When considering employment in international teaching, the choices are numerous: where to work; bilingual or English-speaking only, International Baccalaureate, International Primary Curriculum, UK curriculum, American curriculum…the list goes on.
Another notable choice is – profit or not-for-profit. This is not something a state teacher really contends with but internationally it cannot be avoided.
For-profit international schools
Let’s start with the for-profit schools. In my experience, there seem to be two main types of for-profit international schools:
‘The Blatant Profit Maker’
It does exactly what is says on the tin. "We are here to make money. Got it? Good. Bums on seats, let's go!" Although morally questionable, with children being dealt with as commodities, there is some comfort here.
You know what you are getting into. Nothing hidden. Sign up to this at your own risk. And none of this means the teaching won’t be superb, the staff happy or the community thriving either. That will all come down to culture.
‘The Value-Driven Profit Maker’
They are out there. Honestly! These schools are enormously successful, and, as a consequence, incredibly profitable – and for all the right reasons. Driven by strong moral leadership with a clear and defined purpose, the children come first.
These schools make huge reinvestment into resources, building, staff training and living conditions – all with the children at the heart of decision making.
But, even they, like the first type, may also put away from profits for investment, or use those profits to rewards their senior staff, or upgrade living accommodation allowances.
Not-for-profit international schools
It is perhaps understandable, then, to imagine that many teachers would see a not-for-profit as the more morally acceptable choice – based on a previous understanding of the term "charity status" from the UK.
After all, not-for-profits are often registered with charitable status, and this suggests the school will be honest, transparent, have good intentions in all it does and have a clear moral purpose that puts "the benefit of the public" above all else.
But can this general view be transferred to the international school market? Do these organisations work in the same way as outlined in the UK by the Charities Act 2011?
Some not-for-profits really are just that. Where the only profiteers are the children, families and community. Admirable.
Others trading under the same assumption, it could be suggested, are altogether quite different.
After all, in many countries outside of the UK, the charitable status of a school really means very little.
Accounts do not necessarily need to be legally published, there may be no lawful freedom of information and the constitution may not need to resemble the strict requirements of the UK.
This leaves the definition and credibility of the term in the hands of very few indeed. The definition becomes, well...less defined.
With no external accountability or need for transparency, what makes a not-for-profit so different to the profit-makers?
In fact, perhaps the only auditable difference is that not-for-profits have to spend excess cash, rather than putting it in an investment fund, say. Great – it all goes on the pupils and teachers. Well, perhaps in an ideal world.
However, annual cash bonuses for "leadership", business class flight allowances, complimentary company car rental, all on top of staggeringly generous salaries and housing allowances, are also all commonplace in not-for-profit schools.
Perks of international teaching perhaps – but definitely not charitable, which is what not-for-profit may have at first suggested to the unwitting teacher.
It’s not illegal nor unlawful, but it is a little distasteful if not misleading. Perhaps even deceptive.
This certainly isn’t the case for all international not-for-profits. Far from it.
Courageous leadership does not fear transparency, it promotes it.
So what is the message?
A school’s registered status does not automatically equate to the value-driven behaviour or the operational culture you might expect.
The not-for-profit/charitable status may be worn like a marketing badge of honour, and yet the operational realities may not be quite so honourable.
International teachers – or those thinking of making the move – should take it all with a pinch of salt before submitting that job application.
The author is an international teacher who has worked in three countries abroad and been a teacher for 17 years