Article first appeared in the Portugal Resident.
As the Head of an international school and having worked in international schools for more than 20 years, past experience tells me that April is the time of year when parents traditionally look for new schools or are visiting the Algarve with a view to selecting a school.
With this in mind, I thought it prudent to share my thoughts about what to look for when choosing an international school – something that I have been asked countless times.
In Portugal, over the last 10 years, the growth of international schools has been tremendous and there are now more than 49 international schools to choose from.
One of the most informative places to begin your research is the International Schools Database (www.international-schools-database.com). This is a completely indhttps://www.international-schools-database.comependent site that can help you make your initial selection for planning school visits.
When looking for international schools to visit, do consider the following factors:
Initially, it is important to think about the location of a school. How long will it take you to travel there every morning and afternoon? Will the timing be reasonable and allow for additional activities for your children after school or for you to be able to work and still do the school run?
- Fees and costs
One of the biggest factors when choosing a school are the cost of the school fees. A private education is a parental choice. However, it is vital to know the annual fees and costs and to plan accordingly.
It is also important to bear in mind that as children progress through a school, the fees increase. This is sometimes underestimated but is a vital consideration. All outstanding international schools will have a clear fee structure and that should be available to all prospective parents. Always ask about additional costs. Are books and equipment included? Are school excursions an additional cost consideration?
I know that at our school, Eupheus, we have transparently calculated all resources, school trips and books into the total cost, so that parents know the exact amount of fees at the beginning of the school year.
Which educational body accredits and, therefore, monitors the school? It is crucial to know that the school you choose belongs to a legally registered body. The school website should make it clear which professional body the school is affiliated to.
- Entry requirements
All international schools will have differing requirements. Some will expect new students to take entry exams, others will require comprehensive reports from previous schools. All excellent schools should want to meet with new students and parents before registering.
- Registration dates
As demand for international schools in Portugal is at the highest it has ever been, it is imperative that you know when registrations take place. Normally, it is from January to April for a September entry. However, such is the current level of interest that outstanding schools may already have waiting lists for this and next September.
Do make sure that you know exactly what a school requires to enrol your child in Portugal. This is regulated by the Portuguese Ministry of Education, and schools should provide a list of what documents are required.
Having made an initial selection of prospective schools to visit, I would consider the following factors and questions to ask as essential in making any final decision:
- Ethos of the school
Is the ethos of the school and its values evident throughout your meeting and tour?
Ask about the teaching faculty. At an international school teaching in English, are all of the teachers’ first language English? Are they fully qualified teachers with a recognised Teacher Reference Number (TRN)? Have the teachers got relevant experience in the areas that they are teaching? Are they genuinely friendly, warm and inviting when you look around? Are your questions answered openly and directly?
Enquire about which additional language or languages will be taught, and how they will be taught.
- Multicultural aspects
As an international school, multiculturalism should be implicit within all aspects of school life. Is that explicit as you visit the school?
- Class sizes
How many students will be in each year group? What will be the maximum number?
Which curriculum does the school teach? This is very important for your child’s long-term schooling.
British international schools follow the National Curriculum of England and are accredited/monitored by professional bodies. Students study a wide variety of subjects leading to IGSCE and A Level qualification, which are recognised worldwide.
IB schools follow the International Baccalaureate which are found all over the world.
In Portugal, we also have German and French curricula schools taught in their native language, as well as method schools such as Montessori and Waldorf.
- Extra-curricular activities
Ask what additional after-school activities are offered and their costs.
How does the school incorporate 21st-century technology skills within the curriculum? What is the school’s technology equipment like? How do the children access technology? What are the school’s online safety procedures?
Recommendations for choosing an international school:
- Always visit the school with your family
- Plan carefully the long-term costings of an international school education
- Talk with the Head of School. Ask as many questions as you need to
- Be honest if your child has any specific educational needs
Personally, as I say to all potential parents, the most important question that we should be asking is: Will our children be happy at this school? Is it a warm, nurturing and happy environment with professional, skilled people where your child will enjoy their learning and be successful on their learning pathway?
‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ – Nelson Mandela