Getting the most out of the IB

‘Is teaching in IB World schools different from teaching in government schools?’ is the first question that may arise in the mind of a person about to embark on this journey. The story below is going to suffice your inquisitive mind with a simple answer for this compelling question! No, it is not. It requires open-mindedness to understand and embrace different cultures.

Getting started

I started teaching seven years ago. My first job was as an English language teacher in a local (government) school, but it did not last as long as I would wish. My career path veered and I joined the international community of IB World Schools in Southeast Asia, Singapore. This is when I started teaching English in international schools.

I still remember my first day in a truly multinational and multicultural school. In my classroom, I had students who represented six different countries; Taiwan, China, Japan, France, the United States, Thailand and Indonesia. Whilst teaching in such a diverse classroom, a teacher is likely to encounter problems of how to create a common ground to make sure that learning takes place. However, the other side of the coin is quite different –  expert teachers should not look for a common ground, instead, they should embrace different cultures and create a companionable setting to work in.

IB students

This is what I have done in the multiple international classrooms where I have worked as a homeroom teacher. I always tell my students, “We all are humans and we need to appreciate our common humanity while recognising our differences.”

Curricula at IB World Schools

The curricula at IB World Schools allows you to design lessons that will help you draw students in. Both the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) and  curricula give teachers generic guidelines that allow them to design units where students learn to build emotional connections with the taught materials.

One such unit that I have designed was called “people around the world” within the MYP curriculum. In this unit, students learned all about different traditions, costumes, cuisine, beliefs and religions. At the end of the unit students were asked to come to school in their traditional costumes and act as ambassadors for their countries,  all of whom were invited to share lunch.

Students not only learned about different cuisines but they also had a discussion about the significance of peace in our ever-more global world. Such activities are essential as they bring practice into the classroom, and the IB provides the impetus to get started.

Making school a community of practice

Students learn better when they are given opportunities to apply their skills in the real world.  And, again the IB provides the best starting point for this.

In one of the units for Social Science class, students in my homeroom base learned about different government systems around the world. From all of the different government systems, students chose democracy as the best. Later on in the unit, students developed a small government and a constitutional draft that would help them keep their system organised.  As we concluded the unit, my young co-investigators took pleasure and pride in thinking of themselves as ‘experts in expertise.’

“Teaching in IB World Schools broadens your horizons as a teacher by inviting you to embrace different cultures and create a learning environment for students from different cultural backgrounds.” Remind yourself of this statement before getting started at what you do the best!
IB colleagues

About the author

Armine Abrahamyan has been involved in Foreign/Second Language teaching (EFL, ESL) for seven years. She spent the first year of her career teaching both English and German in local high schools in Armenia, Yerevan City.

Since 2008, Armine has taught many subjects and courses in English – from basic ESL at Primary Grade 1 to Grade 6, Middle School Science, MYP Language B (English), International Science, History of Asian Civilization (India, China and Southeast Asia), Primary 1, 2 and 3 English and Social Science, as well as Science and World History and General Paper courses to high school students.

Armine is currently a faculty member at NPS International School in Singapore.

Written by Armine Abrahamyan, a faculty member at NPS International School in Singapore.

Moving overseas with a family

My two year old’s future was bright. He would attend an International School, learn Thai and Mandarin, complete an International Baccalaureate and maybe go on to either a US or UK university. We would save money and enjoy trips to Koh Samet every other weekend.

I did not think about some of the more pressing issues such as nappies and food, nor did I think about pushing around prams and negotiating public transport and letting agents.

We moved to Thailand in August 2012. It was a decision that took months in the planning and interviewing stage and a split-second in the packed up and gone stage. In hindsight, I should have conducted a little more research into the new lifestyle ahead of us. The Thai phrase of ‘mai pen rai’ which literally translates as ‘don’t worry about it’ is deeply embedded in Thai culture but we Brits require a little more preparation and planning.

If you are moving abroad with your family, here are the things I should have known beforehand.

Housing and costs

Research the cost (and process) of renting a home. In Thailand, it is common for you to provide two months deposit and one month in advance. You should always research the area surrounding your school and ask your school to recommend some places to live and approximate prices. We found it varied hugely between developments and some developments had no local shops and were miles back to the main roads.

Negotiate your rent and the items you do or don’t want in the house. Check with people at school as to whether it is a good price for the area.

If you require the services of a nanny or medical care, ask the other teacher-parents at your school, I found they were the most helpful with their answers even down to which cable package was best to go for.

