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New insights on parents’ priorities for international school selection

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A new survey finds that the pandemic is influencing international school selection for parents this year
  • The survey responses indicate a strong interest by parents in online provision and student wellness services this year as well as greater attention to affordability

In December 2020, ISC Research conducted a survey of senior admissions staff in international schools distributed across Europe, the Middle East, East and South East Asia. Those staff responses uniformly reported that parent inquiries indicated a number of “new priorities…which have arisen as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Parent interest in online learning, for example, is reported to be much higher this year. This reflects the broad disruption in K-12 teaching and learning throughout the world. “Most school campuses closed for face-to-face learning in or around March 2020 with some schools reopening, either fully or for a blended learning approach, in late summer term 2020, and others re-opening for the new 2020-2021 academic year,” notes ISC. “Since then, schools have had to remain agile in response to repeated campus closures, re-openings, strict safety measures, and isolation periods. A few countries have not re-opened school campuses for face-to-face learning since their initial closures.”

Admissions staff report an increase in inquiries from families who had not previously considered an international school, which they attribute in part to an interest in higher quality online provision (in other words, those same parents are concerned about the quality of provision in their current schools). As many as 84% of admissions officers responding to the December survey said that their school’s online provision is either “important” or “very important” to parents.

The stress of the pandemic on school-aged children and their parents is also very apparent in the survey findings. With so many extra-curricular activities suspended during the pandemic, parents are placing a greater priority on student support and student wellness services. Two-thirds of responding admissions officers said that the support services provided by the school is a “very important” factor for parents during school selection.

Along the same line, parents are also now looking closely at public health measures in place within the school, including procedures for sanitisation, social distancing, personal protective equipment, health checks, isolation procedures, and various other health and safety protocols. Four in ten (42%) survey respondents rated this as a “very important” selection factor for parents.

Finally, it is clear that parents are also looking more closely at school fees and affordability this year. ISC reports, “The economic impact of COVID-19 has reduced disposable income for some families and, with that, their access to private education. International schools around the world have reported students being moved to more affordable international schools, as well as requests from parents for payment plans, fee discounts, bursaries, or loans to cover school fees in the short-term.”

ISC notes that, even with increased financial pressure, that demand for education is expected to remain strong. The paper acknowledges as well, however, that, “The economic impact to international schools may not be fully realised until the 2021/22 academic year.”

Nearly six in ten survey respondents reported an increase in school enrolment this year, a trend that most attributed to parent perceptions of higher quality online provision by international schools.

Looking ahead to the 2021/22 school year, however, there is an overall tone of uncertainty in the survey responses. Many admissions officers noted the challenge of planning for the coming year with so many unknowns around flight availability, lingering travel restrictions, and government rules around local education provision. ISC quotes Sarah Frei, head of admissions at Brillantmont International School in Switzerland, who adds, “The pandemic means that countries who traditionally plan a long time ahead are even delaying things, as they wait to see how things develop. This has a knock-on effect for strategic and long-term planning and provision.”

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