Successful school start ups

Providing the missing ingredient when starting a new international school

Professor Deborah Eyre argues that a coherent teaching and learning framwork should be in place from day 1 of any new international school. Easier said than done. Here’s her advice.

UK schools and international education

Operating international overseas schools is an attractive option for growing numbers of UK independent schools. Some are already active in the space and others just taking their first steps. The process for creating a new school is now well understood but the real challenge is building a successful school that will thrive in its market and achieve rapid and sustainable growth. An explicit pedagogy is what is needed and here’s why.

Perceived needs for a new school

The orthodox advice for starting a new international school is that you need a good partner, a suitable building, a strong founding head and an acceptable curriculum.  All of these are indeed important but the picture is more complex.

Most operators are looking to establish quality, reputation and student numbers quickly and see a fast return on investment. They are looking to do so in a way that honours the home school and makes use of its reputation and traditions but they are also aware that their educational offer needs to resonate in the new context and appeal to prospective parents and in-coming staff.

The founding head

A good founding head is usually the person required to articulate an educational vision which achieves the above. This is no easy matter. Most principals struggle to articulate their pedagogical approach at the best of times and articulating one which honours the home school, is resonant for the context and also satisfies the partner and the regulator is no mean feat. The head needs a compelling educational story which s/he can communicate easily to teachers and parents. Parents want to hear a compelling story and are increasingly sophisticated consumers. Teacher quality is key to early success and quality teachers are in short supply so the principal will struggle to attract and retain quality teachers without an attractive, explicit and clearly articulated pedagogy. Teachers want to work somewhere where they achieve professional satisfaction.

Transferring pedagogy from the home school

This is an obvious starting point for the educational story but it is not straightforward. In most schools of longstanding the DNA is a matter of custom and practice. It is how we do things around here. It is not usually written down and indeed no-one has seen a need to ‘bottle’ it. But ‘bottling’ it is what you need to do if you want to transfer it. So, two options are available. The first is to transfer significant numbers of staff from the old school into the new one and hence plant the seeds of the same custom and practice. This is not usually practicable. The second option is to try to capture the essence of the school in a way that can be codified and replicated. A worthwhile but tricky activity.

Educational quality in the new context


Of course, the new school will be serving families whose expectations of quality schooling may be different from parents in the home school. In the new school the student population may be mostly ex-pats or mostly locals or a mix of both. The educational traditions of parents in say the Middle East or Asia are that schooling focuses on subject knowledge and academics. There is less of a tradition of creating the rounded individual and less recognition of its value. So, some of the strengths of the home school may be less relevant or they may need greater explanation in the new context. Indeed, even the partner, not to mention the regulator, may have a view of educational quality which is challenging for the operating team!

Building quality fast

The answer to building quality fast is coherence and consistency of educational practice and expectations. You have a new context and new staff. There are differing expectations from parents and differing educational traditions. In order to reduce risk and build quality fast what you really need to adopt is an established, well recognised, teaching and learning framework that can underpin your educational offer and which locates the home school pedagogy in a frame that is already designed to be articulated for parents and staff. Such a framework can be publicised on your website alongside the home brand and add strength to it. It can and will attract quality teachers and bring coherence to the educational offer. It ensures the school offer is instantly acceptable to regulators and the partner.

Teaching and Learning frameworks

Such a teaching and learning framework is not a curriculum. A curriculum usually refers to the knowledge skills and concepts taught and the public assessments associated with it.  A teaching and learning framework focuses on how that curriculum is taught and the outcomes that should be achieved. It delivers educational consistency. For example, in High Performance Learning we set the objective that every child is seen and treated as if they are a potential high performer. That sets a universal expectation for staff which can be easily articulated to parents and can be monitored internally to ensure compliance. Then we have a set of research-derived, high level cognitive competences that form the language for teaching and learning in the school and which are systematically deployed to underpin all teaching and learning and create high performers. These can be used with any curriculum and shaped to honour the essence of the home school’s practice. The offer is truly a reflection of the home school but adjusted to reflect the new context and the most contemporary thinking in teaching and learning.

So an explicit teaching and learning framework can help you achieve both your corporate and your educational objectives more easily. It creates a coherent educational approach from the outset that can be easily communicated to staff and to parents and helps to build a robust school. At the same time having such a framework reduces commercial risk. A strong founding head is a highly desirable part of the build but a strong teaching and learning framework coupled with a strong curriculum can ensure that the school continues to progress even when the founding head moves on.


Founder and Chair at High Performance Learning Services Ltd and formerly global education director of Nord Anglia Educatio, Deborah Eyre works extensively with international schools.

She is the author of many books including High Performance Learning: How to Become a World Class School. 


This article is based on Professor Eyre’s key note speech at the People Pedagogy Place symposium presented by RSAcademics in March 2022.


Feature Image by: eko pramono from Pixabay

Support Images kindly provided by High Performance Learning & by CDC on Unsplash

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