Saturday, 14 September 2019

September recruitment pitfalls and how to avoid them

A new teacher no-show can throw an international school's staffing plans into turmoil. Here's a few thoughts on how to make sure it doesn’t happen;
It’s the start of year surprise that all international school principals and HR departments dread: that excellent young teacher who was so keen to move abroad and join the team has just phoned to say that she is now not coming. There’s a week until the pupils return, you’re a teacher down and there’s no supply agency within 3,000 miles. The post-mortem questions flood one’s mind: “Why did this happen?” “What could we have done to avoid this?” “Where were the signs that this could happen?” Soon, however, these are subsumed by the pressing concern, “What are we going to do to solve this crisis?” This was not the start of term that we wanted. 

Catastrophes and cold feet 

September nightmares broadly fall into two categories. 
First, there are changes in personal circumstances: such as the break-up of a relationship or the close relation who has an accident or is diagnosed with a terminal illness. With changes of this nature, it is quite understandable that a teacher might not want to be embarking on a new adventure thousands of miles from home. It’s just bad luck for all concerned. 
Second, there are times when the teacher simply gets cold feet and either doesn’t get on the plane or they head straight back home after a week or so in the school. These occasions should be avoidable. They are usually due to poor communication, a lack of due diligence on one side or the other or unmet expectations. 
Sometimes the school has not conducted a sufficiently rigorous interview process to check that the teacher has thought through what is entailed in moving abroad; at other times teachers can have a romanticised view of what it is to live and teach abroad. 
One common area of contention is that the standard or location of the accommodation provided by the school falls short of the teacher’s expectations. For some, this is a deal-breaker and they vote with their feet and head to the airport to go home. 
International recruitment is expensive at the best of times (adverts, visas, repatriation packages), but the cost of a no-show goes well beyond the financial. Having to find a replacement teacher at the end of the summer often means compromising on standards or the existing staff teaching over allocation. Either way, it is not good for morale and stops any beginning-of-year momentum dead in the water.
So, how can schools dodge the bullet? 

How to avoid the September nightmare 

The initial stage of moving abroad is an act of faith on both sides and there needs to be a transparent, open dialogue. Here are four ways that schools can ensure this: 

  1. Don’t oversell your location There is a tendency in international education for schools and recruitment agencies to over-sell locations. We see it all the time: the pictures in overseas teaching advertisements that focus on iconic skylines, five-star hotels and sun-kissed beaches give a false impression of what it is to be an expat working in a school in a suburb. Yes, there can be beach days and it’s possible to dip into the holiday life, but the reality is that staff won’t be living in five-star accommodation and that the daily routine is far from a holiday experience. Schools would be well-advised to dispel the romantic notions at an early stage. 
  2. Be transparent Schools should be as open as possible about what the job entails, how much holiday entitlement there is, the quality and location of any accommodation provided, and especially how the package works. They need to be clear about what costs are covered fully or in part by the school. It’s easy for teachers to look at a higher-than-UK tax-free salary, not realising that the cost of living in the city is much higher and that there may significant expenses that they haven’t thought through. One reason for a no-show is undoubtedly that, on reflection, the sums just don’t add up. Packages vary around the world so schools are best advised to be clear about any contribution that teachers will have to make to school fees, medical insurance and travel costs for the family. 
  3. Caveat emptor Schools need to do their due diligence as part of the interview process, probing key issues such as the candidate’s motivation for working abroad. Will the candidate be able to cope with living at a significant distance from family and friends; and have they done their homework about some of the challenges that they might face? It is perhaps not surprising that things go wrong when a school appoints a teacher who has never lived abroad before or even visited the country or region. 
  4. Deliver on promises One of the reasons that things go wrong is that schools move the goalposts and do not deliver on the promises made at interview. Sadly, this happens, often as not, when the owner goes over the head of the school principal to enforce cost-cutting measures to balance the books. Relocating a teacher to an apartment in a different part of town or providing smaller accommodation may be allowed within the letter of the job contract, but it can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 


Schools often turn to their extended community in a crisis situation. There is sometimes a suitably qualified parent or a retired member of staff who is willing to step into the breach on a short-term basis. If all else fails, and in absolute extremis, the only solution is to draw on the considerable expertise of the senior leadership team and put them to task until a suitable replacement is found.

