Types of International Schools

Understanding the different types of International Schools

types of international schools

The variety and choice of international teaching jobs is stunning, and teachers looking for their first job abroad are often confused about which teaching job is right for them, especially because they can't simply visit an overseas school before accepting a work contract.  That is why understanding the types of international school as well as the types of  job available is so important.

International schools are schools to fully educate children between the ages of 2 and 18, that operate outside of, but with the consent of, the state school system in a foreign country. They are not schools for the teaching of English as a foreign language, though they may have children who are English language learners.  International schools use a curriculum and/or a language of instruction that is different than that of the host country and they are as different from each other as the children you teach.

International schools can be roughly divided into three categories:

  • Original Expatriate
  • Broadly International
  • Local International and Bilingual

Original Expatriate International Schools

  • Curriculum, teaching staff and children from a single, expatriate nationality

Original expatriate international schools are what most people visualise when they think of teaching abroad - a Canadian school with Canadian curriculum and Canadian students taught by Canadian teachers... just in a country that is not Canada.  These are international schools that are mono-nationalistic, therefore the majority of the children, parents, staff and curriculum reflect only that one country, despite the location of the school. Many decades ago, when international relocation was something few people did, this kind of school was the only type, but now they represent the smallest proportion of international schools available.

Because Original Expatriate schools are often well established and well known, having been some of the first international schools in the country, they often charge fees to parents that are at the top of the regional range and therefore offer employment packages to teachers which are in the upper quartile. As such, they are often very competitive for students to attend and for teachers to find jobs.  

Typical Requirements

To teach in any international school you must first meet the Ministry of Education requirements to teach in the host country, and this varies by country.  Some countries have maximum and/or minimum age limits to obtain a standard work visa, some have nationality requirements and others may require that your teaching credentials meet a particular standard and have a bachelor’s degree that matches the subject you intend to teach abroad.  The regulations vary by country and often change yearly, which is why many teachers rely on Edvectus to help them understand where they can and cannot be considered for a teaching job.

In addition to the national requirements, an Original Expatriate school will typically prefer at least 5 years of recent, unbroken, full-time teaching experience in a similarly high calibre of school using their curriculum. Original Expatriate schools will expect to see recent career progression as well as up to date teaching methods, outstanding teaching references and proven academic results. It is important to remember that these schools usually have high numbers of applications and are often unwilling to compromise on what they want.

Broadly International Schools

  • Curriculum modified from one country, but children, parents and staff from a broad mix of countries 

Some international schools exist in areas that have a large number of expatriates from all over the world. Countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore and Hong Kong have thousands of expatriates from hundreds of different countries living and working together, a perfect recipe for Broadly International Schools.

Broadly International Schools serve parents and children from a variety of different nationalities and they tend to hire teachers who are also multi-cultural. Whilst they do use a particular curriculum foundation, it is often modified to address the needs of their multi-ethnic student and parent body.  When looking around a Broadly International school you will see a rainbow of different ethnicities and many different languages being spoken at break time, but the language of instruction is almost always English.

Typical Requirements

Besides meeting the Ministry of Education and visa requirements of their host country, Broadly International schools will often require at least 2 years of recent post-qualification teaching experience of the subject and at a level that is relevant to the job on offer.  Whilst they may be more flexible and broad-minded in considering teachers who have experience of a curriculum that is not the one they offer, they will look for academic, culturally tolerant and adaptable teachers with a proven track record of teaching the subject they seek. Teachers who have rigid ideas of what a school should look like, how things should be done and what is culturally acceptable will have more difficulty in this kind of school, which requires one to work with children, parents and staff from all over the world.

Local International and Bilingual Schools

  • Curriculum adapted from a single country but children and parents are mainly from the host national country

Local International schools represent the largest as well as the fastest-growing segment of the international school landscape. Local International schools serve a mainly host national population but use an international curriculum and language of instruction that are different from those used by the host government‘s state schools. Bilingual schools also serve host nationals but they differ from Local International schools because they use all or most of the national curriculum of the host country, but deliver significant portions of that curriculum in English.

Simply due to numbers, many international teachers start out their careers in Local International or Bilingual schools so it is important to understand how they compare with other types.

More than any other type of school, the Local International and Bilingual schools reflect the host culture in which they are based, which means that international teachers will be immersed in the local culture and make local friends. Teachers often get invited to holiday celebrations, learn the language more quickly and assimilate into the lifestyle more quickly, but they also need to conform to local customs more thoroughly and the school environment and ethos may reflect the host country rather than the international curriculum to a larger extent. 

Teachers working in Local International and Bilingual schools should thoroughly research the culture of their new country to make sure they are prepared for their cultural immersion. Often school procedures, from hiring practices to ordering of materials, will be reflective of the host national culture rather than the expatriate teacher’s culture, so we recommend these types of schools for teachers who are open minded, comfortable with change, and both personally and professionally adaptable. As with all international postings, the school is the hand and the teacher is the glove. This means that the teacher must understand the school’s culture and adapt to it, rather than expecting a school to change for them. Teachers who can do this will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of their host nation as well as a successful teaching career.