Check your contract

Sounds silly but make sure you know  what your contract contains such as who is covered by medical insurance and who isn’t. If your spouse or child aren’t, then ask your school to add them to your policy.

Make sure you have the correct visas on arrival and check with your local consulate for the up to date information. Ask your school who is responsible for your family’s visa – you’ll be surprised at how vastly different the policy is from school to school. Some do not pay for your visas, some only pay for yours and not your dependent or spouse.

Do some research into ex-pat jobs and fields especially if your spouse is not a teacher and intends to work – the Thai labour laws can be difficult to negotiate. Any company wishing to hire foreign staff must prove the post can not be filled by a national. They also must hire 4:1 Thai to Ex-pats.

Also, does your school provide flights or free school places? Take this into consideration when negotiating pay. Flights back to the UK can be especially expensive as can school fees even if reduced to 50%.

Ask when your first pay day is, you may find it is 6 weeks away. Finding your feet in the first few weeks can be exorbitantly expensive.

Travelling with children

julia-and-childThe public transport system is not geared up for buggies and pushchairs and the pavements of Bangkok are often crowded with vendors and inappropriately placed street furniture. However, if your little one is too big for a sling or carrier then brave it. Using the overhead crossings can be a bit tricky as they usually have no lift or escalator. Maybe consider downsizing your buggy to the very handy Backpack Stroller especially if you plan to island hop around Thailand.

Buying and renting cars in Bangkok is expensive. Taxis are inexpensive and numerous but whether the capricious cabbie will take you where you want to go is another matter. If they do, insist on the meter being used at all times and be prepared that none of the taxis have seatbelts for you or your child. And definitely learn the words left, right, slow down and stop. Ask someone at your school to write your address in Thai so you can show the driver.

What to bring with you

If you do have a little one then bring enough nappies and baby wipes to last you a few weeks. They are readily available in most 7/11s but it’s one less worry for you when you are house hunting/starting new jobs etc.

If you are worried about your child eating the local food, bring your child’s favourite brand of things such as cereal or baby food as they do taste a little different. We found that our little one’s pallet soon adjusted to the food and he has a good appetite for the local cuisine. He loves going to the market and spotting the different fruit and vegetables. There are western supermarkets but they are expensive compared to the local markets and stalls.

Jars of baby food are available, however, the ingredients are not always in English so for your own peace of mind it is definitely worth investing in a blender and making your own.

If your baby is still using a bottle, cup or dummies then bring some extra ones as the shops tend not to stock western brands. The ones stocked are not as robust as the ones you may be used to.

I brought a selection of books and favourite toys with us, most airlines will let you check extra baggage in on-line at a much cheaper rate saving the agonising decisions of what not to bring.

Family life

julia-child-playingAfter a few weeks, we were settled and I bought ‘What can we do today? Kids in Bangkok‘. It’s a selection of activities which on a weekend we select at random and head off to do. We have visited the zoo, a water park and even been ice-skating – discovering that Bangkok has a lot more on offer for families than it at first appears.

Thai people love children and you will find them welcome all over and in places you might not expect too. Expect people to pick them up and offer them treats and gifts. When you relax in the knowledge that there is no Health and Safety and that rules no longer apply, just enjoy it. Mai pen rai.

Some helpful websites

Written by Julia Knight-Williams, a Curriculum, Planning and Pastoral Delivery KS Coordinator at a Preparatory School in Thailand. Follow Julia on twitter.

School Christmas Venezuelan style

Of course our Christmas celebration is school related. It makes me realize that there is seamlessness to one’s personal/school life here in Venezuela. They are interconnected, unlike back in the States, where we seem to like keeping them separated, compartmentalized, as if students and school staff have two different identities depending on the setting.

Dolores, English Director and her familyAs big as Halloween was here at Pablo Romero Millan (PRM), the coming of Christmas celebration is even bigger and much early preparation goes into the holiday revelling to come.

Teachers and students have begun decorating their classrooms in preparation for Christmas. Rich reds, greens, and golds are ubiquitous on the small private school campus. One classroom even has a manger scene with Joseph, Mary and Jesus on a bulletin board. Try that back in the United States, where public schools have all but abandoned a celebration of the holidays, afraid of offending some and/or incurring a lawsuit.

Joe, Alicia, and Susie Clovis, parents of 3 of our studentsAlicia and I have been a bit like two of the three wise men, following that star to the promise land. It’s here on Island of Margarita. There’s a heightened happiness that we exude at school each day. Yes, learning is getting done, but we’re all looking at the bigger, holiday picture.

