First thing families are searching for on google for their children when moving abroad are what kind of “international schools” are available. That’s no different for people coming to Mallorca. They will find a list of schools that appear to be international at first as their name includes the word international. This, however, can be very misleading. Simply because a school calls itself an international school, does not mean it fulfils the requirements of a standard international school.
An international school is a school that follows the international curriculum. Yes, there is one. The international curriculum should not be confused with a British curriculum just because the language of teaching and learning is English. You´d be surprised but a truly international school follows the IB programme which to do so they need to be officially authorized. It is almost like Himalaya salt. People buy it for health benefits thinking it comes from the Himalayan mountains. But it doesn’t.
The IB programme starts for children from the age of 3-12 with the PYP Primary Years Programme which focuses on the whole child and aims to prepare students to become active, lifelong learners. The Middle Years Programme is aimed at students from 11-16 preparing them to make connections between studies and the real world. The Diploma programme for students from 16-19 develops student´s depth and breadth of knowledge and the Carrier-related Programme leads to higher education or employment addressing the needs of students to carrier-related studies.
Some schools in Mallorca take it for granted to follow the British curriculum although the call themselves “International”. “It is very similar, you know”, will be their answer when asked to explain this further.
What is similar to the British curriculum and the IB Programme? Let me explain. Is it the language of instruction? English is used in the IB Programme and the British curriculum whereas different accents might be used. While the transition within the IB programme into another school will run smoothly and the child will be able to progress continuously, the transition to the British system is not that straightforward. A child changing schools at the age of 15 would be right within his GCSE preparations. The GSCE is a 2-year programme and starts at the age of 14 with a considerable amount of coursework so that schools are hesitant to allow students in in the middle of the course. The 15-year old student would have to go back and repeat the previous year which evidently would not benefit his, at this time so important, social life and undergo further disruptive changes.
The IB curriculum does not divide the Primary phase into further segments like the UK curriculum does into KS1 (R-Y2) and KS2 (Y3-Y6). In an IB setting students within the same grade may work at differentiated phases and develop and progress continuously while the UK curriculum looks at progress from KS to KS rather than Year by Year. At the IB Students work on Units of Inquiry which are engaging and significant to them. The PYP fosters inquiring minds and develops critical thinkers. The UK curriculum provides a substantial framework which can be plainly followed but gives schools the freedom to deliver content in a worthwhile way. It is the usual practice of outstanding schools if you want.
Both of the curriculums are inclusive and allow for a diverse set of approaches and interpretations.
Many parents in Mallorca chose an “international” school because they want their kids to become truly sufficient in speaking English so a majority of students will be Spanish speaking. Most schools have a certain percentage of German, English, Scandinavian and Russian students. The level of English in the classroom will usually be of a very distinct level between the students. Some international schools are trilingual and teach different subjects in English, Spanish and Catalan. Others teach very few lessons of Spanish so that expat children, despite living in Spain, will not make significant progress in the local Spanish language.
When I studied at the University of York the International Student Society arranged an International food festival. People from 20something nations decorated their stall in their home colours and cooked delicious food from their home country. It really brought the students together. Not only through the food but also through the conversations that arose. An international school should do just that. Promote intercultural understanding and foster it in their interpretation of the curriculum, may it be the IB or Uk one. The title of the school should not be misleading just to accumulate enrolment. Schools need to get away from being plain businesses. Authentic international schools will have the largest number of students from foreign countries, they will have international staff qualified internationally and take into account the varied needs of children and parents understanding cultural differences and problems that occur in the new country.
Whatever school you inscribe your child into, take a good look, ask questions, take a good look again.