used to babysit for us - were you in Marc's year?

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