Settling into new cultures

Stephen Spriggs, Managing Director of William Clarence Education, discusses the process of opening an independent school abroad

British expansion is booming, independent schools are popping up in countries around the world with tremendous success rates rarely witnessed with domestic campuses. You may have already witnessed the phenomenon and want to take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts. 

Just like any business, choosing to relocate or expand is a big decision which marks the beginning of a tough path to follow. Deciding to make a move overseas adds even more layers to traverse, in addition to following all domestic laws (and regional legislation such as those under the European Union) there’s the added step of settling into new cultures and cultivating positive relationships with the locals. With education involved you not only need to impress the residents around campus but the prospective student body for years to come.

International schooling is competitive; many British institutions that make the decision to expand will lose money for much of the first decade in operation. With the reputation of being a British school, local expats are likely to attend resulting in a high student churn as families come and go, unlike domestic schools which operate as charities (all money going back into facilities or provisions) overseas independent schools must operate more like businesses. With this in mind it’s vital to maintain a positive relationship with those around you from the start.

A number of options are available to begin on the right foot; one of the most important considerations for any school is staff. Particularly abroad, early in the process you will need to decide on which talent pool you hire from, local teachers provide the linguistic and cultural know-how but diminish the traditional British schooling experience many are looking for from you. If the teaching staffs are comprised of Britons also making the move, the school maintains its traditions but adds greater expense with the necessity of language lessons and cultural crash courses.

Stephen Spriggs

From the very moment wheels are set in motion, you need to initiate contact with key players in the area you decide on. From council figures, local government representatives, PTA groups, community centres, the list goes on but making early and deliberate contact with locals is core to a positive start. Avoid asking for too much to begin with, instead have representatives from your school build their own networks, take in local customs and cuisine (food is a fantastic shared interest globally), learn what they want from the school and spread word of your intentions for the area.  

As time goes by and more international campuses are established the greater knowledge pool available for your own. Last year, British independent schools operated 59 campuses internationally, this year the number will rise again; it would be in your best interest to approach these campuses and their British counterparts for a look at the process they undertook during the initial stages. Especially for those operating in the same country you are targeting, any and all information on how to approach locals during the process will greatly improve your chances of starting off on the right foot. 

At the core of any international expansion there needs to be a combination of British traditions and local customs, the appeal of UK-style education combined with qualifications recognised globally will be core drivers of those attending, but for those living nearby, they did not sign up for your school nor give express permissions. It’s down to you, your staff and eventually your students to build positive relationships which can blossom into a fruitful partnership. 

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