This article was published in Tes on 13/09/2019

Friday, 30 August 2019

Ten ways that international schools differ from their UK counterparts:

In this article I outline some of the ways in which International schools differ from UK schools in structure and on a day-to-day basis.

Structural Differences 

1. Schools are fee-charging and often are run for profit 

Most International schools are not owned by the state, rather they are independent institutions which charge fees. Although there are a small number of older schools that operate on a not-for-profit basis, almost all of the schools established in the past twenty years were set up for-profit. This means that they have owners who control spending on resources and have varying degrees of influence on how the school is run. One other consequence of this is that parents tend to complain more because they see themselves as paying for a service. 

2. Different regulatory framework 

Governments around the world set the regulatory framework and inspection regime for their country. This means that, even if a school is following a ‘British curriculum’ there may be other aspects that are required to be taught. For example, in China it is mandatory to teach Mandarin and in the UAE it is mandatory to teach Arabic, Islamic Education and Moral Education. There is a huge range of practice when it comes to school inspections, ranging from annual OFSTED-style inspections in Dubai, to no compulsory inspections in Hong Kong.

3. Schools tend to be new - ‘schools without history’ 

Because of the explosion in English medium K12 International schools over the past twenty years (from 2,584 in 2000, to 10,400 in 2019 - ISC Research May 2019) these schools tend to be new with up-to-date facilities and greater access to new technology. In their initial growth period, they are usually operating below full capacity, giving a sense of space and being over-resourced. It can be very exciting to be part of a founding school’s journey as it is a real opportunity to shape its future direction.

4. Random holidays 

One of the quirks of working in an international school is that there are quite regular seemingly random holidays which fall during term. Religious holidays tend to move around because many of them are based on a lunar calendar, so no two years are the same. In addition, there are often a number of national holidays marking the founding of the nation or its independence. My particular favourite was ‘Flag Day’ in the UAE. These can bring both a welcome break and be hugely disruptive to the curriculum. At times these holidays clash with key points in the UK schools year (such as when the 5-day Eid break coincided with UK GCSE examinations) necessitating key staff to go ‘above and beyond’ and forego their time off; but for most staff they are a very welcome bonus.

Day to Day 

5. Range of cultural backgrounds of the pupils and more EFL 

It is not surprising that the pupils in international schools tend to come from a broad range of cultural backgrounds: it is not uncommon for schools to have a student population who, collectively, hold passports from more than 80 countries. However, what struck me going abroad for the first time was the complexity of some of the pupils’ backgrounds (e.g. Kuwaiti-Romanian; Thai-Swedish). This cultural, ethnic and religious diversity brings with it not only a richness of experience, but also some challenges for teachers. One important consideration is that the range of linguistic diversity can mean that a significant proportion in a given class are operating their second, third or even fourth language.

6. High pupil and staff turn-over 

International schools typically experience a relatively high level of pupil and staff turnover, as fixed contracts come to an end and families move to the next posting or back to the UK. There can also be significant movement of pupils between schools within the same city as pupils and teachers move either opt for a "more prestigious" school or look for a better financial deal..

7. Younger demographic of staff 

Staff in international schools tend to be younger than in the UK, with the ‘centre of gravity’ being somewhere in the early/mid-thirties. There are two factors that drive this. First, many teachers take the opportunity to travel and work abroad before they settle and have families; and, secondly, a large proportion of international schools are relatively new and therefore haven’t yet had the opportunity to grown into being a more senior staff room.

8. It’s a long way from home at times 

The teaching staff is predominantly made up of expatriates. A whole community living away from their home country support network has its own challenges. It simply isn’t possible to have the same level of regular face-to-face contact and Skype is, at best, a poor substitute. The most difficult aspect of being a long way from home is that there are times when expats miss out on key events in the lives of their family and friends such as weddings, christenings and even funerals.

9. Very limited number of supply teachers to provide cover 

Most countries do not have supply agencies, so schools must make their own arrangements to cover staff absence. Most schools will have lists of people on whom they can call, but, in many cases, teachers will have to rally round by merging classes or providing cover during their non-contact time.

10. Local challenges determined by geography, climate, and politics. 

Internationals schools certainly do the weather differently, be it ‘Avalanche Warnings’ in Switzerland, ‘Rain Days’ in Dubai, or ‘Typhoon Warnings’ in Hong Kong. In similar vein, crisis management goes way beyond the termly fire drill – with staff practising lock down and bomb evacuation procedures, not to mention measures to protect children from kidnapping attempts.

