Group share

The significant growth of international school groups 

School groups have been a feature of international education for some time. Now they are growing in size and in number. Ashley Kirk of ISC Research looks at the phenomenon.


School group presence and development within the international schools market is expanding. The latest data and trends highlighting the growth of school groups within the international schools sector have been published in a new white paper by ISC Research.

In 2017, ISC Research data recorded 333 school groups representing 2,526 international schools and teaching 1.28 million students aged between 3 and 18. Today there are 616 school groups representing 4,861 international schools that are teaching 2.18 million students. Most of this growth has occurred through acquisition and will continue to develop this way into the future. However, more than half of the 377 future international schools under construction and in planning that ISC Research has recorded are part of a school group. 92 are scheduled to open this summer. These include 15 new schools for STEAM Education Sweden, three for the Victoria International Schools of Sharjah, and three schools for the Stellar World Group in India.

As a proportion of the total market, international school groups have increased from 23% to 38% in just five years, with much of the remaining 62% of the market still privately owned. Only 21% of the schools that are part of a school group are not-for-profit.

Standards essential for school group success

A common model for school groups is to acquire small, family-owned individual international schools for a relatively low cost, centralise some of the costs such as marketing, recruitment, and staff training and development, and bring in a support team with the skills to guide the management and progress of the school. The improvement of educational standards is essential to the success of any school group; a school’s standard needs to improve or remain high for it to be a valuable asset. Enrolments will drop if standards decline – and parent power is extremely influential in spreading the word about a school, both good and bad.

School groups with good standards can become highly visible when their good reputation is combined with strong brand identity, which can be highlighted in the uniforms and websites of all their schools. Many parents and teachers will be attracted to a school group with a good reputation because of the future opportunities it can offer. For a family who will be relocating in the future, the potential to move their child to a school within the same school group can provide a reassuring level of familiarity during a time of significant change. For educators, being hired by a school group can offer many more opportunities for career progression and transfer, as well as professional support between common department roles.

Biggest groups

The school groups within the international schools sector with the highest number of schools and students include Maple Bear Global Schools, GEMS (Global Educational Management Systems), Beaconhouse Group, SABIS School Network, Grupo SEB, and Nord Anglia Education. Maple Bear Global Schools, which mostly serves children in the early years, currently has the highest presence of international schools with 361.

GEMS currently has the highest total number of students enrolled within its school group; in excess of 124,000. Nevertheless, the international schools market still remains fragmented. This, combined with the market’s resilience during the pandemic and its healthy growth potential, makes it an attractive one for continued investment.


Ashley Kirk is Sales Director at ISC Research which supplies data, trends, and intelligence on the world’s international schools market to support school development, improvement, and planning. 





Feature Image by: Sumanley xulx from Pixabay

Support image by: Wonderlane on Unsplash

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