Relocation: Making an educated decision

International schooling options can be one of the most important issues for relocating families. HRM shares how international schools are working with HR to ensure international staff can have a peace of mind when it comes to their children’s education

According to the Expat Insider 2015 report, four per cent of those moving internationally for career-related reasons had help with sorting out childcare or schooling. Employers paid for the kids’ education in eight per cent of cases.

Meanwhile, 17% of career expatriates are parents of dependent children living with them. Their companies only fork out money for their kids’ education in three per cent of cases and only two per cent receive aid with organising childcare or schooling.

While the report illustrates a somewhat nonchalant stance of organisations when it comes to helping their relocating employees with children’s education costs, Eve Rogove, Director of Marketing and Admissions, Stamford American International School, says she believes it is still a strong priority for companies with relocating staff.

“The most important factor should be the identification of educational options that best meet the needs of the child and family,” explains Rogove.

She points to a telling finding from The Cartus 2014 Trends in Global Relocation: Global Mobility Policy and Practices survey.

“The inability of the family to adjust is the second most-cited reason for assignment failure, and the school of choice is one of the influencing factors on this trend,” she says.

“It’s therefore important not just to the family, but for HR and relocation managers who want to ensure successful assignments.”

David Edwards, Head of Education at GEMS World Academy (Singapore), says over the past five years, there has been pressure on HR managers to best support the relocation or placement of senior managers into Singapore.

“In more recent times, the tightening of Employment Pass approvals has seen a decrease in foreigner relocations, meaning that schools generally now have places available. This is certainly a welcome relief to companies seeking to attract global talent,” he explains.

“Families who do continue to struggle are those whose children have learning difficulties, which require increased care and support. For these parents, there are limited school options available.”

Edwards says the single most important detail in a relocation is the school selection for the expatriate’s child or children.

“This impacts housing, the additional programme of activities, travel times, friendship groups, spousal activities, and so on,” he says. “By focusing on the swift settling in of the family, HR Managers can take some comfort that this will directly impact the business.

“The staff member will get into their role sooner, be more focused, and do so with the knowledge that the family is settled. This attention to the needs of staff results in higher engagement and supports talent retention.”

Forging ties with HR

According to Rogove, Stamford American International School builds partnerships with key HR personnel and relocation managers, with the school providing the most up-to-date information so that relocating families can make informed decisions.

“The key is providing a flexible service in which our admissions team can connect to the family, and this includes having a dedicated enquiry team in the US and Singapore to offer a convenient service in the family’s time zone,” she explains.

“Wherever possible, we arrange a visit at their convenience, allowing them to see the campus and the classrooms in action.”

She stresses that at Stamford, the school’s goal is to connect with the family and to really get to know the children.

“(We aim to) understand the child’s strengths, weaknesses and especially their interests. We get to know a family, so we are able to meet their needs,” states Rogove.

She says the range and quality of international education in Singapore means that there is always a viable option for parents, no matter what their needs.

In fact, the Expat Insider 2015 report has found that Singapore is globally valued for its quality of education (see: boxout).

Edwards also stresses that first and foremost, the team at GEMS World Academy is accessible.

“This includes across weekends, by appointment, as well as last minute requests for information and support. We appreciate that every family has a specific story, needs and wants,” he elaborates.

“While we have a strong enrolment and sales team who assists at the outset, all families and company HR executives have significant contact with the senior educational leaders of our organisation.”

GEMS World Academy organises school tours every Tuesday, giving parents of prospective students the chance to learn more about the school and the programmes offered.

“For relocating staff, under the support of HR managers and relocation agents, we happily coordinate one-on-one tours and meetings with the family, to ensure that specific support and information is provided,” says Edwards.

He acknowledges that parents are making a significant decision when choosing a school, one which impacts the child’s education now and in the future.

“This is a daunting task for families, so at the outset, our goal is to guide parents through the process of selecting a school which best suits the needs of their child and their aspirations for the future. There is no hard sell,” Edwards explains.

“Our team has extensive knowledge and experience of all schools in Singapore, and we lay this information out for families. We don’t attempt to be a school that we are not. We make the distinction between local, national and international school models, and guide parents on the types of questions they should be asking as they review the many options available to them.”

This process is all done through the senior education leadership team.

In addition, Edwards says that during the enrolment process, the Head of Education or School Principal personally meets and interacts with the new family to learn more about the child and their family, and to gain insights into the child’s educational aspirations and interests.

“The goal here is to ensure that before the first day of school, we know the family and child well and can ensure a smooth start to a new school and country,” he adds.

Will it break the bank?

Rogove says that whether or not the education for their children is part of the salary package provided “is often a make or break issue” for families of relocating staff.

“International schooling costs are often a shock for first time expatriates,” she says.

“In the event they are not included within the employee’s benefit package, they will often decide not to relocate.”

According to the Your Assignment Abroad: The 50 Most Common Concerns report by KPMG, due to the fact that expatriate children often attend international schools, housing near those schools also tends to be more costly.

What do the schools offer?

While the allure of international schools can be tempting, Rogove points out there are several important factors for parents to consider before deciding if that particular school is indeed the right fit for their children.

She says these factors include curriculum, facilities, location, co-curricular activities and fees.

On the aspect of curriculum, Rogove says International Baccalaureate is a world-wide curriculum offering an easy transition to any destination in the world.