This article was published in Tes on 29/08/2019

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Invisible Women - by Caroline Criado-Perez - Book Summary

Some books change society - Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez sets out to be one of those. It is a book that every legislator, every employer, indeed, everyone who believes in a truly equal society should read.
The core argument is simple:  
  • There is a significant gender data gap because most of the data which we collect is not sex-disaggregated.
  • This matters because 'data determines how resources are allocated' (p.256)
  • This means that 'Male is the default Human' with a consequence that
  • The world is designed by men for men and this is not working (and, at times, dangerous) for women.
  • Furthermore, 'Gender neutral does not automatically mean gender equal' (p.309)
Criado-Perez demonstrates this thesis by looking in turn at range of issues which illustrate that women have different priorities and needs:

Daily Life

  • 'Women's travel patterns tend to be more complicated' than men's because they do more unpaid care work (p.30).
  • Women have different needs re toileting (this is a safety issue both in terms of hygiene and attacks from men). This strikes a chord with anyone who has witnessed the queues for women's toilets


'Women's work, paid and unpaid, is the backbone of our society and our economy' (p.142).
  •  'Women do the majority of unpaid work irrespective of the proportion of household income they bring in' (p.71) - 'Globally, 75% of unpaid work is done by women'. This has implications of women's health and financial status. There is a need for properly paid maternity leave.
  • 'Women continue to be disadvantaged by a working culture that is based on the ideological belief that male needs are universal' (p.86). 
  • There is a significant gender pay gap, which needs addressing - collecting and analysing data on hiring procedures to see whether these are gender neutral is a good place to start (p.110).
  • There are a range of occupational health issues which affect women differently to men (Chapter 5)
  • There are significant issues with sexual harassment at work (estimated 50% of women in the EU p.137) which need addressing.
  • 'The culture of paid work as a whole needs a radical overhaul. It needs to take into account that women are not the unencumbered workers the traditional workplace has been designed to suit' (p.91).


There is a 'one-size-fits-men approach to supposedly gender-neutral products [which] is disadvantaging women' (p.157).
  • The problem is not women, it is with male-based design. 
  • Examples: Grand Piano keyboard width (p.157), Smartphones (p.159), Voice-recognition software (p.162 - if it doesn't work for a woman - try lowering your voice!); online datasets (p.164).
  • Women find it difficult to get funding for design ideas. One factor is that '93% of VCs are men and men back men' (p.171).  'Given the male domination of VCs, data gaps are particularly problematic when it comes to tech aimed at women' (p.174).
  • 'The [male-dominated] tech industry is rife with examples of tech that forgot about women' (p.176).
  • 'Car design has a long and ignominious history of ignoring women' (p.185). 'When a women is involved in a car crash she is 47% more likely to be seriously injured than a man, and 71% more likely to be moderately injured . . . She is also 17% more likely to die' (p.186).


We have 'a medical system which, from root to tip, is systematically  discriminating against women, leaving them chronically misunderstood, mistreated and misdiagnosed' (p.196)
  • There are significant sex differences (pp.198ff):
    • fundamental mechanical workings of the heart
    • lung capacity
    • women are 3x more likely to develop an autoimmune disease
    • blood-markers for autism - etc
  • 'Because women have largely been excluded from medical research, this data is severely lacking' (p.199) ... 'The failure to include women in medical trials is a historical problem that has its roots in seeing the male body as the default human body' (p.201).
  • 'The lack of sex-disaggregated data affects our ability to give women sound medical advice' (p.208).
  • There are many drugs and treatments that don't work for women.
  • Yentyl Syndrome: 'women are misdiagnosed and poorly treated unless their symptoms or diseases conform to that of men' (p.217).
  • There is a lack of research into medical issues that mainly or only affect women (p.229)
'Women are dying, and the medical world is complicit. It needs to wake up.' (p.216)

