British education overseas – going from strength to strength

Posted on 20th Oct 2015 in International Schools

Colin Bell, CEO of the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), explains why British international schools continue to be in great demand

According to data published in summer 2015 by the International School Consultancy (ISC), the number of pupils studying at English medium schools around the world passed the four million mark for the first time. This is all the more astonishing considering just 15 years ago there were fewer than one million students studying at these schools, and five years ago there were 2.75 million. Demand for places at high quality international schools in many countries is clearly growing at pace.

Why a British education?

The question which is often asked of us at the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) is why is this rapid growth is taking place and what demographic are parents and families who have decided that an English language education, and in particular a British education, is the best choice available for their children. COBIS represents and quality assures over 235 British international schools in more than 65 countries worldwide. Within COBIS membership, families will find that each individual school is unique and has its own distinct character, however many commonalities exist. For example, COBIS member schools share high expectations of both students and staff and they strive to achieve the highest academic standards and quality of learning. The provision of a first class pastoral care system, a wide range of co-curricula activities and a keen focus on the development of the whole child certainly goes a long way to develop and nurture qualities such as resilience, adaptability, self confidence, tolerance and internationally mindedness. Obviously, these are all valuable skills and attributes in an ever increasingly fast paced and competitive world. 

No longer just for ex-pats 

So who are these parents? A commonly made assumption is that they are expatriates who have relocated to other countries and want their children to continue in the education system of their home country. While internationally-mobile families do make up a percentage of the enrolment at British international schools, what often surprises people is that children from local families now account for the majority of pupils at British international schools. 

Another key driver which supports the strong global reputation of British education and the growing number of families choosing to be educated though the medium of English language is the aspiration for students to achieve top grades which will enable them to transition to the best universities. With significant numbers of students choosing university destinations in English speaking countries such as the UK and the US, increasingly, parents interpret a high quality British education as the best way to realise this learning pathway. 

A world of choice for quality British education

Like any consumer of services, fee paying parents are right to seek reassurance that the quality of education at a British international school matches that of a UK independent school. This is an important question bearing in mind the lack of UK regulation in this area which essentially means anyone can open a ‘British’ school anywhere in the world. Membership of a recognised school membership association such as the Federation of British Schools in Asia (FOBISIA), British Schools in the Middle East (BSME), Latin American Heads Conference (LAHC), National Association of Schools in Spain (NABSS) or COBIS, as well as any of the UK independent school membership associations, is a always a useful quality assurance indicator. With a robust membership criteria, ongoing monitoring and statutory requirements to undertake safeguarding training, parents, staff and corporate employers can be reassured that COBIS member schools operate within specific guidelines of ethical practice and good governance which reflects the high standards and ethos expected of a first class British style educational system. 

An inspection process for British Schools Overseas

In addition to membership of recognised associations, a measure of school standards can also be achieved from the completion of external inspections. An example of such a process is the inspection process for British Schools Overseas (BSOs) which is a voluntary scheme, put in place by the UKs Department for Education (DfE). Schools outside the UK are inspected against a common set of standards which have many similarities to the stretching standards by which UK independent schools are inspected against. 

Only inspectorates approved by the DfE are monitored by the English schools’ inspectorate Ofsted to inspect BSOs. Detailed inspection reports are produced and are published for public consumption online at

A BSO inspection covers the quality of the curriculum; the quality of teaching and learning; the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils; their welfare, health and safety; the suitability of the proprietor and staff; the school’s premises and accommodation (including boarding); and the school’s complaints procedures. An essential part of the inspection is considering the extent to which the British character of the school is evident in its ethos, curriculum, teaching and care for pupils and pupils’ achievements. To date approximately 100 schools worldwide have been subject to a BSO inspection.

A place to develop, grow and excel

Finally, to conclude, high quality British international schools offer a wealth of opportunities not only for students and families but also for their staff. With that in mind when researching schools, it’s important to determine what value they place on the professional development of its governors, leaders, teachers and non teaching staff. I feel that in addition to excellent resources, depth of curriculum, rigorous safeguarding and academic standards, a school which creates a safe and secure learning environment for all is one of global quality. After all, high performing school communities, regardless of phase, size and location should be a place where people are given limitless opportunity to enjoy, grow, develop and excel. 

For more information about the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), visit