It’s the last days of school here at PRM, a couple of weeks before Christmas day; they announce themselves with an all-embracing holiday magic. Everyone is excited. It’s bitter sweet for Alicia and me, as we’ll be off to Heredia, Costa Rica soon. At this point, staff and students know that Alicia and I are planning on relocating to Costa Rica.

Joe's StudentsThis holiday season, each teacher is in charge of organizing their students to decorate their own classrooms, inside and out. For common areas of the school, students, staff, and parents volunteer their efforts.

There’s a contest for holiday decorations and Alicia’s fifth grade class wins a prize for their door decoration.In my 4th grade classroom, we create on the back wall a fireplace with stockings that are individually decorated by each student, who glue them around the fireplace, which is made with lots of red construction paper. The 3rd grade students decide to have a huge tree on their door that they then decorate with ornaments that they make themselves.

Holiday bulletin boardIt’s priceless how pretty the school becomes over a week’s time. It’s transformed into a winter wonderland. Of course finals are given and grades are due. Teacher duties along with holiday planning go hand in hand.

All of the holiday preparations lead up, crescendo like, to the last day of school before the Christmas break. There is a big concert on a wood stage, built specially for this party. My 4th grade students dance and sing Frosty the Snowman, while the third graders perform another holiday classic in Spanish. Alicia’s classes sing a John Lennon favorite, Happy Christmas (War is Over).

Joe's StudentThe students are all dressed in red t-shirts and Santa hats. On the basketball court are folding chairs galore with parents and other family members in attendance. There is fabulous food, lots of local Venezuelan dishes, with lots of sugar-plum fairy type desserts, and endless bottles of sugary pop for all to indulge in.

When the day is done, Alicia and I help other staff with cleanup. We’ve already said goodbye to our students, many of whom have already gone home with their parents to begin their own family celebrations of the holidays. They are happy that there is no school for weeks to come.

We check out our small classroom, still decorated, one last time. We say goodbye to our teacher friends and walk to the bus holding wrapped presents that some of our students gave us, knowing that this will be the last time we take the bus home from school here on the Island of Margarita.

Joe Haviland is a New Yorker, one of eleven children, with a B.A. in journalism from New York University and an MSEd in Elementary Education from University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. Married to Alicia Frank Haviland. Both Joe and Alicia have taught internationally at schools on the Island of Margarita, Venezuela, in Heredia, Costa Rica, and in Miramar Mexico.

Visions of Venezuela bookAfter Mrs. Haviland graduates with a B.A. in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico this month, the two will be teaching internationally again. They are currently investigating teaching opportunities on all seven continents. This is an extract from the penultimate chapter of Joe’s book, Visions of Venezuela

Written by Joe Haviland

Another world – teaching overseas in the 1970s

It had to be a girls’ school, whites only! This was South Africa in 1972 when apartheid was at its fiercest. I had reasonable English qualifications – a 2.1 degree from the University of North Wales in History and English and a year’s training diploma. I felt armed to teach the world! Johannesburg was another world. Nobody could help me begin as I was viewed as a foreigner. There was no TES or online services like Teacherhorizons so where to apply seemed a mystery.

It was only at a party when I mentioned my dilemma that I was told to go direct to the Ministry of Education in Pretoria. Several months of heavy paper-work followed as everything had to be delivered by hand. Cafes did not seem to exist in 70’s Pretoria so we always had took flask to drink coffee on the steps of the ominously looming Voortrekker monument.

Six months later – all the qualifications accepted – I was offered a post at Johannesburg High School for Girls in Hillbrow. I had not passed my driving test so it would be an hour’s journey on two buses. I was really scared of waiting in the wrong queue for the wrong bus, but this would be impossible.

Aparteid schoolLarge signs declared ‘Whites Only’ or ‘Blacks, Bantu, Coloured Only’ so there could be no mistake. ‘Whites Only’ queues had only 2 or 3 people waiting whilst the “others” were packed with an ill-sorted crowd of women wearing woolly berets with babies on their backs and men in ill-fitting jackets or uniforms ready for their menial jobs. I could not possibly be in the wrong place – even the park benches had white painted signs on them in large print ‘ SLEGS VIR BLANKES’.

