The differences between international and national schools

Published on 1st September, 2014 by Owen Richards. Published in For Candidates / TIC News

Do you know the difference between international and national schools? If not, then read on!

International schools are amongst the most highly regarded schools in the world. They are primarily English-speaking, located in most countries (particularly non-English-speaking countries), and are currently teaching over 3.6 million children. For people applying to international school vacancies for the first time, expect a difference between your current teaching role.

If you are a teacher considering working overseas and wondering what differentiates an international from a national school, here are some of the top differences:

1. International curriculum options

An international school provides a curriculum that is not the national curriculum of the country it is located in. Instead, it may offer an international curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (within which there is the Primary Years Program - PYP, the Middle Years Program - MYP, and the IB Diploma Program - IBDP) or the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and/or International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC). It may also offer the national curriculum of another country. The most common national curricula used in international schools are the National Curriculum of England, or an American curriculum, or adapted versions of these. The National Curriculum of England is very common in international schools, but is very often adapted to make it more relevant to an international student population and appropriate for the host country – this may mean including relevant learning references to the country’s history and culture.

2. Teaching students who use English as a second or third language

Most international schools use English as the language of learning. However, it is very likely that many of the children in the school will speak it as a second or third language. This means that teachers will need to adapt the way they teach to ensure they engage all children and fully support the EASL learners. This is an excellent skill to acquire and is highly valued by recruiters in international schools as well as many national schools where there are a growing number of EASL students.

3. Working with teachers from across the world

There are over 346,000 staff teaching overseas in international schools today. They come from many countries, particularly the UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the US. This makes international schools a melting pot of nationalities, with many opportunities for the staff to share techniques in pedagogy.

4. Smaller class sizes and engaged students

International schools are generally fee-paying and keep class sizes small; typically no more than 20 students. For many local students, getting an international school education is a top priority for their families and a large portion of the family income may be dedicated to it. Parents hope that this will help their children achieve a place at an English-speaking university and, ultimately, the best career options. As a result, most local students attending international schools are very motivated and want to learn.

5. Professional Development occurs from within

External professional development opportunities for international school teachers can be quite limited or highly expensive because international schools are spread far and wide, with some schools are very isolated. Much professional development occurs internally, either by a visiting trainer or led by one of the staff members. The international diversity of the staff means that best practice from many different countries can be shared and incorporated.

6. Short-term contracts enable the chance to teach in many countries

One very appealing aspect of teaching overseas in an international school is the chance to work in a number of different countries. Contracts often last for two years (with the chance for extension). This means that some teachers move from one country to the next every two years. 

7. Exciting career prospects

For staff who choose to stay in one particular location for an extended period of time and who gain good experience and skills, promotion opportunities are very good including middle and senior leadership positions.

If you would like to read about teacher’s experiences of working in international schools, visit our Case Studies page.

To find out all about getting a job in an international school, recruitment for international schools, and which international schools are hiring right now, register with us today and visit our Vacancies page

You may also be interested in:
What’s it like to teach at an international school?
What to expect during induction week at your new international school
My first time overseas in an international school

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Owen Richards

Owen works in media relations and marketing. His main focus is working with the press on features about teachers who have moved overseas to teach internationally.