Typical Requirements

Local International and Bilingual schools are often the most flexible in terms of pre-requisites, though they must, like all international schools, meet Ministry of Education and visa requirements. Some schools will accept confident Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) and will offer them the structure and support they need to ground their teaching careers. Others may require more experience. Because this is the biggest category of international schools, there is a large variation in what the schools require and offer.

All Local International and Bilingual schools would like to hire teachers with some experience of teaching children who are English Language Learners, and teachers without this experience should make use of the courses available on our learning portal which will help them appreciate the challenges and typical techniques that can be used. 

Local International and Bilingual schools do not often suit teachers with dependent children, both because they might not integrate well into the school but also because the lower fee structures mean that these schools might not pay enough to support an entire family , and they do not often provide family housing or free school fees for teachers.

State Schools Abroad

  • State funded schools for local host national children, curriculum from host country but offered in a bilingual or trilingual setting

Some foreign governments, with an acute interest in preparing their children for a globalised world, have taken the bold step of creating bilingual streams within their state-funded schools. Western-trained teachers can be hired for a variety of roles which range from merely the teaching of English as a foreign language, to advising local teachers on the latest teaching practices, to even leading a school as the Principal or Head Teacher. The types of roles can be broken into categories:

  • Language Assistants
  • English Teachers
  • Subject teachers (English medium)
  • Advisory Teachers
  • School Leaders

Language Assistants

By far the most numerous types of roles, many countries hire unqualified teachers, often native English-speaking university graduates, as Language Assistants. Their role is to work under the direction of a qualified host national teacher to model the pronunciation and use of the English language. 

Language Assistant jobs are often best suited for those who have only a non-education-related degree or have TEFL certifications only, or those who are not certified or qualified to teach state school in their own country, though most foreign governments would happily hire qualified/certified teachers as well. 

Salaries are often at the lower end of what a certified/qualified teacher can earn regionally, though they often have a salary scale that rewards training and experience. Benefits packages might include some form of housing assistance and flight allowance but owing to the transient nature of those who are attracted to these posts, they often pay out only after certain time and performance criteria are met. 

These jobs are good choices for TEFL trained teachers or teachers who do not have formal teacher training and certified/qualified teacher status in their own country. Examples of countries with these kinds of programmes are Japan and Taiwan.

English Teachers

Teachers who are qualified and certified to teach Early Years (Kindergarten/Nursery), Primary (Elementary) or Secondary (Middle /High School) English in their home countries can be considered for jobs as English teachers abroad. English teachers manage their own classrooms and teach their own lessons, so having appropriate teacher training is more important than for a Language Assistant.  Some countries have English specialist teachers at every year group, but others introduce specialist teachers only at the Secondary or High School levels.

Teachers who wish to be considered for these roles normally need to be qualified and certified in their home countries, and governments might only recruit teachers trained in particular countries which they feel are a good match for their own state systems.

Salaries for these jobs are often very good when compared with other jobs at international schools nearby, and the educational and experience requirements for these jobs are quite stringent. Usually governments require at least 2 or 3 years of post-qualification relevant whole-class teaching experience. TEFL certificates are sometimes required in addition to initial teacher training, with standards around the type and quality of the TEFL certificate provider as well. Examples of countries with these types of programmes are Brunei and Abu Dhabi.

Subject Specialist Teachers

More rarely, in some state schools around the world, subject specialist teachers are employed to teach their subject in English. Typically limited to core subjects – English, Maths, Science – rather than more culturally sensitive subjects such as Social Studies, History, Art or Music, these jobs exist within state schools that have a more broadly bilingual approach.

Salaries for these jobs vary, but are often similar to the international school markets. Teachers who work in this kind of environment must be very aware of differentiation for English Language Learners, and how students might struggle to assimilate complex and high-level subject information in a language that is not their first or main one. 

These jobs are rare, as few state governments have taken bilingualism to this extent, but such jobs do exist in Kazakhstan, and at the primary (elementary) or middle school levels in Abu Dhabi.

Advisory Teachers

Reforming education from within is a difficult task, and some state school systems will hire educational advisors to help support and train local teachers as they adapt to new systems, techniques and curricula.  Advisory teachers must possess a rare combination of exemplary teaching skills, strong subject knowledge as well as excellent influencing skills in order to implement change (which is never easy) whilst not having direct authority over those they advise.

Advisory jobs are often in locations that are suburban or rural, and can be short term or long term in nature. Those wishing to take on advisory roles must be very capable relationship builders who understand that change can and will be resisted by many, but who have the proven ability to get results through education and influencing.  Educational change must be undertaken in a very sensitive and culturally appropriate manner; this makes patience, flexibility, empathy and adaptability extremely important to success.

Salaries for Advisory jobs are usually at the top of the range for the region, often similar to a head of department or other leadership role. Many provide family-friendly employment packages, an acknowledgement that the skills needed to be a good Advisory Teacher are usually honed later in a teacher’s career after much experience.

Advisory jobs are less common than they once were, as governments are looking to reduce spending in a time of global economic uncertainty, but can be found in places like Abu Dhabi, Malaysia and Kazakhstan.

No matter what job you seek, it is important to understand the benefits and challenges you will face in each role and to prepare yourself adequately for them.  We recommend you learn as much as possible before you go, so that you can have the best possible experience after arrival. Registered teachers can take advantage of our Learning Portal with hundreds of resources for teachers who wish to learn more about teaching abroad.