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Why Market Data Matters for Schools

By Richard Gaskell
Why Market Data Matters  for Schools

With the start of the new academic year, knowing where your school stands within the increasingly competitive international schools market is vital for senior leaders who need to strategically focus their marketing, admissions, and development plans.
Data on the local market helps schools to benchmark themselves against others that they compete with. In some cities, this now means a significant number of schools. ISC Research data from July of of this year (2017) shows that 12 cities have over 100 international schools. Five cities; Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Doha, and Sharjah each have over 100,000 students aged between 3 and 18 enrolled in international schools. In Dubai alone, the international schools teach a staggering 258,260 children.
There’s huge demand by families for international school places for their children, but much competition between schools too. This is why keeping abreast of data on the market is so crucial to school success.
Even where competition is not so rife, knowing how your school compares to others in your locality helps you to know where there may be gaps in the market that you can tap into, or enables you to identify the unique selling points that set your school apart from others.
The numbers
Tracking the international schools market to enable schools to be fully informed and effectively benchmark themselves involves the collation and analysis of a huge range of variables. This not only includes the obvious and relatively static records on curriculum, examinations, facilities, fees, and school size, but also the more fluctuating though just as important data on capacity utilisation, waiting lists, student and staff demographics, and salaries.
This is work that ISC Research has been specialising in since 1996 and forms the backbone of our business. Providing schools with the right data to enable them to develop and to strategically market themselves is the forefront of our work today. It’s vital data for suppliers and specialist providers too, who use such data to target their business in the most informed way.
Teaching and learning
The curricula and examinations offered at an international school influence the decision of many parents. The British brand of learning; the National Curriculum of England leading to IGCSE and A level qualifications, continues to be the most popular offering. Its global recognition has continued to strengthen over the past five years and is currently the curriculum of choice of 3,357 international schools.
However, ISC data shows that curriculum choice fluctuates quite significantly across regions. Throughout Latin America, for example, the International Baccalaureate is the preferred choice. Along with a US style of curriculum and US qualifications, these three options that influence the approach to teaching and learning dominate the international schools market. Nevertheless, niche options such as Montessori, Regio Emilia and the International Primary Curriculum enable schools to provide an alternative approach to teaching and learning and to differentiate themselves when competition is vast.
The cost of international schooling
Another significant differentiator for schools is the fees. The cost of attending an international school ranges considerably from one region to another, and from city to city depending on demand.
The average annual international school fees in 2017 were USD$9,400. But for some schools in some regions, the actual fees were quite different; $3,842 in Southern Asia, $7,563 in the Middle East, $16,062 in Eastern Asia, for example.
Just because you are a premium school offering the most extensive facilities and best teachers doesn’t mean you can name your price. The demand from the local market and what it can sustain play a big part.
Student teacher ratio
It’s not just the fees, curriculum, or the facilities that an international school offers, that influence a parent’s choice. Anuradha Monga, Chair of TAISI (The Association of International Schools of India) and Head of Bangalore International School in India explains what many schools are experiencing: “In our school, we have seen our enrolment numbers double in the last few years; our parents are well versed in new educational trends: from play-based and emergent curriculums, to tinker design labs and blended learning. We know we are catering to ambitious parents who have high expectations and standards of achievement for their children. Ultimately, it is the attractive teacher student ratios in international schools that is the biggest factor in parents choosing schools like ours. Anything to avoid being one among 60 kids vying for one teacher’s attention.”
The average student teacher ratio at international schools in India right now is 10 children to one teacher. This ratio varies for international schools from region to region. In Eastern Asia, the average is 7.5 children to one teacher, in the Middle East it’s 12.
Staffing for success
Attracting enough qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges for international schools today. More teachers are coming into the international schools sector and doing so with long-term career plans in mind rather than short-term ‘backpacking’ opportunities, as was most typical in the 1990s. Even so, the demand for skilled, experienced teachers in a rapidly expanding market means that competition between international schools for the best people is fierce.
Teacher demographics have played a notable part in the success of the international schools market. The progressive pedagogy, high standard of teacher training, experience of delivering reputable curricula in order to best prepare students for qualifications most desired by the world’s leading universities and employers, and speaking of English as a first language, make teachers from such countries as Britain, Canada, the US, New Zealand and Australia highly sought after by parents and so too by schools. Such teachers, of course, don’t come cheap.
What you give and get
Salaries play a big part in attracting the best teachers and, to a large extent, influence the school fees. That’s why salaries fluctuate as much as the fees do. According to ISC data, the average salary of an international school teacher last academic year (2016-2017) was USD $41,600. In Eastern Asia, the average salary increased to $47,600, and in Western Europe it jumped right up to $61,900. But in the Middle East it was $40,800, and $30,700 in Southern Asia.
Benchmarking teacher salaries against the average, as well as the highest and lowest salaries for your city or country ensures that a school remains an attractive proposition for new candidates. Of course, there are other reasons why a school appeals to recruits; such as benefits, location, professional development provision, and the reputation of the school, but salary is inevitably a key factor for hiring and retaining good staff.
Planning ahead
In-depth market data arms schools with the evidence necessary to prepare for their future. Recruitment is just one example. There has been much talk in recent years about a potential teacher crisis within the market. Data and trends confirm this. ISC forecasts that within five years, over 2 million more students are expected to enrol in international schools. This will require the sourcing of an additional 190,000 teachers and the opening of more than 3,000 new schools and campuses. For international schools, this poses huge potential opportunities as well as challenges. Are you prepared?
Richard Gaskell is Schools Director at ISC Research; the leading provider of data and intelligence on the world’s K-12 English-medium international schools market.

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