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International Schools Moving Towards Inclusion

April 2016 - An increasing number of international English-medium K-12 schools are embracing the opportunities and challenges of inclusion says a recent survey conducted by ISC Research and Next Frontier Inclusion.

The survey was conducted this January and asked over 8,000 international schools about their approaches to inclusion and their provision for children with learning differences. Responses were collected from 584 schools of varying sizes, based in all regions of the world.

Today’s international schools market responds to the learning needs of children from both expatriate and local families, and provision for students with special learning needs is no longer an exception. As legislation supporting inclusion in schools is being implemented in such countries as the UK, US and Australia, so expatriate parents are expecting such provision from international schools. And local families, unable to access specialist support in their state schools, are increasingly turning to international schools for the solutions they need. It is as a result of these demands that a growing number of international schools are becoming more inclusive.

The results of the survey by ISC Research and Next Frontier Inclusion (NFI) reflect this move towards inclusion. Although a third of the schools that responded classify themselves as selective (27% based on testing and previous school records and 6% as highly selective), the remaining schools consider themselves non-selective to varying degrees. 13% said they accept a managed number of students with mild learning differences and 28% said they accept a managed number of students with both mild and moderate learning differences. 9% said they accept a managed number of children with learning differences who include some with intensive needs. Often children with intensive needs follow a modified curriculum and may be placed in ‘a school within the school’, following an alternative pathway to graduation.

Integration within the mainstream classroom varies significantly. 35% of schools that participated in the survey said they follow an inclusive approach whenever they can; 25% said they use a learning specialist as a consultant and 10% said they use a learning specialist to co-plan, co-teach and co-assess alongside the mainstream teacher (known as a ‘push-in’ model). 44% said they use both push-in and pull-out (resource room) models. Only 5% of schools reported that the pull-out model was the main learning approach employed. However, NFI has found that there remains considerable confusion in international schools regarding the relative merits and weaknesses of different models of provision suggesting more understanding of appropriate provision needs to be developed.

What is evident from the survey is that most international schools are uncomfortable with an exclusionary attitude towards children with special learning needs. However, skilled staff are often lacking. Only 33% of the schools in the study said that staff working with students with learning differences are entirely qualified special educators. 21.5% said staff are mostly qualified, 39% said some are qualified, and 14% said they have no specialists to support children with learning differences.

Of particular note was the fact that 84% of the international schools that responded to the survey said they enrol children with special gifts and talents, but only 35% of the schools said they are satisfied with their provision for this group of students. “There is a disconnect here,” says Bill Powell, Director of NFI. “Many times, school leaders use finances as a reason to exclude children with special educational needs. They’ll say: ‘we don’t have the programme for you, so it would be wrong for us to take you into our school’. But on the flip side of this, some of these schools are accepting children with high academic gifts and talents, even though they admit they are not happy with the provision they provide. That’s a significant ethical consideration that this survey has highlighted.”

In response to this misalignment, NFI is putting together a task force to propose standards for meeting the needs of highly capable students in international schools.

Other conclusions from the survey suggest an attitudinal shift away from elitist and non-inclusionary language and policies although many schools indicate they are insecure about how to change. “There’s a greater willingness towards inclusion, but there’s also some scratching of heads about what to do, and a fear about getting it wrong,” says Ochan Powell, also a Director of NFI.

The survey is the first of its kind amongst international schools and ISC Research intends to track the market on an annual basis to identify trends as they develop. “Anecdotal evidence suggests the market is moving towards being more inclusive,” says Richard Gaskell, Director for International Schools at ISC Research. “This focused research will help us to provide the data that international schools need in order to know how the market is actually responding to the needs of all students.”

A full report of the survey is available here or from ISC Research.

ISC Research is part of The International School Consultancy (ISC) and has been the leading provider of data and market intelligence on the world’s international schools market for over 20 years. Next Frontier Inclusion is a non-profit membership organisation supporting international schools on their journeys to becoming increasingly inclusive of children with special education needs.

UAE continues to lead the international K-12 schools market says new report

April 2016 - The UAE continues to be the leading country in the world for English-medium K-12 international schools.  In terms of the number of international schools, the UAE is currently competing in a very tight race with China, but in terms of student enrolment, the UAE leads the world decisively. The data has been published in the new Market Intelligence Report for International Schools in the United Arab Emirates by ISC Research, the world’s leading provider of data on the international schools market.

