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The Education Quandary

The Education Quandary

Decades ago, when expats set sail to far flung postings for years on end there was almost no element of choice, when their children reached a certain age they were sent packing, back to boarding schools in their native countries for a traditional education that was almost reassuringly the same as that of their parents and their grandparents before them.

Fast forward a generation and although the heart wrenching reality of sending kids home to boarding school has been made easier with the advancements in travel and communication, when it comes to it, actually making the decision is proving more and more difficult. The reason behind the quandary should not be attributed to a reluctance by mums loathe to cut the apron strings, rather that there is now a great deal more choice, international schools are big business and a great many well-funded companies are buying and building quality educational establishments across the globe.

In May 2015, the number of students attending international schools reached the 4 million mark1 for the first time. This is a result not only of an increase in the number of expatriates but also the staggering number of local nationals trying to source a British education for their children. No longer are these children having to travel to access these great schools, the schools are coming to them.

Public Schools Abroad

There are now 22 countries with over 100 English-medium international schools (i.e. schools which use English as the predominant language). The UAE previously led the world in terms of the number of schools and students with 514 international schools teaching over 479,700 students. China, with 530 English-medium international schools, has now surpassed the UAE2 with regards to the number of schools but has less students attending the schools. This is due to the earliest international schools in China being foreign owned and, in most cases, not permitted to enrol Chinese nationals. However, the face of international schools in the country is changing. An increasing number of wealthy local families has resulted in a greater demand for English-medium education which has, in turn, led to Chinese-owned bilingual international schools and English-medium Sino-Foreign Cooperative Schools (i.e. predominantly English speaking schools which also allow Chinese students to enrol) now being established, both of which meet government criteria to accept Chinese nationals.

Hong Kong also remains a long-standing expatriate hub. The march eastwards has gained momentum in recent years as the talent has followed the transactions from London to Asia’s faster growing markets. Up until a few years ago, these affluent British expats had just two choices for their children when it came to senior school years: an education in one of the already established International day Schools in Hong Kong, which although posting impressive exam results, didn’t have quite the kudos required by many, or send them home to a public school, safer in the knowledge that they’d receive a traditional education with good old fashion British values.

Dulwich College is one of the top schools of choice for expats in Shanghai and in five other locations across Asia and, slap bang in the middle of the Dubai desert, stands Repton, a far cry from the Derbyshire school’s English roots, but still claiming to offer the same British values and standards of education 4,000 miles away3.

Adapting the Curriculum

But while being viewed by many as the solution to a growing dissatisfaction with existing international schools, these new public school franchises do not come cheap, so what for the expatriates who can’t afford the annual fees for an International School such as Harrow? Thankfully British, French, Australian and American schools have been established in expat postings for decades all offering the curriculums and standards of education of their native countries. While these schools may not carry the reputation or history of a name such as Marlborough College, many parents choosing to live overseas feel that these long standing local institutions are better equipped to offer the growing number of ‘Third culture kids’ a truly ‘international education’. More and more of these long standing institutions are sitting up and taking notice that the world is changing and as a result of a more global society are adapting their curriculums away from the slightly narrow parameters of the curriculum models of their native countries.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) was established in 1968. Now linked with UNESCO it originated in a single Swiss-based school in an attempt to establish a way of teaching for peace. Half a century on, the IB has been adopted by 3290 schools worldwide, and almost a million children, and is seen by many as a welcome revolution in education offering a rigorous, enquiry-based curriculum that could better prepare a child for University and the realities of modern life.


  1. The International School Consultancy, “4 million students now study at international schools around the world”, May 2015
  2. The International School Consultancy, “Where are the greatest number of international schools?”

Important information

This article has been provided to Lloyds Bank by external/third party contributors and contains their views as of August 2015 and should not be relied upon as fact and could be proved wrong. The information and opinions may not be accurate after this date. The views expressed may not reflect the views of Lloyds Bank plc.

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