A review of the 2017-2018 international school year

ISC Schools Director, Richard Gaskell sums up the main conversations surrounding the international schools market as the academic year in the Northern Hemisphere draws to a close.


This year, the international schools market has remained buoyant with three sub-regions finishing the year looking particularly strong for new school development. Globally, the market continues to strengthen, responding well to challenges and addressing some crucial needs.

Market development

China continues to see many new school investments being agreed and developments underway at a pace never before experienced within this market. British schools, curriculum and examinations continue to be the popular choice for investors right now, but there’s excellent demand for IB schools and those offering Advanced Placement qualifications and US-oriented education.

Questions about development opportunities in China are asked wherever I go right now. The ISC Investor Partner programme, which introduces reputable investors to independent school brands considering overseas expansion, has focused almost entirely on China this year. The interest for reputable school brands by Chinese parents and, as a result, by Chinese investors too is phenomenal.

South East Asia continues to gather further strength as the region experiences continued economic development, particularly in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia. And, after many years of remaining very healthy but stable, the international schools market in several European cities is back on the move, thanks in large part to Brexit.

The market is now attracting a wide breadth of investors including private equity and government pension funds choosing to invest in international education because of its long-term stability. Many investors are only just realising the extent of the market, its rate of growth, and the fact that, in the vast majority of countries, local families now drive demand.

Facing challenges and needs

The Middle East has been through a few challenging years thanks to the crisis within the oil industry and it continues to see significant movement of expatriates. However, the region is a large and strong sector within the international schools market and is expected to maintain a major presence. Our Field Researcher based in the Middle East provides an update below.

As the market expands, so challenges, of course, increase. The supply and recruitment of quality teachers is a concern for most international schools and the initial findings of research conducted this spring by COBIS provides many insights into this. Increasingly of concern too is student safeguarding and wellbeing. The pressures that young people face today is an issue increasingly addressed by senior leaders. Some schools are setting strategies in place, but it’s a subject that leaders must talk more about and become more willing to share. ISC has just collaborated with Cardiff University and International Education Psychology Services (IEPS) on some initial research into wellbeing in international schools. You can read more about the early findings below.

One area that has seen excellent progress this academic year has been the move by many international schools to be more inclusive. Leaders are talking more openly and confidently about their provision, current developments, and strategies for future improvement. Several examples of this were in the first issue of International School Leader Magazine, published by ISC Research and accessible for all school leaders and those supporting the international school market and school development.

The academic year ends positively. More local families are investing in their child’s education by seeking out their neighbourhood international school as a reliable pathway to leaning development, higher education potential and career success. More international school students are attending higher education than ever before and selecting a broader range of subject fields. More higher education establishments are turning to international schools as a crucial source of undergraduates with high retention potential. And more skilled teachers are choosing the international schools market as a route to career development, not simply a short-term break from home. For over 5 million students and 480,000 teachers, this is a very positive year.