Editorial: The world sees our strength. Why can't we?

27th March 2015 at 00:00

It's an education that's the envy of the world - the curriculum, the qualifications, the teachers - and it's hugely popular, especially with parents in the Far East and Middle East. No, we're not talking about Finland, Singapore or South Korea but good old Blighty.

Education is an export worth a massive pound;17.5 billion to the UK. Universities account for a big chunk of that, but the schools sector, although representing only a tiny sum by comparison, is growing and growing fast.

Such is the desire for a British education that it is said one English-medium international school opens somewhere in the world every day. According to government figures, 3.1 million pupils were studying at more than 6,300 English-medium schools worldwide in 2012. Of these, 1.4 million were enrolled at some 3,000 British schools overseas, where at least 50 per cent of the curriculum is British.

And it's not just about British schools abroad, according to Matthew Burgess, formerly general secretary of the Independent Schools Council and now a partner at law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards.

"Overseas pupils coming to these shores are just as much education exports - and we valued their contribution to British GDP last year at almost pound;1 billion," he says. "It won't be long before the number of pupils educated at overseas campuses of British independent schools exceeds those coming here."

This movement is not just confined to the private sector. The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that up to a dozen state schools and sixth-form colleges were enrolling foreign pupils, especially from China and Russia, at fees of up to pound;15,000 a year, bringing in muchneeded income after public sector cuts.

It is that very "British" education that parents abroad desire. And it's not only the much sought-after English qualifications, such as the indefatigable, gold-standard A-level. British teachers, too, are much in demand, to the point where there is serious concern about a brain drain as overseas schools, often offering a tax-free income, prove irresistible.

It is hard to reconcile the admiring view from abroad with the often depressing narrative here of an education system in constant need of fixing. Big successes such as the London Challenge are often overlooked as we agonise over everything we do wrong and fail to celebrate our achievements.

And now the Americans are gazing enviously across the pond at our school leadership. A report from the Thomas B Fordham Institute says the US could learn a lot from our headteachers.

Liam Nolan, executive headteacher of Perry Beeches Academy in Birmingham, overall outstanding school of the year at the 2011 TES Schools Awards, was one of five headteachers flown over to Washington D C to "show the Yanks the very, very best of Britain".

"To be able to go out and talk about why our leadership is among the very best in the world was absolutely breathtaking," he says. "It was one of the moments where you felt very proud to be British."

Britannia may no longer rule the waves, but it turns out that this doesn't mean we can't make waves abroad.



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