Public Life

'The failure to measure unpaid household services is perhaps the greatest gender gap of all.' (p.241)
  • Unpaid work is excluded from definitions of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). 'The omission of housewives from national income computation distorts the picture' (Paul Studenski, p.241).
  • 'The upshot of the failure to capture all this data is that women's unpaid work seems to be seen as a costless resource to exploit' (Sue Himmelweit, p.244)
  • Taxation: 'There's a fairly simple reason why so many tax systems discriminate against women, and that is that we don't systematically collect data on how tax systems affect them' (p.260)
'Together with our woman-blind approach to GDP and public spending, global tax systems are not simply failing to alleviate gendered poverty: they are driving it.' (p.264)
  • 'The presence of women in politics makes a tangible difference to the laws that get passed' (p.266).
  • Discussion of women in politics - and a call for electoral reform.
  • 'The evidence is clear: politics as it is practised today is not a female-friendly environment' (p.281).
  • 'When you exclude half the population from a role in governing itself, you create a gender gap a the very top' (p.285)
  • 'Female politicians are not operating on a level playing field' (p.286)

Disaster Situations

  • 'The failure to include women in post-disaster efforts can end up in farce.' (p.290). This is illustrated with examples from Gujurat in 2001; Miami 1992 Hurricane Andrew; New Orleans 2005 Hurricane Katrina
  • 'The presence of women at the negotiating table not only makes it more likely that an agreement will be reached, it also makes it more likely that the peace will last' (p.294).
  • 'Women are disproportionately affected by conflict, pandemic and natural disaster ... Domestic violence against women increases when conflict breaks out' (p.296).
  • 'The data gap when it comes to sexual abuse is compounded in crisis settings by powerful men who blur the lines between aid and sexual assault' (p.306)
  • Homelessness: 'women are actually more likely to experience homelessness than men' (p.306)


  • Criado-Perez identifies three important themes that define women's relationship with the world:
  1. The female body: this needs to be taken into account in design medical, technological and architectural.
  2. Male sexual violence against women: we need to measure it and design out world to account for it - not to do so is to limit women's liberty.
  3. Unpaid care work: we need to measure this and to make it more equitable.
'Failing to collect data on women and their lives means that we continue to naturalise sex and gender discrimination.' (p.314)
One major reason why gender data gap needs to be addressed as a matter of priority is because 
'the introduction of Big Data into a world full of gender data gaps can magnify and accelerate already-existing discriminations.' (p.136)
The Book

This is a very well researched book. It is fully referenced and indexed allowing the reader easily to follow up on the points made. 

Monday, 29 July 2019

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan - Book Review/Summary

Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me is a novel which weaves the discussion of  a number of important philosophical questions about what it means to be human into an engaging inter-personal narrative.
The genius of the novel is that, unlike most futuristic novels, it is placed in the past. McEwan sets his novel in Thatcher's Britain of 1992 at the time of the Falklands conflict and its immediate aftermath. But there is a twist - this is a parallel history of the C20 and a charismatic and popular Tony Benn (rather than Michael Foot), is leader of the opposition. (Indeed there are feint echoes at times of popular reactions to Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in 2018).
A particularly fine touch is that McEwan explores the 'What if Alan Turing had not eaten the apple, and, instead, had lived into old age as the pioneer of computer science?' In this history of the C20 a number of technological advances of our recent past (Computers beating human champions at Chess and Go) and near future (autonomous cars, stem cell therapies) are transposed back to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. 
At the outset, the author places a high-functioning self-conscious humanoid robot, Adam, into a banal domestic setting with Charlie, the narrator, and Miranda his girl-friend. Herein is the vehicle to raise a number of key philosophical questions about the relationship of humans to intelligent machines.
  • Can robots/AI have feelings? 
  • fall in love? (p.118)
  • feel existential pain/angst? (p.181, p.234)
  • commit suicide? (p.175)
  • Is it murder to kill a self-conscious robot? (p.303)
On the way, McEwan discusses a range of important spin-off issues, such as the possibility the ultimate integration of man and machine in augmented humanity through a brain-machine interface (p.148) and Universal Basic Income funded by a tax on robots (p.169).
This novel is a useful contribution to the debates that we should be having about AI/Robots before they land on our doorstep. 

Thursday, 25 July 2019

The importance of building a network as an international leader

“No man is an island.” – John Donne’s observation that human beings need to be part of a community in order to thrive is never truer than when moving overseas into a position as a school leader. Regardless of your experience, moving to a new international context is always challenging. Not only do you have to come to terms with the foibles of the new school, but there is inevitably much that you need to learn about the regulatory framework in which you will be operating. 

