There are no two ways around it – it doesn’t matter whether you’re an expat or not, deciding what education is best for your children is one of the toughest decisions you’ll ever make.
Being an expat though presents a world of unique opportunities for your children – the chance to discover another culture, learn a new language and to have a more global experience. It also presents issues for parents because you’re likely in a country where the education system is less familiar and you might not speak the language. How on earth do you make sure your child gets the best education they can?
What things should I consider?
Just as adults do, children experience a real mix of emotions when moving abroad – a bit of trepidation mingled with excitement at embarking on a new adventure. Going to a new school is bound to be a bit unsettling because they will be leaving behind old friends and having to make new ones in a country, hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.
Involving children as much as possible in the decision and preparation stages is the best way to deal with a move to a foreign country. But research has shown that so-called Third Culture Kids – those who grow up in a foreign country – are often well-adjusted and attain a high level of education.
Here are some of things you need to think about:
- Age at which school becomes compulsory for children in your chosen country
- Some countries have separate schools for language or religion
- Age of your children
- Whether you plan on returning to the UK and the British education system
- Whether you are willing send to a fee-paying school
- Location of schools to where you are
- Language – do you want them taught in English or local dialect
- The type of school you want them to go to – local or international
The different education methods
There are options for home schooling and boarding but by and large the two options open to expats are local schools or international schools and there are pros and cons to each one.
If you’re planning a permanent or long-term move abroad it may be better to enrol your children in the local school where they will be taught alongside pupils of that country. If that is your permanent base then this is a great option because not only does it allow them to pick up the language, if it is different, and become bilingual, but it fully immerses them in your chosen country’s life. This is particularly important as they grow older and perhaps want to attend university or apply for jobs there.
However, some local schools which do not charge fees will have strict rules for expats and may not allow expat children to attend, leaving you no option to go to a private or international school. The local school system and term dates can also be very different to what you are used to in the UK and if you are planning a return at some point your children could end up with qualifications which aren’t recognised back in Britain. Religious education may factor highly in the local state system and you need to decide if that is appropriate for your family and beliefs.
Many expats choose international school for their children so they receive an education which is either internationally recognised or very similar to their country of origin. Classes are normally taught in English and academic results are generally very good. International schools usually offer smaller class sizes and better facilities than local schools. If you’re on a short-term posting or moving around a lot this can be the best option. It’s also a positive move if you are worried about how your child will integrate and deal with learning a new language.
However, most international schools are fee-paying and can be extremely expensive with fees increasing as children get older. If you’re lucky enough to have such fees covered by your employer then great, but if not, average fees are around €10,000 a year but rising to as much as €20,000 a year for older pupils. Pupils will also be less exposed to the benefits of a new culture and language and may struggle more with integration.
If you decide to home school your children, you will have full control over their education but you need to consider the impact on them and a lack of socialising that can occur. You also need to think about whether you have the time to properly home school them and you will need to check with the country you’re in that it is legal for you to home school.
Boarding back in the UK
Boarding back in the UK is another option and there are some world-class schools to choose from - Harrow, Roedean, Eton and Cheltenham Ladies’ College to name just a few. The education your children will receive there will be second-to-none and will open doors for them as they progress into adulthood.
However, they are fee-paying and you may find the cost of this prohibitive. Plus, there is the emotional cost to you and your children – are you prepared to have them board during term time and only see them in the holidays? Will you miss them too much? How will they cope being without you?
You also need to factor in the additional costs of your children travelling to join you in the holidays or you visiting them.