Professional Development Opportunities in International Schools

A recent article in The Guardians “Secret Teacher” series focused on the quality, or moreover, a perceived lack of quality with In-Service Training in International Schools. The article does raise some pertinent points, but much of the argument is anecdotal and does not reflect many international schools’ reality. In fact, in many cases, international schools have the resources to offer training that is more rigorous and relevant, which may be available in the UK or, for that matter, other English speaking countries.

All reputable and well-established international schools will be accredited by organizations such as the Council of International Schools (CIS) or the Council of British International Schools (COBIS). To be accredited by these bodies’ schools must demonstrate that they are willing to provide appropriate professional development opportunities for teachers. In their standards for accreditation, CIS state that “The school provides a programme of professional development and/or training that links to needs or agreed-upon goals identified in the appraisal process and reflects other priorities identified by the school.” Without accreditation, an international school lacks all creditability and subsequently has a vested interest to provide a high-quality INSET to all teachers.

In many cases, INSET is of much higher quality in the international sector than in domestic settings. Some INSET in international schools is indeed provided “in-house”, but teachers training teachers are often seen as good practice. Moreover, many international schools, through the fact that they are fee-charging institutions, have the budgets to bring in the highest quality personnel to train teachers. It is not unusual to find professional development courses in international schools being facilitated by Grant Wiggins, Jay McTighe, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Dylan William or Paul Black. This contrasts to much INSET provided by schools or LEA’s in the UK, where an experienced practitioner often provides training with some degree of credibility but rarely by the top academics in the world of education. Furthermore, many international schools are part of the Mediterranean Association of International Schools, the European Council of International Schools, the Central & Eastern European Schools Association, the Association for International Schools in Africa and the Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools.

International schools also benefit from the fact that they are independent and thus do not have to conform to the policy of a particular government at a particular time. International schools being free from political constraints can be forward-thinking and progressive. Given the relative freedom from inspection (accreditation visits are normally part of a five-year cycle), international schools are free to explore vibrant and exciting approaches from around the world. They are not confined by the constraints of a National Curriculum or the whims of organizations like OFSTED.

The “Secret Teacher” does raise some pertinent issues, though. As well as the many excellent international schools that exist across the world, there are also many “fly by night” institutions that have materialized over the past decade or so. Some of these institutions are run on a “for-profit” basis and subsequently may pander to the wishes of the more vociferous among their parent bodies to keep “bums on seats” and increase revenue. These schools usually fall short of the standards demanded by accreditation by CIS and/or COBIS and are probably worth avoiding.

In such schools, it is true that incompetence may thrive and that under-qualified people are sometimes promoted far beyond their level of competence. This is the case, staff morale is certainly negatively affected, and students’ learning is negatively affected. However, given that international schools are fee-paying institutions, such schools are unlikely to remain viable for too long. As the Secret Teacher alludes to, the power of parents is too strong to accept mediocrity for long. The accountability factor may be perceived as parental interference or as stakeholders demanding value for money.

INSET in the international sector always excites me. I am to learn from my peers who originate from many different educational systems and bring such various pedagogical experiences with them. It is a refreshing change from the “one size fits all” model for teaching and learning that I knew in my past life as a teacher in the UK. I am also excited by the outstanding professional development opportunities I have been fortunate enough to experience. In my previous existence, I never dreamt that my employer would send me away for INSET training for a whole week! Now I get to attend INSET with English speaking teachers from across the world at courses facilitated by some of the greatest minds in modern education. Like the Secret Teacher, I miss cheese, pubs and my family, but at least now I get to attend outstanding INSET.

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