‘No substitute for local knowledge’ 

You can spend hours on online research, but the reality is that there is no substitute for local knowledge. The most efficient way to get up to speed is to build a local network of more experienced colleagues and tap into their experience and expertise. 
Building a local network can be more difficult than it sounds. Most international schools are operating in a highly competitive fee-charging environment, where margins are tight and the recruitment of every pupil matters. 
 In this context it is difficult for school leaders to set aside their differences to collaborate or to help newcomers find their feet. Yet there is much to be gained from working together. 
Take Dubai for example. There are 58 British curriculum schools in Dubai, most are for-profit and the heavily regulated market is over-supplied. There is intense pressure on school principals to get high ratings in annual inspections and to grow pupil numbers. It is no surprise that the average tenure for a school principal is a little over two years. However, despite the fierce competition, there is a vibrant British Schools in Dubai (BSID) group of principals and headteachers who work together to navigate the changing regulatory landscape - “we don’t compete on compliance” is their mantra. The BSID is a valuable network for old hands and newcomers alike: the collective wisdom, understanding and knowledge of the group far surpassing that of any one of its individuals. 
If a local group of this nature doesn’t exist it makes sense for a school leader to meet with a few like-minded colleagues to start one. 

The importance of International networks: 

International schools have much in common with UK schools, but they are fundamentally different in a number of significant ways. Firstly, the children and students are usually drawn from a huge range of countries (JESS Dubai has some 82 different passports) and many are not native English speakers. Secondly, the teaching staff are expatriates, often living away from their home country support network. Also, staff and pupil turnover can be high; and there are other local challenges determined by geography, climate, politics and religion. 
It is hugely beneficial for school leaders to build a network with colleagues who have an understanding of these and similar challenges. The best way to do this is for schools to join a major international schools group such as the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) or the Federation of British International Schools in Asia (FOBISIA). These organisations curate the expertise of international school leaders and, though annual conferences and webinars, provide forums for them to share best practice and ideas. 

The importance of UK networks: 

One of the dangers of working overseas is that it is very easy to be become out of touch and dislocated from the issues which are driving education in the UK. This can have a negative impact on the school because UK debates ultimately impact on the international sector; and it can be detrimental for the school leader in terms of professional development and career progression. By maintaining close links with a UK-based network, international school leaders can remain part of the conversation and stay abreast of key developments. 

The importance of social media networks: 

Social media allows international school leaders to keep up to date, to play an active part in educational debates and to build a local and global network – indeed I have developed strong professional links with a number of colleagues whom I have never met in person. 
At a local level, Twitter and LinkedIn allow school leaders to build picture of their contexts by collating information from a range of sources, such as local media channels, government and regulatory agencies, good schools guides, relocation agents, other school leaders, and rival school feeds. 
At the same time, they are a forum for regional and global thought leaders and provide a platform for school leaders to publish their ideas and be part of the conversation. Social media is perhaps the most effective way for school leaders to promote their schools and to tap into a network of like-minded school leaders. 

Networks – the antidote to “it’s lonely at the top.” 

There are times when all school leaders feel isolated – even lonely. It goes with the territory. However, that isolation and loneliness can be magnified when working overseas. Here it is more important than ever that school leaders develop a strong professional network to whom they can turn for support and advice.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

The Checklist Manifesto - How to get things right by Atul Gawande - Book Summary

This book has a very simple message:
  • The world of the professions has become increasingly complex to the point where no one professional (be they a surgeon, a pilot, an engineer, or an investment manager) can retain sufficient working knowledge to know it all. 
  • Human memory is fallible. 
  • People can lull themselves into skipping steps even when they remember them. 
  • Checklists seem to provide protection against such failures. 
Checklists “provide a kind of cognitive net” which “catch mental flaws inherent in us all.” (p.48) 
Gawande, a general surgeon, works out this thesis with extensive illustrative anecdotes. Gawande himself played an instrumental role in the development of the World Health Organisation Safe Surgery Checklist, which has established some basic norms around the world and has reduced the incidence of infection, complications and death during surgery. 

