What should you look for in an international school?

Making the final decision for which international school your child attends must be done with careful consideration. These are the necessary criteria to look out for.

Once the basics have been covered – curriculum, location, budget, availability of places – and a selection of schools chosen, what comes next before making that important decision? 

Start with the teachers
“Highly effective teachers are able to produce much greater gains in student achievement than their less effective counterparts.”
~ Pamela D. Tucker and James H. Stronge, Linking Teacher Evaluation and Student Learning

Simply put, the better the teacher, the more likely students are to succeed. The studies quoted in the book illustrate that quality teachers determine the quantity of what students are learning, and how the effectiveness in the way they are teaching stays with the students for years.

Check where the teachers are from and where they were trained. If you’re looking for a British international school a high proportion of the teachers should be British. Look on the school website for teacher qualifications and how long they stay in post. In a good international school, teachers stay an average of four to six years, are well qualified and experienced. 

Teachers that are passionate, enthusiastic and continuing to develop their own practice are essential. A strong teacher CPD programme helps to attract and retain the best teachers, ensuring excellence in teaching and learning is maintained and enhanced. Look for accredited programmes such as the Professional Development Quality Mark (PDQM) awarded by the Institute of Education at University College London (UCL).

Check the accreditations
International accreditation is one of the ways parents can assess a school’s credibility and get an independent view of the school's quality by other education professionals. Look for ISQM (International School Quality Mark), COBIS (Council of British International Schools) and CIS (Council of International Schools) accreditation. These organisations conduct vigorous evaluations of every aspect of a school from learning and teaching to student welfare, leadership and governance. The reports should be available on the school’s website. If they aren’t, ask for copies. 

In Malaysia, look for the Ministry of Education’s Quality Standards Award for Private Education Institutions (SKIPS). The award is accorded based on the Ministry's assessment of 10 criteria including Establishment and Registration, Institutional Management, Curriculum Management, Teaching and Learning, Assessment / Examination Management, Teachers' Management and Development, Discipline, Standards, Cleanliness and Cheerfulness, and International Teaching Management. SKIPS are awarded with a star rating, with 5-stars being the highest. 

Active membership of a school group or association such as SEASAC (South East Asia Student Activities Conference), AIMS (Association of International Malaysian Schools) or FOBISIA (Federation of British International Schools in Asia) is also a good indicator that the school is offering high-quality education and will provide a range of activities from sports to academics. 

Look at the school’s website and social media
The school’s website and social media channels can provide a good insight into the culture of the school. If a school’s website is poorly maintained, with broken links and out of date information, this can be a sign that services aren’t well maintained throughout other areas of the school. Take time to read a few newsletters and blog posts to get a real sense of the school and community. Can you see yourself and your family as part of this community?

Look at the social media channels - do they post regularly and what sort of content is available? Are they very corporate and sales orientated suggesting the school is heavily ‘for profit’ or do they show candid posts of activities happening throughout the school?  A good international school will have posts reflecting the school’s values and showing students actively engaged in a wide range of activities.

Visit the school
Make time to visit the school and take time to see everything that is important to you. If you need to, return for a second or third visit. A school should welcome this - after all you are making one of the most important decisions for the most important person in your life. 

Look carefully at the facilities
Are they well maintained and being used effectively? The use of space impacts learning and teaching; therefore, spaces where ease of communication and the capacity to work with others face-to-face or online, should be fundamental features of the design. Look for spaces that are flexible, open and have access to resources.

Observe what is happening in the classroom 
Are the students engaged and are they participating in a range of activities or all doing the same thing? In a school that offers personalised learning the students will be doing similar but different activities based on their individual learning goals. You should be able to see the same in the wall displays - there should be a range of activities reflecting the individual learning goals for each child.

Finding an environment a child will flourish in is every parent’s main priority. There are many great international schools in Malaysia and with this guide, parents will be able to better assess and choose the best school for their child. 

To find out more about the Alice Smith School, the only not-for-profit British international school in Kuala Lumpur, visit www.alice-smith.edu.my

Tags: Advertorial, Feature, Schools, KLASS, Early learning, Primary, Secondary
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