Opening a new school

Opening a new school poses distinct opportunities and challenges for school leaders. These can be heightened when the new school is not in the leaders' home country since there can be many unknowns.

This section of the website aims to share experience of people who have been involved in opening new schools. It is designed around some of the key elements of opening a new school (vision, values, legals, curriculum, governance).

The section is largely made up of articles which could be used as think pieces for reflection with your teams. Some are written by organizations involved in the opening of new schools. Others are case studies from headteachers who have been involved in launching a new school.The focus is on the international school market.


International Schools Consultancy Research (ISC) tracks the development of the international school market. According to their research in 2000 there were 2584 international schools in the world educating fewer than one million students. By 2016 there were 8,257 international schools educating more than 4.3 million students and employing 417,000 full time teaching staff. This figure represents a 45.9% growth in the number of international schools in just five years, ISC Research predicts an increase to 15,000 international schools teaching 8 million students by 2025.

The most significant growth in the number of international schools is taking place in China, UAE, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Spain. Whilst a further 15 countries have more than 100 international schools each. Asia (including Western Asia - the Middle East) has witnessed the greatest increase in the number of students attending international schools (55.7% growth). Asia now has 54% of all international schools (4,448) and 60% of all students. Click here if you wish to access the ISC Research.

There are a number of reasons for this exponential growth. Increasing benchmarking against international best practice. Perceived importance of English as a global language. Discussion of the importance of nurturing twenty-first century skills. Providing students with international mobility, especially to higher education.

This exponential increase in the number of international schools and the way in which schools are defining themselves as international is changing the nature of the international school landscape.

Originally international schools were established to serve a highly mobile expatriate community, and provide the children with an international curriculum that would allow them to be highly mobile themselves. On the whole they were run on a not-for-profit basis, even though the parents paid fees. Additionally a large number of these schools were staffed by an intentionally internationally mobile staff.

Many of the new international schools serve local populations where the culture is rooted within their local context, and the student body is largely homogeneous.  They tend to employ predominantly local teachers. However, many of these new schools are run on a for-profit basis.

If you wish to read click here to access an article. It provides a useful description of the different types of international school and the changing international school landscape.

Specific opportunities and challenges

Opening a new international school presents its own opportunities and challenges, some unique to the specific context and location of the school. The articles and case studies in this section draw attention to these and especially to the importance of understanding the context - political, economic,legal, educational, social and cultural - within which the new school will open.  Some of the key issues are:

  • Economy: Global and regional economic trends can have significant impact on the school market. For example, in the last five years ISC Research informs us that 458 new international schools have opened in the Middle East in the past five years, taking the total number of international schools to 1,504. Whereas in the past there appeared to be an insatiable appetite for these schools in the last year a number have started to feel the impact of the global slump of prices for oil and gas.
  • Staffing: Significant growth in the number of international schools is already putting pressures on the ability to recruit enough staff who are qualified to teach international curricula. ISC Research predicts that there will be the need for an additional 200,000 full time staff in the nest five years. Within this context staff recruitment, professional development and retention become key issues on a leaders' radar.
  • Legal framework: The number of students studying at international schools in their home countries is increasing as many middle class parents are affording a 'western' style education for their children which will provide them with the passport of studying at university in the West. It is important to be aware of the government policies within these countries which may place restrictions on what has to be taught.
  • Curriculum: Choosing the most appropriate curriculum for the students in the school is key to its success. The curriculum needs to be appropriate to the context, locally constructed and understood by all. One of the implications is that as the number of international schools open to host children are significantly increasing so is the need for bilingual education. There are some exciting new schools that have constructed their curriculum from the ground up offering the best of the world's education to the students through combining the best educational traditions. For example, international schools in China teaching Chinese children can learn from the best pedagogies from different parts of the world: Chinese (especially Maths and Science), British (especially holistic, creative, liberal arts) and International (especially focused on language acquisition).
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