Next Step - How do I get a job in ... An international school?

15th May 2009 at 01:00
Taking a job abroad can be personally and financially beneficial, but do your research or you may get scorched

Sunshine in Spain or dinars in Dubai - teachers work abroad for all kinds of reasons. The great news is that whatever you're looking for, you can find it. From Azerbaijan to Zambia, there are more than 3,000 international schools. If you have a PGCE and a few years' experience, landing an overseas job shouldn't be difficult.

But what will you be letting yourself in for? The first thing to know is that international schools come in all shapes and sizes. Some are British schools, offering a UK curriculum for the ex-pat workers' children. But most deliver the international baccalaureate either to a multi national group - the International School of Geneva has pupils from more than 50 countries, for example - or local families.

The market for English-medium schools is booming, with student numbers reckoned to have doubled in the past seven years. Most are run privately and for profit, and they're not always well-regulated. Unpaid salaries, crumbling classrooms, contracts that change the moment you arrive - the international job circuit is full of salutary tales, not to mention sinister ones. One head allegedly motivated staff with the promise that "bullets are cheap in Thailand".

Be wary, by all means, but don't be put off. The best international schools are just as dynamic and progressive as the best UK schools. Do some research, ask around on internet forums, and you should be fine. Or you could apply through an international schools recruitment agency.

"We don't deal with unscrupulous schools," says Diane Jacoutot of "If a teacher is relocating to the other side of the world, that's a huge step, so we do everything we can to match the right person to the right school."

As a rule, Southeast Asia and South America get consistently good reports. But keep an open mind. Ms Jacoutot says that most teachers have a clear idea where they'd like to head, but don't always end up there. "Often there are better choices," she says. "People may be wanting Spain for the sun, but the pay there's not great, so we might suggest somewhere with a similar climate, but a lower cost of living."

Get it right, and you'll be in for a memorable few years. "It's been a wonderful experience," says Gerry McAndrew, who teaches at an international school in Shanghai. "This is a hectic, polluted, crazy city, like nothing in Europe. I've had a real insight into another way of life and I've also been able to give something of my own culture to those I've taught. Coming to terms with language and social nuances isn't easy, but if I hadn't persevered I would have missed out."

When applying for jobs, revamp your CV for the international market. Make sure it's clear what all your qualifications are and avoid any confusion. For example, if you're a depute head in Scotland, it might be better to write deputy head, to avoid anyone thinking it's a typo. If you've no IB experience, landing the first job can be trickiest. "But once you've got that, you're gold dust," says Ms Jacoutot.

If you get a job offer, check contracts - benefits such as sick pay or maternity leave may not be included. Above all, be clear about the terms of any probationary period and make sure visas are in place. Some teachers spend their lives on the international circuit, but most do a few years abroad, then head home. If that's your plan, keep up-to-date with developments in the UK. Some heads here are put off by overseas stints, but there are plenty who aren't. And with more UK schools looking at baccalaureates, you could find your time abroad becomes a real selling point, as well as a great adventure.

Next week: Higher-level teaching assistant


- Salary Anything from Pounds 15,000 to Pounds 65,000. But you need to look at the local cost of living, the tax rate and the remuneration package as a whole. A Pounds 15,000 tax-free salary with housing, healthcare and schooling for your kids could be worth more than a Pounds 40,000 salary with no perks.

- Next steps If you're serious, start researching. These websites are a good starting point. TES forum: Recruitment:; Council of International Schools:

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