For many people, securing a post in an international school is about a new experience in a different setting. It is an opportunity to explore something exciting and adventurous in and out of the classroom. But done in the right way, it can also enhance your career prospects and lead to more rapid promotion and a steeper career trajectory.
More opportunities for progression
Firstly, consider the numbers. There are now 13,306 international schools around the world. Student numbers stand at 7.8 million, a staggering increase from less than 1 million 20 years ago. There are nearly 750,000 teachers in these schools today. In England, by contrast, there were 3,268 secondary schools in 2012 as shown by this report, and the numbers have not grown significantly since then. So purely from a numbers perspective, there are more promotion opportunities available now than ever before, and lots of these, perhaps even a majority, are in international schools. Whilst not all the 13,306 international schools will be UK curriculum schools, many of them are. The curriculum and school structure will be very similar and entirely familiar to a UK trained teacher. If you have experience teaching in Britain, you will have a great deal to offer a British International School.
Potential for a promoted position
So, imagine you take the first step, and arrive as a shiny new classroom teacher in an international school in September. The cycle of recruitment in an international school is such that fairly quickly in the school year the conversation will turn to contract renewal. Teachers have a longer notice period than in national schools as the organisation of moving around the world takes some time and effort. International schoolteachers choose to move on fairly frequently. By the nature of the situation things are more temporary, and generally retention levels tend to be lower than the UK. So, you find yourself in your new school, and soon you’ll know what promoted posts are available for the following September. If you have settled into the school well and enjoy what you are doing and are willing to commit to an additional contract cycle, you have a good chance of being a serious contender for a promoted post. Your career is boosted as a result.
Smaller classes and year groups
In UK secondary schools, year groups are frequently several hundred strong. Primary schools of 3 or 4 form entry are not uncommon. Pastoral and curriculum leaders tend to have accrued many years’ experience before taking on these posts. International school sizes vary considerably, and in a smaller school such roles are considerably less daunting. You can take them on sooner and make a real impact on the school and your future employment prospects by doing so. You also quickly acquire the ‘whole school experience’ that so many senior leadership job descriptions talk about, that in some settings is so hard to acquire. Because the school is smaller, you inevitably collaborate more with colleagues in different positions, and learn lots by doing so. That can only help your future job prospects.
Continuous Professional Development (CPD)
Professional development can sometimes be seen as more difficult in international schools and could hold back an ambitious colleague keen to learn more. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Webinars and Distance Learning have become everyday phrases in the last three years, but quality schools have been investing in top quality professional development for some time. For example, Wellington College International offers the highly regarded UK Department for Education’s NPQ qualifications to our teachers and leaders. This helps them become even more skilled practitioners and ensures they are ready for the promoted posts that inevitably become available in our wider school community. With 7, soon to be 8 schools, supporting over 5,000 students across China, Thailand and India, it makes sense to grow our leaders with more schools in development.
Wider range of experience and pedagogical practices
When I first moved to an international school in 2007, a colleague at the UK state school I was working in suggested I was jeopardising my career with the move. I hadn’t really considered that; I just wanted a bit of adventure. I went for 2 years and ended up staying for 5 as I was having such a brilliant time. I was also internally promoted twice. I was a bit worried about how I would ever move back, and how a future school would see my experiences. This is no longer a question an international teacher needs to consider. You will return, if you choose to return to the UK at all, armed with best practice pedagogical influences from around the world, new ideas to draw from different cultures and traditions, and a greater perspective of whole school operation. You’ll be able to add this to your job application and elaborate on it at interview with a genuine range of experiences that will distinguish you from the rest of the field. Your career will have gone in the same direction as the plane you stepped on to start the whole adventure.
Of course, this all relies on choosing the right school for you; one that reflects your values and beliefs and takes its responsibilities as a learning community as seriously as it should. There are certainly some first class school groups you could consider. Looking for recognised accreditation is certainly important, however, that is a discussion for another day! If you choose well, you can be sure your teaching career will take off in international schools in ways that may not be possible if you stayed at home.
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About the author
Chris is the International Director at Wellington College International. He has spent more than 20 years working in a range of UK and international schools. He trained as a teacher at the University of Cambridge, after studying at the University of St Andrews, including a year at the University of California. His first steps as a teacher came at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji. This led to further experiences around the world, most recently in China and the UK, where he was the founding Head of a north London school judged ‘Outstanding’ in all categories by students, parents, staff and Ofsted. Chris completed the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) in 2012 and is now a facilitator on the UCL/IoE NPQH course for aspiring Headteachers. He has written for the Times Educational Supplement, ‘Sec Ed’ magazine and ‘Teach Secondary’ magazine. He is a Governor of a Harrow primary school and a member of the Department for Education Star Chamber Scrutiny Board.