According to the new ISC Market Intelligence Report there are 548 English-medium international schools in the UAE; just three ahead of China.  The two emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi dominate with 260 schools in Dubai and 191 in Abu Dhabi. More schools are under construction with 14 due to open during 2016 including GEMS International School in Mudon, Canadian International School in Dubai, and Sunmarke School in Jumeirah Village. Several more schools are in various phases of development. 

The total number of students aged between 3 and 18 attending English-medium international schools in the UAE is 545,074. This is the highest enrolment of any country in the world by a significant margin (Saudi Arabia follows with 260,989). 36% of all international schools in the UAE have over 1,000 students.

There are several reasons why student enrolment is so high at international schools in the UAE. Major factors include the wealth of the country, an extensive expatriate population, demand for high quality, English-medium education by both expatriates and wealthy locals, plus the fact that the governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi allow unlimited enrolment of local children at international schools.  According to the ISC Market Intelligence Report, Emirati students comprise the single largest student nationality (25%) with the exception of Dubai where they are outnumbered by Indian children (29%). However, in no emirate do local children exceed 50% of the student population.

The report states that, with Dubai’s population projected to grow by 13% within the next two years, and further expansion in Abu Dhabi, demand for international school places in these two emirates will continue to increase substantially. The report also suggests that the Northern Emirates, which currently have 29 international schools, represent a potential growth market for the UAE where new developments have been emerging over the past two years.

Fees at some international schools in the UAE are being impacted by the recent oil crisis, and the report evaluates the impact of this on demand and income. Another issue raised by the report is the increasing concern about access to enough qualified teachers with skills and experience from the UK. 47% of the international schools in the UAE follow a British curriculum and 73% offer IGCSE, GCE AS and/or GCE A levels. The report cites less competitive teacher salaries in the UAE than many other countries, plus a drop in the number of people applying to enrol for teacher qualifications in the UK for this concern. “If the number of qualified teachers…begins to dwindle,” says the report, “schools will find it difficult to expand.”

However, the ISC Research UAE Market Intelligence Report, which contains detailed data analysis and crucial information relevant for school expansion, new developments and education suppliers wishing to understand the UAE market in depth, states that the international schools market in the UAE is flourishing. “Further growth is inevitable, spurred by increasing demand from both the expatriate community and from local families,” it concludes.

For the first time, the report includes a detailed focus on Sharjah and the Northern Emirates where development is underway and growth potential exists.  The 160 page report includes detailed research and analysis on tuition fees, student and staff nationalities, capacity utilisation, fee income, salary ranges, new developments, market outlook and more.

Further information about the world’s international schools, as well as the UAE and other country-specific market intelligence reports are available from The International School Consultancy (of which ISC Research is a part) at

International schools market reaches 8,000 schools

November 2015 - The number of English-medium international schools around the world has reached 8,000.

According to a 2014 report by the British Council and the University of Oxford, the desire to learn in the language of English is a ‘growing global phenomenon’. It is one of the reasons why the number of English-medium international schools (teaching children aged from 3-18) has reached 8,000 and continues to expand at pace.

Data published this October by ISC Research (part of The International School Consultancy) indicates that there are now over 8,000 international schools teaching 4.26 million students. By 2025, ISC Research predicts there will be at least 15,000 English-medium international schools teaching over 8 million students. 

The reason for their increasing popularity is that international schools provide an English-medium education, often with globally recognised curricula, and high standards of learning and teaching.  For many parents, local as well as expatriate, this is considered an important educational route; one through which their child can gain a place at a western university, well prepared in language, qualifications, and a western-style of learning. 

Karen McKellin, Executive Director of International Student Initiatives at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada says: “International schools are a very important market for us. Their students meet all of our requirements; they are well prepared to mix and participate, they have very good facility of English language, and they’ve been exposed to internationally recognised curricula.”  Typical of an increasing number of universities today, a significant percentage of the transnational undergraduate students (70% in the case of UBC) originate from English-medium international schools.

According to ISC Research, which has tracked and analysed data on the world’s international schools for over 20 years, the market has grown dramatically since the year 2000. This year’s ISC Market Intelligence Country Reports for several countries, including the UAE and Hong Kong, state that demand for places at many of the leading international schools exceeds supply with long waiting lists. In Dubai alone, 21 new English-medium international schools are due to open over the next two years.

The international schools market in China is also attracting attention. Strict restrictions stop local children attending the traditional international schools for expatriates in China (known as Schools for Children of Foreign Workers). However, Chinese-owned international schools, which can accept local Chinese students, are now emerging. These schools are often partnered with a recognised independent school brand from the UK or US to support the delivery of a western learning ethos and approach.