School began at 8am with Assembly. Teachers had to be there on the stage in full view. The girls wore a white tunic dress, black blazer with pink binding and black lace-up shoes. Variations did not occur. They were extremely polite and formal. I was teaching History and English. History lessons became increasingly difficult as the rest of the world’s history was of no interest – only South African history was on the curriculum. This emphasised the importance of the Great Trek of 1835 when Dutch Protestant settlers forced their way into the interior of the Southern Africa ruthlessly crushing the tribes such as the Xhosa, Zulus and Ndebele who stood in their way. A white South African teacher had to present an entirely biased account of this event as described in great detail in the text books. No other material was allowed in class. In fact this very biased approach to History led to my teaching more English which could be better manipulated to broaden the minds of my pupils.

In my two years teaching there I grew to like the girls. They were in awe of my mini-skirts and varying coloured nail varnish – a product of the swinging sixties! There were no discipline problems as they were too regimented to rebel. They had no lunch-breaks -only short breaks before going home at 2pm so they did not socialise much in school-time. My favourite lessons were my English library lessons where I collected a small amount of Rand from each pupil and they took it in turns to buy a book of their choice. Every month we had an informal chat in groups about the books they had been reading and this did seem to break down some of the rigidity of pupils sitting in rows of desks putting their hands up to ask a question. I even managed to sneak in the odd poem by a black South African author which I was trying to collect and hope to make them realise that life was not just “whites only.”

DrakensbergOne of the great advantages of school finishing early was that my husband working shifts could sometimes collect me on a Friday and we could drive to freedom – Swaziland, Mozambique or Lesotho to see the beautiful mountain scenery of the Drakensburg, eat fresh prawns by the sea in Lourenco Marques and relax amongst the colourful tribespeople over the border.

What a surprise to be told we were being transferred to Saigon. When informed my reply was “I’ve always wanted to go to China!” showing my lack of geographical and historical knowledge. Especially as Vietnam was THE story of the sixties, being torn between the North and the South – the Americans losing troops disastrously trying to hold back the Communist tide. However we were being sent there as a couple because the general feeling was that the Americans were successfully handing over the reins to the South Vietnamese. This was 1974.

I tried to improve my French at the Alliance Francaise as learning Vietnamese seemed too daunting. There I met Madame Pho from the Buddhist University who gave me an introduction for an interview to teach English. They could pay my taxi fare but no salary. The taxi each way would be less than £1.

SaigonI was to teach or lecture on ‘The History of English Literature’ and on a Friday afternoon, conversational English. My arrival caused a stir as I was ‘the real thing” – a genuine English accent rather than American twang. When I walked into the classroom I entered a fancy-dress parade – soldiers in khaki, naval uniforms, teenagers in fashionable jeans and American slogan T shirts, girls in traditional ao-dai, long silk tunics with slits to the waist above black silk pyjama-like trousers. They all lined up their shoes and sandals to enter the classroom. The only teaching aid was white chalk – the only visual aid “myself”.

The students took copious notes and their English seemed reasonable until we came upon titles such as D.H.Lawrence’s “The Rainbow” – no use explaining subtleties of relationships. I had to draw on the board what was a rainbow without coloured chalk of course.

The conversation classes proved quite challenging as 70 students crammed into a small classroom only kept bearable from the afternoon heat by one whirring overhead fan. I was given a list of topics to discuss and tried to divide the class into groups although 10 in a group is far too many. One topic “Holidays” was a failure – nobody had spare dollars, visas were required to leave the country, some were waiting to be called up for military service. If they could only get to France they would escape the nightmare of war on their own doorstep. They were not planning a holiday – they would not return!

I tended to wear long skirts in keeping with Buddhist codes of decency. Leaving the blue and yellow taxi with no air conditioning I gingerly stepped into the alley leading to our flat, lifting my skirts to avoid the splashes of urine, squashed fruit and vegetables, even rats running out of the wooden crates where some families huddled at night. There was a midnight curfew when the streets suddenly became eerily quiet and you stayed put behind barred doors at your peril.

Mid-April 1975. Little did we know Saigon had been infiltrated by a large army of communist supporters – North and South Vietnamese look exactly the same, only with different opinions – many were digging in along tunnels leading almost to the centre of Saigon. The streets became much quieter – fewer bikes, cycles, taxis, mopeds and cars, I did not know it was my last visit to the Buddhist University and I never said goodbye. I hope not too many of my students were killed when the North Vietnamese swarmed into the city.