Drawing on the construction industry, he argues that the days of the Master Builder are long gone and that today skyscrapers are built by teams of professionals who work from daily work schedules (checklists) and who solve complex, unforeseen problems by effective communication and collective decision-making that is coordinated again through checklists. One of the key lessons that comes out of this is “When resolving complex problems, power needs to be pushed out of the centre as far as possible.” (p.75)

The origins of the checklist dates to WWII and pilots coping with the increasing complexity of planes. The aviation industry has been at the forefront of the implementation of checklists to ensure that established protocols are followed and to enable flight crews to manage the full range of possible disaster scenarios. They have identified two types of Checklist (p.123): 
  1. DO-CONFIRM checklists: where team members perform their tasks from memory and experience; and then PAUSE to confirm that they have done all that they are meant to have done. A complex procedure might have a number of “pause points”. 
  2. READ-DO checklists: people carry out the tasks as they check them off – like a recipe. 
Checklists = Discipline 
In conclusion, “Checklists improve outcomes with no increase in skill.” (p.168)

Thursday, 4 July 2019

The State of Education in Dubai

My Interview on DubaiEye103.8 about the business of education in Dubai with James Mullan from WhichSchoolAdvisor.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Horses pulling Automobiles: The Impact of AI on Education

Cars were forbidden in the town of Nantucket, Massachusetts, until 1918 – some 25 years after the Duryea brothers set up the first car manufacturing company in America. The story goes that, during this time, Clinton Folger, the Island’s postman, towed his "gasoline buggy" to the state highway so that he could then drive to Siasconset on the other side of Nantucket Island to deliver the mail. The picture of the horse-drawn automobile is an apt metaphor for what is happening with Artificial Intelligence in Education today. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) learning platforms began to be launched at the primary and secondary education market a little over a year ago. We are still at the pioneering stage where the early adopters are trialing products, suggesting improvements and trying to evaluate their impact on teaching and learning. 
It would be wrong to see AI learning platforms simply as the next in a long-line of new technologies which have been harnessed to enhance what we are doing in the classroom, although there is little doubt that they can do this. AI is likely to transform nearly every industry; indeed, it will change society as a whole. It goes without saying that it has the potential to disrupt education. To understand the drivers behind this disruptive potential of AI we need to consider Education from a global perspective. 
Education is very big business. According to IBIS Capital [Global EdTech Industry Report 2016], education was $5 trillion industry globally in 2014 and is growing at $600 billion a year. However, only 2% of it is digitised – education as an industry is a ‘late adopter’ at best. So, EdTech is increasingly being seen as a ripe market for investors. Three factors make it very attractive: the importance and cost of education to Governments and parents; the global teacher shortage and the unsustainability of the present model of one teacher to 20-30 students; and the abundant scope for new markets (there are currently 263m children in the world not in education). Thus, the Holy Grail of EdTech is an effective AI platform that will solve these problems in a scalable and affordable way by providing a personalised learning experience with minimal teacher input. There is scope here to be the ‘Amazon of Education’ - no wonder the Venture Capitalists are turning their attention to EdTech.
To date, the AI platforms which have been launched are automating and enhancing aspects of the teaching and learning process. Typically, they conduct a base-line test, they introduce relevant content, which they then test, and using adaptive algorithms provide personalised feedback to the learner, their parents and the teacher. This is helpful but it not really embracing the full transformatory power of AI. In short, we are using AI in education to achieve C20 educational outcomes. It is rather like the situation faced by the postman of Nantucket: we have invented the automobile, but we are being forced by the regulators to pull it along with a horse because it doesn’t fit with their outdated view of the world. There is huge latent potential in the way in we AI is being developed that will change radically the educational landscape globally and in the UK. 
Teacher-Pupil contact time is the most precious resource that schools have. This is particularly true of specialist teacher time (e.g. suitably qualified Physics teachers) which is already a scarce resource. Looking ahead five to ten years, AI learning platforms will not replace teachers, but they will change what teachers do, especially in secondary schools as new technologies, including AI, allow schools to make the most of the limited teacher time available. Looking at things globally, in this Brave New World, the quality of the education available will be driven by cost; and the amount and nature of the human contact time available will determine the price-point. 
As Clayton Christensen has argued, disruptive technologies get their foothold in new and emerging markets and then gradually work their way into the mainstream. On this basis it is possible to predict how AI will transform education. AI learning platforms will have their greatest impact in markets where there currently there is no education available. Budget Secondary Education will not have face-to-face contact with qualified teachers but will be delivered totally through online courses on learning platforms. This is not a form of schooling that is recognisable to western educationalists, but for many young people around the world this will be better than the present situation of receiving no education at all. Moving up to Mid-Range Secondary Education, this will be delivered through blended learning programmes which combine AI learning platforms, subject specialist teaching via Virtual-Reality conferencing, and some face-to-face contact with teachers in a bricks-and-mortar environment. The US Public School system is in the vanguard of this (for an overview see Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning Reports). However, to date, there has been little appetite for adopting this model in the UK as was witnessed when counsellors rejected the plans to use Blended Learning at the Ark Pioneer Academy in Barnet (see Tes 30/01/2017). Finally, it will only be in top fee-paying private schools and in the state sector in the wealthiest countries of the world that Premium Secondary Education that will be delivered by specialist teachers in classrooms. Face-to-face teaching in a class of 20-30 will be a luxury (indeed from a global perspective, it already is). Here AI platforms will enhance and augment the learning process. 
Given the level of investment by the private sector into EdTech, it is clear that AI in Education is here to stay and the days of the Horse-drawn Automobile are coming to an end. So how best to prepare for the future? Perhaps the most important thing that educationalists can do at this time is inform themselves as to how AI works and to join the debate about what constitutes the ethical use of AI in education before it’s too late.

