4 myths about working in international schools

If you’re apprehensive about making a move overseas, one leader suggests you check the facts before ruling anything out

Simon O'Connor

International teaching myths

For anyone looking for employment, the first days of January are the busiest of the year.  

The teaching profession is no different.

In fact, owing to term dates and notice periods, it is probably one of the busiest industries at the start of the year.

For many, this career reboot will simply involve a local move but, for a growing number of teachers, the lure of international schools is increasingly attractive.

However, many myths persist about the reality of working overseas.

Here are some of the most common misconceptions: 

1. It’s a career dead-end

There may have been some truth to this years ago but it is certainly no longer the case.

The standard of teaching in the sector is now far better understood and, as a result, teachers and school leaders returning to the UK are recognised for the varied experience that they possess.

This also means candidates bring an understanding of global cultural diversity, and an awareness of innovative and cutting-edge education practices.

Teachers coming back to the UK will frequently bring a refreshed perspective and an excitement about what they do. As a consequence, teachers from international schools are actively sought, so your career won’t grind to a halt. 

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2. There’s no training or development

The international sector is increasingly competitive and has many schools performing at the very highest level. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that staff development is a key priority.

The best schools recognise not only their responsibility to develop their staff, they also understand the need for their own continual development.

This tends to take one of three different forms:

  • The first is the sharing of good practice with schools and across school groups. Many international schools operate within clusters or private companies, and therefore have plenty of knowledge to distribute. Many teachers work as examiners and this also provides opportunities for updating colleagues.
  • The second is professional development companies who operate internationally. This market has developed significantly over the past five years, and teachers can access the full range of courses both face to face and online. This includes the NPQ (national professional qualification) courses and master’s degrees, as well as more contextualised courses. 
  • It is also the case that, sometimes, staff need to return to the UK to attend specific courses. Although not common, this does happen and ensures schools can keep up to date with current developments.

3.  Low expectations and little rigour

The image of a sleepy school in a distant backwater is now very outdated. Although freed from Ofsted, many countries have their own systems of inspections.

In Dubai, for example, we have annual inspections, which are far more extensive than Ofsted visits. It is also important to understand the reality of schools overseas in that they are often competing in rapidly developing nations that recognise the vital role of education in their advancement.

International schools often exist in profit-making contexts where there is an oversupply of schools.

The result of this is that excellence in results, curriculum and inspection results are absolute requirements. 

4. Th lifestyle is significantly better

Although this can sometimes be the case, it’s not quite that straightforward. In some countries, teachers are paid more and this can be tax free. Accommodation, flights home and medical insurance are often covered so, depending on the cost of living, this can mean a more comfortable existence.

But there are undoubted limitations. For example, many countries do not provide pension contributions. While most schools will give access to trusted financial advisers, this is certainly something to be considered.

In addition, being apart from family and friends, especially at significant times, such as weddings and births, can be very challenging. It is essential that anyone considering the move does so having considered all the relevant details.

As someone who has been working in an international school for more than six years, I cannot recommend it highly enough. However, as with any decision, it is important to be armed with accurate and well informed perspectives.

Simon O’Connor is principal at Jumeirah College, Dubai

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Simon O'Connor

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