If you are moving, or contemplating a move, overseas and have children of school age you might find the following useful.
British education in the Middle East is booming. One of our most exportable commodities seems to be the development of schools around the world offering a British education. From Kazakhstan to Kuwait, Brazil to Brunei and The Netherlands to Nigeria, British education is becoming a global phenomenon, and carries a kite-mark of confidence that stands for a quality education. But does it really? Like a common answer to many questions, “it depends.”
In simple terms, when contemplating a move overseas my advice is, like all good pupils should, do your homework….
Check out school websites; read the latest inspection reports; study academic results, if they are readily available; see if there are any blogs about education in the region; does the school advertise the percentage of native English speakers or those of British descent? Word of mouth is often the best way, but be aware that not all HR and relocation staff actually know the schools well enough to be able to help you make an informed decision. Interestingly enough, a good number of those giving advice about schooling in countries around the world to Brits relocating don’t actually have children themselves so have never really considered education in the same way that parents do. However, there are a number of outstanding relocation experts in businesses and large multi-national corporations offering excellent advice to would-be employees about education. What you quickly need to work out is whether or not you have one of them! Ask them specific questions: Does the school follow the English National Curriculum? Is it an IB or IGCSE/A-level school, or both? What is the language of the playground? Where did the teaching staff train? What qualifications do they have? Is there a high turnover of staff? What facilities does the school have? Does the school achieve good results in examinations? If so, how do they compare to the UK norms? How many pupils attend the school? How many classes are there in each year group? How does the pastoral care system work? What is the provision for children with learning differences or special needs, if any? What does the extra-curricular programme offer? Now, this might seem like overkill, but you will certainly get a feel for whether or not your ‘adviser’ is giving good advice based upon knowledge or if they are not up to it. If in doubt, go directly to the school and seek answers to these questions. Websites should also be able to tell you much of this, so it may not do you any harm to ask an adviser a question that you already know the answer to. You only get one shot at your child’s education so be prepared to be assertive about it.
So, what should you do if you are relocating to Kuwait and have a child or children of school age? Well, the reassuring fact is that thousands of Brits have had their children educated most successfully at British schools in Kuwait. If you seek advice from someone that knows the schools and you visit the schools’ websites you will get a feel for the quality of British education available in Kuwait. While you will find a broad selection of good schools here it makes sense for me to tell you a little bit about the school I proudly lead. The English School, Kuwait has successfully educated thousands of British pupils over the years. The vast majority of these pupils invariably look back upon their time as a ‘golden time’ in their education as there is something very special about the school. The English School, or TES as it is more commonly known, was the first British curriculum school to be established here in Kuwait over 60 years ago. Initially the school provided an education for the children of British Embassy staff keen to keep their children with them rather than at boarding school. The school now has well over 600 pupils with almost 50% of them British and 75% native English speakers. The school caters for children from 2 ½ (Pre-Kg) to 13 years of age (Year 8) and we pride ourselves on delivering excellence in the classroom and in extra-curricular activities, and in developing in each child the school’s core values of, Confidence, Empathy, Integrity, Positivity and Respect. We only go up to Year 8, but that means that our older students get to experience taking on positions of responsibility and take the lead in the school. We also pride ourselves on being able to prepare pupils thoroughly for the next phase of their education leaving us as confident learners and teenagers, ready to embrace the next part of their journey. Our leavers mainly go on to British curriculum secondary schools here in Kuwait and a number head back to UK boarding schools and schools around the world. We consider that a TES education is good preparation for just about any secondary school on the planet.
Like all good schools, places are at a premium, but the nature of the Middle East expat workforce in general is that there is inevitable turnover. If you have children and think TES might be the school for you, early registration is the key. Something that applies to all of Kuwait’s British Schools. As soon as you can, and as a matter of considerable urgency, go to the Admissions section of our website and complete an on-line Application Form. The school’s Registrar will get back to you regarding ‘what next’ and will provide information on the likelihood of a place (or places) being available. We facilitate remote on-line testing at a child’s current school if applying for a Year 3 (currently a Year 2 pupil) place or above and in all cases request a reference from the school. If a child does sufficiently well in the on-line testing, a space is available, and we receive a positive reference, a place will be offered. For younger children, a positive reference may well suffice. If we haven’t got space a wait-list place will be offered. If we are not sure whether to offer a place or not we might organise a Skype chat and also seek further information from the child’s current school, especially if extra support might be required for the child concerned. If we are still not sure, we may say that we are not prepared to offer a place without seeing the pupil here for interview in Kuwait. In this latter scenario we will not hold a place open on a ‘maybe’, so the sooner we see the child the better so that we can make an informed decision. Of course, we do, at any stage in the above scenarios, reserve the right to say no, although we do pride ourselves on being able to support most children, but not those with relatively pronounced learning difficulties.
My top tips for finding the right school overseas are as follows:
1. Do your homework and do not always assume that the relocation contact is the expert
2. Register early to avoid disappointment. We have had to say ‘no’ to countless parents that didn’t think to initiate the process of education immediately a post is offered. In fact, don’t wait until then as it may already be too late. Education options need to be a key priority and consideration from the outset.
3. If you can, go and look at a school as a part of your research to get that all-important gut-feeling about the place. If you can’t, scrutinise the website to see what it tells you.
There are some fantastic British educational institutions now around the world and there is no doubt that these schools, coupled with the experience of living in a different culture, provide an outstanding education. Expat children are more worldly wise, they also seem to develop a robustness and open-mindedness through their experiences. Of course, living and working overseas is not for everyone, but when families embrace an opportunity to experience something new, education is a vital piece of the jigsaw. Quality exists in abundance in British education overseas, you just need to know where to look. If you are lucky enough to land a great job overseas and well-organised enough to secure a quality education for your children, savour the moment as it might just turn out to be your ‘golden time.’ Good luck!
Kieron Peacock has significant experience in education having taught in a large Nottingham city comprehensive school, a highly selective independent London boys day school, a co-educational independent school in Bermuda, and been a senior manager and Deputy Head at one of the UK’s leading co-educational boarding prep schools in Dorset. He has been an inspector (Independent Schools Inspectorate) of independent schools since 2001, is a member of their international panel and is currently Headmaster at The English School, Kuwait