I myself was airlifted by the New Zealand Air Force to Singapore. I grabbed my tennis racquet and sewing machine (always regretted not taking my photo albums) before piling in with the other evacuees boarding the Bristol freighter. My husband left by helicopter two weeks later when Saigon was taken over by the North Vietnamese.

EthiopiaOur next posting sounded like heaven, “Utopia.” It was in fact Ethiopia! This was in 1976 when Colonel Mengistu was ruthlessly enforcing his “ongoing revolution.” Foreigners were not very welcome, basic foods were in short supply and there was a midnight curfew.

Again through word of mouth I was offered a job teaching English at General Wingate Secondary School. I plucked up courage to enter a small dingy classroom crammed with over eighty pupils not knowing a word of English. I noticed the girls’ intricately braided hairstyles, the holey sweaters and complete lack of writing materials, and admitted defeat. I was saved by the British Council offering me a job as Educational Assistant in charge of administrating the G.C.E. exams still being held at two or three schools, the occasional local pupil gaining a scholarship to England, and best of all organising a Shakespeare production or art exhibition. Only I had tickets so was much sought after in the culture-starved capital of Addis Ababa.

Sadly these were curtailed one by one as being examples of “Western decadence” and not furthering “the great cause.” It was several months later the three Western journalists remaining in Addis (including my husband) were given 48 hours to leave the country. I moved to a friend’s house for safety’s sake, packed up our “used household effects”, said goodbye to a reduced British Council staff and took the flight to Nairobi just before the airport closed.

Written by Maggie Toye

The beginning of a change for teaching unions?

Edapt is a new, independent, apolitical social enterprise in the UK that supports, protects, informs and develops the teaching profession. It aims to provide teachers with an alternative to teaching unions. Here, edapt director of policy, Emma Whitehead, considers whether a similar model could be useful in other countries around the world.

Emma Whitehead

A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting at which the then newly appointed Secretary of State for Education was speaking to a group of teachers about what his priorities should be. At several points in this meeting, suggestions for reform made by teachers were met with the response from other teachers that ‘the unions would never allow it.’

This brought back to me frustrations from my own experiences of teaching, when staffroom politics could be more stressful than the teenage quarrels among pupils and could put an end to conversations about potentially positive change. When pupils became aware of tensions between their teachers, and the union influence on this, I became concerned about the culture we were creating for them.

John Roberts started investigating an alternative to unions in 2010, as an offer for teachers who wanted a different way of conducting themselves – both with policy makers and in schools. After two years of development, including commissioning independent research from LKMCo exploring what teachers think of their unions, edapt launched in 2012, and I came on board as Director of Policy.


The research suggests that teachers join unions mainly for protection against allegations or employment disputes, and that 24% of teachers would prefer not to be in a union if there were alternative support available. edapt provides teachers with a choice as to where they get their support and protection, and ensures that it is professional, expert and impartial. My aim is to ensure that the experiences of our teachers can be fed into policy and that teachers can take part in policy debates as professionals.

There is a particular context to this need for edapt in this country, and the timeline of the development of the teaching profession, (on our Facebook page) shows that there is a long history of teachers trying to define their status. The fact that the most thriving remaining organisations for teachers are the unions suggests that historically, teachers’ identity as workers in need of a union has dominated over their identity as professionals. This creates a dynamic in which teachers are defined by their status as employees of the government, and the aims of education are increasingly defined by the employer.  As a history teacher, I am particularly aware of the legacy of the trade union movement on our political context – and grateful for the employee rights and social change we all owe it. It is because of this history that it is a difficult but important line to tread to remain a-political, while still making the suggestion to teachers that if they don’t want to join a union, they don’t have to. It would be interesting to understand how the different histories of the profession around the world, and a different link between unionism, teaching and politics, has created a different dynamic.

Teachers are of course employees, and they should feel confident that their right to collectively bargain is respected, but perhaps in order for them to take ownership of the profession, this needs to stop being their defining feature. I consider myself to be a teacher even though I am not currently employed by a school – in the same way that a doctor may consider themselves a doctor, regardless of whether they are currently treating patients as an employee. I hope that edapt will allow teachers to feel confident enough that their existing rights as employees are protected, that they are free to establish a positive professional identity that can work constructively with policy makers and other professions.


