Who owns the school?
International school ownership models are probably not at the top of your mind when you start your research into possible employers. However, it’s important to be aware of the hierarchical structure of any schools you are interested in. This will give you an idea of the model of leadership and an understanding of who makes the final decisions.
In the past, many leading international schools were created through the efforts of government embassies, expatriate parents, and church groups. These schools were organized as private non-profit (charitable) institutions. They were governed by school boards that were in most cases elected locally by school parents.
One or other (occasionally both) of the American and British embassies often influenced the curricula and culture of these schools, many of which continue operating in most countries today.
For-Profit v Not-for-Profit schools
Over the past few years, many of the newer schools coming into the market have been private and profit-making. International K-12 education is a rapidly expanding business model and investors can find significant returns on their capital
There is no such thing as a right or wrong type of international school ownership model. Many schools make profits and just about every ‘non-profit’ school takes in more money than it uses, each year, which count as reserves for future projects or used for uncertain times such as during the Covid pandemic or other unexpected shocks.
Some schools put those profits back into the school in one form or another. ‘Not-for-profit’ schools generally put their extra funds into better facilities and supplies. ‘For-profit’ schools also do this but probably provide dividends to owners/shareholders as well. Not-for-profits might by law have to spend any excess cash, rather than saving for future projects. Some teachers believe that not-for-profit schools are better resourced, but this may not always be the case since for-profit schools seek to attract and retain school families.
According to ISC Research, there are over 13,000 thousand international schools operating around the world. 62% of these schools are operated by an individual and are usually family or sole-owned schools. The rest are part of a ‘school group’.
What is an international school group?
School groups either own, manage, or provide key services to a cluster of schools. Since 2017, school groups have roughly doubled from 333 to 616 groups. They now manage a total of 4,861 international schools, 20% of which are thought to be not-for-profit. A small percentage are members of a ‘western’ private school franchised operation: e.g. Dulwich, Harrow, Shrewsbury, Brighton, Repton (all UK private schools of note), Chadwick, Dwight (USA-based), Haileybury Tianjin (Australia’s Haileybury) and Branksome Hall Asia (Canada-linked).
|Group||Total International Schools||Total students|
|GEMS||52 (42 in UAE)||124,000|
|Nord Anglia (in 31 nations)||86||61,500|
|Maple Bear (Early Years)||361||45,500|
|Grupo SEB (143 in Brazil)||144|
|The City School (Pakistan+)||133|
|Crestar (Asia-Early Years)||120|
|Semper Altius (Mexico+)||60+||28,000|
|SISU (Finland-USA||100 schools planned to be open by 2025|
|The ESOL Group||12||11,000|
None of the groups listed above as having more than 100 “international” schools are working with Search Associates at the moment. They either don’t offer the same overseas contracts as Search schools, and/or they only work with early years schools.
The groups that serve large numbers of students (like GEMS, Nord Anglia, and Cognita) have some of their schools registered with Search Associates. These are mostly their bigger and more prestigious schools.
Knowledge is power, as they say!
Bearing all this in mind, when you are looking for a new international school, you should be aware that they all operate slightly differently. A school’s status as for-profit vs not-for-profit may not be as tightly linked to its administration or culture as you might expect. There are many very well-run ‘for-profit’ schools where teachers are happy with the contributions and policies of the owners, and there are some ‘not-for-profit’ schools in which things go awry, financially and otherwise.
The thorough screening process prior to acceptance by Search Associates of a new-applicant international school to add to Search’s 700+ registered schools, and the monitoring of school actions thereafter, usually means that a Search-registered school is well above average in its treatment of staff. However, even the very best schools with strong reputations can go through periods of uncertainty and turmoil. So, the bottom line is to do very careful research, including sending key questions to your Search senior associate.