This article was published in Tes as 'Teaching's use of AI is like a horse-drawn automobile' 16/05/2019

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Seven ways to help new staff settle at your international school

Most international schools need to recruit between 10% and 25% of their staff each year. They rely on being able to attract talented individuals to move to a new country or to move abroad for the first time. Given that the prospect of relocating can be very daunting, a school which develops a reputation for having effective structures in place to support these teachers will have an advantage in what is an increasingly competitive international recruitment market. Here’s seven ways in which international schools can build an effective induction programme to support staff moving abroad. 
  1. Guiding new staff through the red tape 
    The induction process for teachers moving to work abroad usually starts months before the adventure begins. There is a certain amount of paperwork that is much easier to do whilst still in the UK, such as getting a local Police Clearance or producing attested copies of Degree and Teaching Qualification Certificates and, where relevant, Marriage Certificates. Given that most teachers haven’t even heard of ‘attestation’ let alone how to complete this complex process, it is important that schools have a strong (and patient) HR team who will put new joiners at ease by guiding them through what they need to do in a timely manner. 
  2. Connect new staff through Social Media
    Teachers who are moving abroad can feel quite distant and isolated from the school community they are joining. One way to overcome this is to connect those joining the school in September via Social Media. For example, at JESS the HR Department run a ‘JESS New Starters’ Facebook group which allows the new cohort to get to know each other, to ask questions and, which, over time, has become a repository of FAQs. The group builds a sense of camaraderie so that when they all finally meet at the ‘New Staff Social’, they already know each other. 
  3. Relocation Advice 
    One of the most difficult decisions for someone moving abroad is to work out what items they need to take out to the new country. The temptation is to ship too much out of a fear that it won’t be available or will be too expensive abroad. Rather than reinventing the wheel, school HR teams can help by pointing new staff to local online forums and networks (such as 
  4. Meet and Greet 
    The most seasoned traveller will tell you that arriving in a new country knowing that this is now ‘home’ is a totally different experience to going on holiday. It can be an emotional time and a familiar face can be most welcome. It is common practice for members of the school’s senior management team to meet new staff at the airport and to ensure that they are settled into their accommodation, which is usually provided or arranged by the school in the first instance. 
  5. Teacher Buddy 
    Schools often allocate new staff ‘teacher buddies’ in the summer term prior to the ‘big move’. This gives an important point of contact for the new teacher, who can help the new staff member both before their arrival and to settle into the school and the expat community.  
  6. Living in Limbo 
    It usually takes a number of weeks for Visa and Residency paperwork to be in place. During this time, it can be difficult to buy a car, lease an apartment, get insurance and set up a mobile phone account. A good HR team provide support by advising new teachers on what they need to put in place for this transitional time. (In practice new teachers usually need to take the same steps that would were they to be visiting the country as a tourist.) One of the most practical things that a school can do is to help new staff with WIFI in these early days, for example by lending 4G dongles to new staff. 
  7. Introduction into Local Laws and Customs 
    One of the most important parts of new staff induction in an international context is to provide some guidance on local laws and customs. It is vital that ex pat staff understand the expected norms of behaviour when in public, especially at times of key religious and national festivals. For example, there are a range of attitudes in the Middle East around dress code, which not only vary from country to country but also from context (the street, the shopping Mall, the Government building, the beach). It is much better that schools take the time to run sessions on local expectations, than their new staff learn what is and what is not acceptable the hard way. Some schools take the process of induction to the next level by providing classes in the local language to facilitate this process. 
First impressions count, and that applies as much to schools as it does to teachers; so, HR Departments are very much in the front-line when it comes to recruitment and the on-boarding of staff. In the highly competitive world of teacher recruitment, a good HR team who communicates well and puts candidates at their ease is an enormous asset that can make the difference between securing and losing the top applicant. The HR team’s work is not over once the preferred candidate has accepted the post: HR’s role in the induction process is crucial in ensuring that new staff settle and quickly find their stride in the school. This is true of all schools, but the challenges facing HR teams in International schools are even greater as they play a crucial, guiding role in helping staff and their families through the process of moving abroad and finding their feet in what is often a strange, new country.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