It is important that creating this choice isn’t perceived as a political act in itself, but is understood as it is intended – to be offering a choice, in order to improve the working lives of teachers and ultimately the quality of education our young people receive. Having been a teacher and having now worked in a number of other organisations, I am aware of the mismatch between the level of support needed, and the level available to teachers. To take just one example of working time: in most jobs, you’re either working or you’re not, but in teaching, you can be teaching, using ‘PPA time’ (planning, preparation and assessment time), ‘directed time’ for parents evenings, or marking from home. Yet while in most jobs, employees know who to ask if they have a question about their contract, many teachers have no idea who supplies their HR services, or have never met their legal employer – which in the UK may  be the governors, the local authority or an academy trust. Teachers need impartial and expert advice, and yet most pay for access to union volunteers who have an interest in using individual cases for collective bargaining. It would be interesting to hear how this differs in different countries.

A number of teachers we’ve met have said that the edapt model could be replicated internationally – particularly in the US, where this map shows the strength of teaching unions.  Teachers who have experience of working in other countries and international schools could have a useful perspective on the extent to which the current unions in this country are representative of the teaching profession. They may have different insights into whether teachers should have a choice as to whether to join a union, and how this choice can be offered without being seen to undermine the positive intentions of unions to promote employee rights. Should teachers feel they need to be protected at all?  Are there other countries that could benefit from an organisation like edapt?

If you’d like to find out more about edapt, please visit

Written by Emma Whitehead, edapt director of policy

The IB’s struggle to gain deep roots in the UK state system

international-baccalaureate-logoThe International Baccalaureate has become the dominant choice of curriculum for international schools now.  The IB Primary Years Programme is experiencing unprecedented growth as parents demand for their children to undertake an inquiry based learning soars.  The uptake of the IB in the US is on the rise, as is the demand for IB education in UK private schools.  So, why is the number of British state schools offering the IB decreasing?

Student & teacher difficulties

international-baccalaureate-subject-groupsThe IB is a more demanding curriculum for students than the UK A Level system.  Fact.  Students frequently take double the number of subject and it frequently stated that the difficulty of questioning in exams is more challenging too.  For example, IB Higher Level Maths (one of the six subjects a student may be learning) is often compared to studying A Level Maths plus A Level Further Maths (2 of the 3/4 subjects an A Level student would be studying).  On top of the six subjects, students are expected to undertake a number of core components including a University style Extended Essay, a Duke of Edinburgh style Creativity Action Service (CAS) programme as well as studying Theory of Knowledge, widely acclaimed as being THE most challenging subject to both teach and learn.   It must also be pointed out that whilst A Levels have no doubt become easier (ask any experienced teacher!), the more independently monitored IB has not changed their standards.

The IB also demands much more of a teacher’s time than the IB does.  Coursework in the IB is significant component of virtually all subjects and large parts of it are teacher assesses (and moderated by IB moderators).  Given the priorities in many UK state schools lie with the 11-16 age groups, teachers are inclined to focus their attention and energies on delivering in these groups, the ones they are ultimately judged on.  Teacher training courses and a reflective approach to teaching often mean that teachers neither have the time or the tools to do a proper job when it comes to delivering the IB.  Subject knowledge can be an issue here too, finding teachers capable of teaching IB Higher Level Maths or Physics is particularly challenging.

Mind the GAP

Whilst international schools and many private schools are opting to take IGCSEs, the more traditional international GCSEs or even the IB Middle Years Programme, UK state schools offer the national GCSE programme.  The jump in academic rigour between GCSEs and the IB is simply enormous.  Whilst it is possible for schools to achieve excellent GCSE results through exam practice and spoon feeding, this is simply not possible at IB level where independent learning it a must in order to achieve 30 points plus.  Schools that have implemented the IB have often paid very little attention to this gap and suffered diabolical consequences when it comes to results.


The Maths are relatively simple.  Not only is enrolling an IB student for the course considerably more expensive that enrolling an A Level student.  An A Level students studies around 3 subjects and will attend 3 classes, an IB teacher requires 6 different subject teachers.  Whilst the number of lessons isn’t double, the IB places real timetabling demands on schools and means that a greater number of taught hours per student are required.  This often means considerably higher running costs of offering the IB.  With schools’ budgets being squeezed, it often appears an obvious area to cut, especially when the uptake by students is relatively low.

University entrance

oxfordUniversities in the UK have made big efforts to embrace the IB through creating conversion tables and at least in theory, heavily favouring the IB.  The truth of the matter is that whilst they favour students with great IB scores and even sometimes those with low ones, the majority in the middle will find it easier to get on a good course in a good university by studying A Levels.  Universities may use the conversion table as a guideline but in practice, they tend to use their own judgement of what is a reasonable number of points to accept.

