Parents around the world are spending nearly $40 billion (pound;23.6 billion) a year sending their children to private international schools, in a bid to secure them a Western-style education, research has revealed. More than 7,000 international schools are now open worldwide - a figure that is growing rapidly each year - and about 42 per cent of them follow a British curriculum.
The expansion has sparked a rise in the number of teachers working abroad and the UK has become the single biggest supplier of staff to the sector, accounting for more than 100,000 teachers in international schools. Staff have cited free accommodation, good weather, adventure, unemployment at home and less bureaucracy as reasons for taking up overseas posts.
The rocketing popularity of international schools - fuelled by economic growth in Asia, the Middle East and South America - prompted a 12 per cent rise in fees last year alone, with parents paying an average of nearly $10,000 a year for tuition.
The total income from fees paid to international schools has risen from $32 billion last year to $36.3 billion in the year to May 2014, an increase of 80 per cent since 2009.
The figures were released by the International School Consultancy Group (ISC), which also revealed that the number of students attending international schools rose from 3.3 million last year to 3.6 million in the year to May 2014. And this growth is increasingly driven by locals rather than expats.
The findings will bolster the belief that the British education system is potentially one of the country's most lucrative exports, with the entire sector, including universities, said to be worth upwards of pound;15 billion a year to the UK economy.
"It's been a very successful year for international schools," said ISC chair Nicholas Brummitt. "Investment and development in the market continues to rise. As a result, there will be a significant number of new international schools opening this August. Many others will have completed extensive expansion work ready for the new school year."
ISC's research also finds that UK-based curricula continue to dominate the market, although other options, particularly the International Baccalaureate, are gaining ground.
Elite independent schools in the UK are becoming increasingly aware of this lucrative market: 39, including Harrow School, Wellington College and Marlborough College, are now running overseas campuses.
Colin Bell, chief executive of the Council of British International Schools, a representative body for institutions providing a British-style education abroad, said the schools were a major boost to the economy because they ushered students into higher education in the UK.
"Around half of all students who attend British international schools will go on to study at a British university," Mr Bell said. "That is one of the main reasons as to why there is such high demand for British schools.
"And with the growth in high-quality schools abroad, that in turn leads to a demand in high-quality teachers. UK teachers can now complete their NQT [newly qualified teacher] year abroad in Department for Education-approved schools, and we, along with other representative bodies, are lobbying government to have our schools become teaching schools. All this will lead to growth in the need for UK teachers."
Such changes mean that working abroad is no longer seen as a one-way ticket for many UK teachers. But according to staff who have made the move overseas, the decision should not be made lightly as the quality of schools and terms of employment can vary hugely.
Chris Fenton, a headteacher who left England to run three private schools in Abu Dhabi last year, said: "While the current UK climate in education is forcing new and inexperienced teachers into considering teaching abroad, they should only do it if they have the mental strength and professional flexibility to make the job work for them."
After a difficult first year, Mr Fenton has moved on to a large primary school in Bahrain. "An enormous employment agency industry has been built on the back of the surge of jobs being created in developing countries," he said.
"Many of their tactics are spurious and the half-truths they tell young and inexperienced teachers are often incredible. Teachers making the move should not always expect to walk into a British setting on foreign shores. In my experience it is a complete gamble as to the care new teachers receive."