How to make your international school appeal to candidates

As the number of English-medium International schools increases around the world, the market to recruit the limited pool of native English-speaking teachers who want to work abroad has become highly competitive. International schools no longer can rely on simply placing an advertisement in Tes to attract an employable shortlist. It is a buyers’ market and schools need to sell themselves to candidates. This article looks at eight ways beyond salary and benefits packages where schools can stand out from the crowd. 
There is something attractive about experiencing exotic cultures and seeing new places, so it is not surprising that one of the major reasons why people look to teach abroad is that they want to travel and explore the world. However, alongside this Wanderlust, there is often an underlying concern that the price of the adventure is a damaged career which will remove the option to return home, should the desire or need arise. Schools need to recognise and harness these emotional drivers in a systematic way if they are to attract top international talent. 
  1. Sell your location: One of the unique features of International recruitment is that schools have to sell both the organisation and the city - clearly this is easier for some than others (Dubai v Chongqing). Schools need to paint a picture in the recruitment pack of what it is like to live in the particular region. This need not be an onerous task - local tourist guides can provide suitable copy. 
  2. Promote your training and development opportunities: A common question asked by teachers moving abroad is whether or not they will have similar training opportunities to those available in the UK. Millennial teachers are particularly interested in the opportunities for professional and personal development. Most international schools provide routine INSET, but schools can set themselves apart by providing access to portable formal qualifications and training that is recognised in the UK, such as NQT support and the NPQML or NPQH. 
  3. Establish the school brand within the region and around the world. Schools that have established reputations within a region or globally are likely to be more attractive to talented teachers. Effective ways of putting a school on the educational map include playing an active role in international schools’ organisations (such as HMC, COBIS and FOBISIA) and applying for (and winning!) international schools’ awards. 
  4. Maintain close links with the UK It is all too easy for an international school to sit comfortably and distance itself from the issues which are driving education in the UK. This is a huge mistake. It is important for international schools to remain part of the conversation. Schools should encourage contributions to contemporary debates about educational developments in the UK on social media, by writing articles and by speaking at conferences. 
  5. Promote what your staff are doing: Schools that provide opportunities for teachers to share what they are doing and to develop their professional reputation are hugely attractive to prospective candidates. For example, hosting a regional ‘Educational Summit’ can reap great benefits: talented staff have a platform to share their expertise; the school will be seen as a centre of excellence leading the debate; and it will be, in effect, a prospective staff Open Day by drawing in hundreds of teachers into the school. 
  6. Develop an International Presence on Social Media Some teachers are happy working in a silo – their classroom is their castle and they are comfortable there. However, increasingly there is a generation of teachers, who have grown up in a world of social media, who want to network with like-minded colleagues and share what they are doing professionally. An effective social media strategy is a cost-effective way of promoting the school both at home and around the world, at the same time as providing an important platform where teachers can connect and gain recognition from their peers. 
  7. Use your website: International school websites typically are designed to recruit pupils and to provide information to parents. Few schools consider their potential to be a shop window for recruiting staff – this is to miss a real opportunity. Consider developing a section of your website on ‘Working at Our School’ which includes sample videos of staff talking about what it is like to be part of the school community; and a blog which pulls together contributions to the regional and international educational debates. 
  8. Set up a LinkedIn School Past and Present Employees Group. Any school that can establish a professional network of influential and successful past and present employees will be attractive. Such a group would provide evidence of the sort of roles former employees went on to do and shows that the school is sort of institution that is genuinely interested in developing its staff even after they have moved on to their next challenge. 
The quality of teachers determines the quality of a school. One of the most important factors that distinguishes great international schools from their competitors is the ability to recruit and retain talent. International schools would be well advised to put as much effort into building their ‘Employer Brand’ for staff recruitment as they do marketing their ‘School Brand’ to attract students.