“In many developing countries, English-medium international schools are growing in popularity, and several governments are including planned international school development within their economic transformation programmes,” says Nicholas Brummitt, Chairman of ISC Research. “The market is looking extremely healthy.”

Where are the greatest number of international schools?

August 2015 - There are now 22 countries in the world with over 100 English-medium international schools. This means that for expatriate and local families, opportunities for their children to follow an English-medium education and to learn through an internationally-recognised curriculum are becoming increasingly accessible.

Here are the figures published by ISC Research from August 2015. The UAE leads the world with 511 international schools teaching over 508,000 students. 253 schools in the UAE are located in Dubai alone. Here the options are extensive although competition for the best schools remains high. The National Curriculum of England is the most popular curriculum option and is offered in half of all international schools in the UAE.

China has 480 international schools.  For such a vast country, this may seem a relatively low number.  A large part of the reason for this is that most of China's early international schools are foreign-owned and, with few exceptions, are not allowed to enrol local children.  However, there is a rapidly increasing demand from Chinese parents for English-medium education for their children, and the international schools landscape in China is changing in response to this demand.  The number of Chinese-owned international schools is growing fast and, crucially, local children are allowed to attend these schools. 

Elsewhere, India, Pakistan, Japan, Spain and Saudi Arabia all have over 200 international schools offering all or part of the curriculum in English (Pakistan has 439, India has 411, Saudi Arabia has 245, Japan has 233, and Spain has 203). 

Countries with over 100 international schools include Indonesia (190 schools), Thailand (172) and Malaysia (142) in South East Asia; Qatar (152) in the Middle East; Hong Kong (176) in East Asia; Mexico (122), Brazil (135) and Argentina (160) in South America; Germany (169), Netherlands (151), Sweden (107), France (104) and Switzerland (103) in Europe; and Nigeria (129) and Egypt (188)in Africa.

4 million students now study at international schools around the world

June 2015 - English-medium international schools now provide education for over 4 million students around the world. This number has risen dramatically in recent years. Just 15 years ago there were fewer than 1 million students, and 5 years ago there were 2.75 million.  Demand for places at international schools in many countries is growing at pace.

The International School Consultancy which provides data and intelligence on the English-medium international schools market says the 4 million figure was reached, for the first time ever, in May 2015. The reason for the growth is two-fold. Expatriate families demand places for their children at international schools to ensure continuity of language, curriculum, examinations or orientation. Secondly, an increasing number of wealthy local families seek out places for their children at international schools to give them an English-medium education with a learning approach and qualifications that provide the best opportunities for a place in a Western university.

Chinese parent Tao Sun says “If you want your child to have many options for world-class universities, and if you want them to survive, thrive and succeed there, then they need to start learning and speaking English as soon as they can. That’s why many families who can afford it, look to schools that provide such an opportunity for their children.” Tao is also the Chairman of HD Ningbo School in Zhejiang, China which provides English-medium learning and where students study for IGCSEs and A-levels. “Many children come to our school because our English component provides the best education in the world, with good discipline, educational heritage, and with qualities and qualifications that are respected by universities in Britain, the US and Canada,” he says.

The country with the highest number of students attending international schools is the United Arab Emirates which has 479,700 students attending 514 English-medium international schools. However, China has now surpassed the UAE as the country with the largest number of schools. China has 530 English-medium international schools but currently only 326,400 students. The reason for this is that China's earliest international schools are foreign-owned and, with few exceptions, such schools are not allowed to enrol Chinese nationals.  The increasing demand from Chinese parents for English-medium education for their children is changing the face of international schools in the country, with Chinese-owned bilingual international schools and English-medium Sino-Foreign Cooperative Schools now being established, both of which meet government criteria to accept Chinese nationals. Many of these schools offer internationally recognised curriculum and examinations.

“The English-medium international schools market is exceedingly healthy, with strong growth in the numbers of schools and students certain for the foreseeable future in many regions,” says Nicholas Brummitt, Chairman of ISC. “English-medium international schools are a vital education provision in most major cities today.  The best international schools are among the most successful in the world, with exceptional examination results and a high proportion of students going on to the universities across the globe.”

The 2015 Global Report from ISC, which provides trends, analysis and forecasts on the world’s English-medium international schools market is now available from ISC. 

Anne Keeling

Marketing & Media Relations

The International School Consultancy Group (ISC)

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