Politics and UK arrogance

Whilst politicians in the UK have praised the IB and shown their respect for the curriculum, it would take huge guts to accept that A Levels are no longer the gold standard of education.  No politician in their right mind would dare do this.  The UK is frequently regarded as the leading country when it comes to education, one only needs to look at the number of British international schools globally and the growth in demand for them to see that is still the case.  However, A Levels unfortunately aren’t on a par with the IB any longer despite efforts to introduce an A* and mirror many of the features of the IB.  With the world becoming more interconnected and Britain furthering their export of the English language, it would be a logical step to embrace an international curriculum such as the IB in order to remain competitive.  Whilst other countries are investing more in languages, Britain is abolishing the requirement for all students to learn at least one foreign language.

So, is the IB likely to become the privilege of those that can afford to pay for their education?  Whilst this is looking likely, I certainly hope not and whilst the IB doesn’t suit every student (it tends to favour all rounders), I believe it should be offered at every school and should be treated as something that students to aspire to achieve, rather than find an easier and less rewarding alternative.  If education is as much as a priority as government says it is, I believe it is worth the long term investment.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Teacher’s diary – my first week in Sri Lanka

Sarah Miller, an English teacher from London, has just completed her induction week in Sri Lanka at the British School of Colombo. She has kindly shared her first impressions of a life less ordinary with us…

Day 1


Adventure starts in glamorous Terminal 4, subtly trying to identify future-colleagues by gleaning information from the contents of bags (board pens? Teacher planners? Excessive pots of anti-aging cream?)and general demeanour (do they look as though they’ve had 2 months off work?)

Once this mildly awkward guessing-game is over and the group are united, I was happy to find a fantastic bunch of fun, like-minded people buzzing about the adventure we had ahead.

Landing into Sri Lanka was surreal and wonderful, gliding into a sea of palm trees stretching for miles. A wave of smug grins swept the group as we stood, sweat patches galore, in the basking sun, recollecting the bleak skies we had left behind.

Day 2

Colombo beach

Have settled into beautiful flat with balcony overlooking the Indian ocean and truly lovely housemates.

First day of school induction involved a trip to the beach, delicious lunch and absolutely no mention of lesson plans, assessment for learning or seating plans whatsoever. V refreshing. Although bit weird being in bikini with new colleagues, including Head, on first day of ‘work.’

Day 3

Novelty of opening curtains to blue skies, new city and a tuk tuk parked outside my door still hasn’t worn off. A tour of the school (it has fans. Panic over.) is followed by afternoon beers in the sunshine. Bought candle in coconut shell for room and (hippy) teacher bag, feeling very at-one with Sri Lankans. Looked around to realise shop’s sole customers were sunburnt Westerners. Had rice and curry supper to make self feel better.

Day 4

Tea workers

Housemate has just won a trip to a luxury bungalow in the tea country so headed off into the hills with her friends. We are greeted by butler serving us afternoon tea, followed by a game of croquet on the lawn. Have never felt so simultaneously far away from, and close to, England. Teachers at my school have reliably informed us that weekends really are our own here. Looking at my stunning surroundings, I cannot believe the places I will get to explore on this small island in my free time.

Day 5

Great meeting with Head of Department who was unbelievably welcoming and supportive. I have more freedom than I’ve ever had as a teacher to teach the texts that I want, however I think works. Plus the iGCSE has no coursework, so free from the shackles of marking 60 folders in the summer term. AND, we are informed that Sri Lanka has more bank holidays than anywhere in the world so we are under strict instructions to plan ahead for some fun long weekends. Celebrated with little mango smoothie and samosa.

Day 6


Really useful morning in school where everything from setting up a bank account – to locating a doctor – to finding marmite, was covered.  The school seem really open to new ideas and, without the pressures of Ofsted, are keen to try out new things that each of us have learnt from our previous schools. Afternoon spent on the local beach, sampling the local liquor (mixed reaction) and planning exotic trips for half term (positive reactions all round)

Day 7

Sunset from my balcony

First day of Inset, real buzz around the school. None of the weary eye-rolling and dread that pervades typical Inset days back home. I start planning a Macbeth module – excited that, given what I’ve heard about the good behaviour of students at the school, I can try out a wide range of activities with the kids that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before. This brief attempt to be productive is curtailed by the scheduled afternoon activity: cricket and BBQ in the garden. Think I’m going to enjoy my time here rather a lot.

