Converting a school’s student population from fluid to solid
Esther Clark looks at online opportunities available for international schools to offer greater breadth and stronger continuity of education for their students.
Student turnover in international schools
The business model of many international schools often includes the assumption of high turnover and a fluid student base. As many of their families move from country to country, students come and go. But are these schools doing enough to maintain the relationship with their students and could they in fact retain them? Generally linked to their parents’ careers, the expatriate student population does not remain long enough to benefit from an uninterrupted educational experience at one school. Many international schools accept that this is the ‘norm’ and something they just have to deal with rather than address.
Temporary online learning
There is a growing trend, however, for international families who may have to move country regularly for using fully online schools in which the live teaching provision is flexible and accessible for any subject, for any length of time and from virtually anywhere. Some students who use this well-established form of learning are full time online learners, while others only use the service for a few months or join up just to study one specific subject. There is now a growing realisation that the kind of platforms being used by international families to give their children more flexibility could also help international schools maintain a more solid student population.
The business of international school provision is of course highly competitive, so being able to offer families features and services that go a little further is always attractive. When we consider what international families look for in a international school we can probably summarise this as ‘an international curriculum delivered by well-qualified teachers, with the highest quality standards and pass marks in a broad range of subjects.’
It is this last requirement – the broad range of subjects – that many international schools may struggle to support. Children coming from overseas to a new school often come with an expectation of continuing studying subjects from their previous school. This could include IGCSE curriculum areas such as music or any number of languages from Cantonese to Cajun French. The flexibility of online schooling means that if an international school doesn’t have a teacher in place to offer any area of the curriculum, the students may be able to ‘attend’ an online school remotely, just for this subject. Offering this flexibility and breadth of subjects is a highly attractive option to many families. Working in partnership with online learning providers enables schools to show that they can offer a broader range of subjects; in essence, online schools become a powerful extension to an international school and their learning offer.
Maintaining continuity of learning
The other issue that international schools face is the natural flow of students arriving and leaving each year. Even if they are only moving to another country for a short period of time these students are often permanently ‘lost’ from the school.
But there is a way to retain these students and keep them within your student population. Table tennis champion, Anna Hursey, provides us with one such example. As the youngest athlete in the history of any sport to compete in the Commonwealth Games at the age of 11, Anna’s training schedule makes her education increasingly complex. Anna used to study at Cardiff High School in Wales, a mixed comprehensive school in the UK. She was happy at the school and did well, but as the pressure of her training impacted on her schooling, she suffered academically. The ideal option for Anna was to join an online school where she had the flexibility to continue with her education whilst also developing her table tennis career. Wherever she was in the world, she was able to progress with her education alongside her training. However, this didn’t have to be a permanent shift. An alternative option for Anna, would have been to stay at Cardiff High School when she was in the UK and simply continue her GCSE studies with her online school when she was training overseas and needed that level of flexibility.
Year 10 French student, Adrien, provides us with another example. Because of his father’s business, and his mother working between Australia and France, Adrien constantly moves between the two countries. Despite being happy with the education he could receive in Sydney the same couldn’t be said when he returned to spend time in France, where continuity of the international education he had in Australia was not possible.
To secure the highest level of education, Adrien started studying with a specialist online provider. Once again, Adrien’s school in Sydney could have retained Adrien as a student by offering him a place at an online school, while he’s in France before returning to them when he arrives back in Australia.
Continuity of education for elite young achievers
Whether families need that flexibility because their child is a young actor, model, athlete or entrepreneur or if they simply want to study a subject not offered by their local school, online learning providers can become partners of international schools to fill long or short-term requirements. For a blended learning alternative or when additional teaching support is needed in some subject areas, online learning should certainly be a consideration to give a school a competitive edge.
Finally, if we can find an upside amongst all the outcomes of Covid, it is the fact that there has been a huge swell of appreciation of the benefits of online learning. With Covid-19 likely to disrupt schooling for some time to come, experienced online teachers are accustomed to teaching virtually and have the skills to deliver the highest quality, stable education from a distance. They are certainly an attractive option for international schools, their families, students and teachers.
Esther Clark is the director of Wey Education, providers of InterHigh online school, which opened in 2005, and has taught more than 10,000 pupils. Inter High currently has around 3,000 pupils in the school community. Between 40-60 per cent of their pupils are ‘international’.
To discuss a working partnership with InterHigh please visit https://interhigh.co.uk/education-partnerships/schools/