“At Stamford, we are the first and only school in Singapore to offer the challenging American Education Reaches Out standards combined with the International Baccalaureate programme,” she explains.

Rogove says high quality facilities offer students exceptional opportunities that they may not be able to enjoy in their home country.

“Stamford offers first class facilities in a purpose built $300 million state-of-the-art campus, including a 500-seat theatre as the only school theater in Singapore equipped with an LED backdrop screen, allowing students to give more integrative performances and presentations,” she says.

“Sports facilities at Stamford – including three swimming pools, two indoor sports arenas, tennis courts, dance studios, rock climbing walls, a sports field, and a golf academy, allow for participation and achievement in over 70 competitive sports teams.”

She says the school’s co-curricular activities programme offers students the opportunity to explore interests and develop new skills in a fun and inclusive environment. The programme starts from pre-kindergarten level and offers over 100 activities.

Location is another important criteria when deciding on an international school.

“Singapore is a small country with lots of educational options, and minimal travel times to school are very achievable,” says Rogove

“Stamford is also centrally located, and just 10 minutes from Orchard.”

Last but certainly not least, Rogove stresses that parents should understand the fee structures of all potential schools. Some have recurring annual fees on top of tuition, which initially make their fees look lower.

Her counterpart Edwards stresses that when choosing a school for children, parents should consider the quality of teachers, the school model, and the value-added programmes.

“While a parent is a child’s first teacher, it’s crucial that we recognise that individual learning development is impacted the most by the educators interacting with the children on a regular basis,” he explains.

“The difference between the good, great and outstanding schools is never facilities; it is the quality of teachers that counts the most.

“HR has a significant impact on all elements of a business. Schools are no different. As such, parents are encouraged to ask school leaders about their teacher hiring policy, how they ensure their staff are valued, what programmes for development are provided, and what the turnover of staff is.”

In terms of the school mode, Edwards elaborates that the school philosophy, culture, school demographics are all important elements for parents to consider.

“Curriculum models must support the smooth transition of the children into the school, while opening up suitable pathways for further study,” he says.

“National schools are great for families wanting a singular culture, curriculum and certification model. International schools celebrate the many things that make us similar, as well as highlighting those delightful elements that make us different.

“International schools have rigorous additional certifying bodies, which ensure school programmes are recognised globally and prepare students well for whatever their next step in formal education may be.”

Furthermore, Edwards adds if a staff member’s family will be relocating regularly, then international schools that offer globally recognised and widely accepted curriculum, like the International Baccalaureate programme or the International General Certificate of Secondary Education ensure uninterrupted education.

Finally, Edwards says additional programmes provided by schools ensure that a balanced learning environment is supported.

“These programmes include extra-curricular activities across sports, arts and academics. Leadership groups and junior political study initiatives such as Model United Nations enable students to deepen their understanding of the world around them,” he states.

“Community and service activities, as well as entrepreneurship programmes, continue to broaden the learning opportunities available to children both in and out of the classroom.”

Tellingly, Edward cautions that it is important for parents not to get dazzled by facilities and to consider the fundamentals.

“Are these programmes a must or a want for my child? Are the people driving these initiatives committed to children and to ensuring outstanding learning opportunities are being consistently provided?” he asks.

“HR support and guidance in distilling the complex offerings of schooling in Singapore is a crucial service in assisting key hires and their families. School selection services significantly enhance employee satisfaction and to have a reputation in the market of being outstanding in supporting staff relocation should be something all mobility teams strive to achieve.”

Education choices among expat parents

  • International school: 34 %
  • Local state school: 30 %
  • Local private school: 20 %
  • Does not apply: 14 %
  • Post-secondary education: 9 %
  • National school abroad: 7 %
  • Homeschooling: 4 %
  • Other: 2%

Source: Expat Insider 2015 survey



Receiving education overseas compared to home country

Many companies provide education assistance intended to provide adequate elementary and secondary education for children equivalent to that of public (state-run) education in the home country.

A school in the host location is usually considered adequate if a student who has successfully completed a given grade at that school will be accepted in the next higher grade in a public school in the home country. Although most expatriate children attend private schools, many employers will no longer pay the tuition if adequate public schools are available.

Source: Your Assignment Abroad: The 50 Most Common Concerns report by KPMG



Educational trends around the globe

  • Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Australia are among the top five countries for availability of and overall satisfaction with education options for expatriate children. Austria comes out on top in both rankings, with 76% and 90% positive responses, respectively. It ranks far above the global average of 51% and 70%.
  • Hong Kong is a popular expatriate destination and 83% of parents are content with the quality of education there. Nevertheless, it finds itself at the bottom of the list when it comes to the availability of education, with only 17% positive ratings , closely followed by Qatar (22%) and Saudi Arabia (27%).
  • In the Expat Insider 2015 survey, Finland has emerged as the most popular destination among expatriate parents for its quality and cost of education.
  • After Finland with 92% satisfied parents, Austria (92%), Singapore (83%), Switzerland (82%), and Germany (79%) are also valued for the quality of their education. Tellingly however, only two of these nations (Finland and Austria) rank in the top five for availability, costs, and general satisfaction with education options.
  • Fewer than 10% of respondents chose international schools in English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, or the US.
  • Local state schools are especially popular among survey participants in New Zealand (65%), Finland (65%), Norway (64%), Switzerland (62%), and Canada (59%).

Source: Expat Insider 2015 survey


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