As a principal of an international school and having worked in international schools for over 20 years, past experience tells me that April is the time of year when parents traditionally seek out new schools or visit the Algarve with a view to selecting a school.
With that in mind, I thought it was safe to share my thoughts on what to look for when choosing an international school – something I’ve been asked countless times.
In Portugal, over the past 10 years, the growth of international schools has been enormous and there are now over 49 international schools to choose from.
One of the most informative places to start your search is the International Schools Database (www.international-schools-database.com). This is a completely independent https://www.international-schools-database.com site that can help you make your initial selection for planning school visits.
When researching international schools to visit, consider the following factors:
First, it is important to think about the location of a school. How long will it take you to get there each morning and each afternoon? Will the schedule be reasonable and allow for extra activities for your children after school or for you to work while still running school?
One of the most important factors when choosing a school is the cost of tuition. Private education is a parental choice. However, it is essential to know the annual fees and costs and plan accordingly.
It’s also important to keep in mind that as children progress through a school, fees increase. This is sometimes underestimated, but it is an essential consideration. All outstanding international schools will have a clear fee structure and that should be available to all prospective parents. Always inquire about additional charges. Are books and materials included? Are school excursions an extra cost?
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 start of the school year.
What educational organization accredits and therefore controls the school? It is crucial to know that the school you choose belongs to a legally registered organization. The school’s website should clearly state which professional body the school is affiliated with.
All international schools will have different requirements. Some will expect new students to pass entrance exams, others will require comprehensive reports from previous schools. All excellent schools should want to meet new students and parents before enrolling.
As the demand for international schools in Portugal is at an all time high, it is imperative that you know when registrations are taking place. Normally it is from January to April for entry in September. However, the current level of interest is such that outstanding schools may already have waiting lists for this September and next September.
Make sure you know exactly what a school requires to enroll your child in Portugal. This is regulated by the Portuguese Ministry of Education and schools must provide a list of required documents.
After making an initial selection of potential schools to visit, I would consider the following factors and questions to ask as essential in making a final decision:
Are the school’s philosophy and values evident throughout your meeting and visit?
Find out about the faculty. In an international school teaching in English, is the mother tongue of all teachers English? Are they fully qualified teachers with a recognized Teacher Reference Number (TRN)? Have the teachers acquired relevant experience in the areas they teach? Are they genuinely friendly, warm and inviting when you look around them? Are the answers to your questions open and direct?
Find out what additional language(s) will be taught and how they will be taught.
As an international school, multiculturalism should be implicit in all aspects of school life. Is it explicit when you visit the school?
How many students will there be in each age group? What will be the maximum number?
What curriculum does the school teach? This is very important for your child’s long-term schooling.
UK international schools follow the National Curriculum of England and are accredited/monitored by professional bodies. Students study a wide variety of subjects leading to the IGSCE and A Level qualification, which are recognized worldwide.
IB schools follow the International Baccalaureate which is found all over the world.
In Portugal, we also have schools with German and French programs taught in their mother tongue, as well as method schools such as Montessori and Waldorf.
Ask what additional extracurricular activities are offered and their costs.
How does the school integrate 21sttechnological skills of the century in the curriculum? What does the school’s technological equipment look like? How do children access technology? What are the school’s online security procedures?
Recommendations for choosing an international school:
- Always visit the school with your family
- Carefully plan the long-term costs of an international school education
- Talk to the school principal. Ask as many questions as necessary
- Be honest if your child has special educational needs
Personally, as I tell all potential parents, the most important question we should ask ourselves is: will our children be happy in this school? Is it a warm, nurturing and happy environment with professional and knowledgeable people where your child will enjoy their learning and succeed in their learning journey?
‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
By Penelope Best, School Principal,
Eupheus International School, Loulé