Sarah will be at the British School of Colombo for a couple of years and we hope to hear how she’s getting on again soon! Browse our schools in Sri Lanka.

Written by Sarah Miller

Developing your leadership skills

To paraphrase Miss Jean Brodie, it is a teacher’s duty to lead their students out of the darkness of ignorance.  This implies that leadership is a major quality of a great teacher.  If we are educating the leaders of the future, not only should we be role models as leaders, but we ought to develop our students’ leadership skills and attributes in our teaching.

So what is leadership and how do we develop our own leadership skills?  Sometimes there is confusion concerning what is leadership and what is management.  An excellent teacher ought to be both a leader and a manager.  I believe management has more to do with task orientation, whereas leadership revolves around people orientation.  Management requires planning, assessment, organization and recording skills.  These skills are relatively easy to develop when an individual has a will to succeed and self-discipline.  Because leadership involves people, this is not the case.

A leader carefully considers issues and problems and formulates plans and strategies to resolve them.  Most problems are best solved using a team rather than an individual.  So the leader establishes a vision and shares it with the other members of the team.  The leader identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the individual team members and, ideally, persuades or inspires the members of the team to share this vision and work towards solving the problem.  Communication and presentation skills are vital.  It is an obvious statement that communication is a two way process, but all too often this concept is ignored or not understood.  The leader must be articulate, persuasive and a great leader is inspirational.  The leader needs to be a good listener and sympathetic.  The leader needs to be observant and appreciate the views and actions of others.  A good leader has a well-developed self-awareness, recognizing their own strengths and weaknesses and a confidence to celebrate their own and others achievements and admit mistakes.

Teachers ought to reflect on these leadership skills and see how they can be developed into their own practice as professionals, but also, crucially, how can they be introduced into their own teaching so as to benefit each one of their individual students.

Written by John Regan, former International School Head and CEO of Teacherhorizons

How to judge a great international school

Normally you would sit at interview, meet some of your future colleagues, read an inspection report and go on a school tour.  So, with just an hour skype interview for international schools, how do you go about assessing whether this one is a great school?

It isn’t easy but thanks to the information available on the internet, it is getting easier.

Accreditations and memberships are your friends

The accreditation status and which body a school chooses to be accredited by is probably the most important indicator of a quality of a school.  Our feeling is that those who have full accreditation by The Council of International School (CIS), the International Baccalaureate (IB) or North Eastern Association of Schools and Colleges NEASC tend to be amongst the most reputable as their accreditation process is the most stringent.  The Council of Britisish International Schools (COBIS) follows an accreditation process similar to that of Ofsted, the UK regulating body and is also very thorough.

Many schools will quote quite a number of memberships.  Whilst these are useful to have as they may lead to sharing of expertise and professional development, they are mostly paid for memberships and therefore carry less weight than an accreditation.

This article gives you a good understanding of the different accreditation and membership bodies:

Mission and vision

Schools usually have their Mission Statement and Vision firmly planted in the main section of their website.  However, ask yourself how closely the school’s site appears to match their mission statement and vision.  For example, if they talk about cultural understanding, what evidence is there that the school has extra-curricular activities that support such a statement.  Photos and details of such activities should be available to any user.  You also have to ask yourself the question as to whether the school’s mission statement and values match that of your own.  My last school’s slogan was “Our business is learning” – that certainly didn’t match my values as I believe education shouldn’t be first and foremost a business!

Decision-making and leadership

Don’t underestimate the importance of good leadership in a school.  The quality of the Head of School and the leadership team can have a dramatic impact on any school.  Check the Head out on Linked In and look into his background.  It is worth seeing whether they have come from quality institutions and how long they have been a Head for.  Asking about line management and the chain of command is something worth finding out about and gives an indication as to how well organised a school is.  Some research into the school’s governance is important too.  Finding out whether the school operates as a profit making business and how the board of governors is selected are both issues that are likely to affect the quality of the school.

Extra-curricular offerings and parental involvement


Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) can be a mixed blessing!  I have met amongst the most irritating, nit picking people in these groups as well as some of the most helpful motivated supporters of a school.  However, a thriving PTA often means active parent involvement in the school.  These parents are far more likely to be supportive of the school, their children’s progress and be keen to actively engage in their children’s education.  Likewise, assessing whether a school offers a wide variety of extra-curricular activities is important as it not only shows that the school are concerned about developing well-rounded teachers but also that they are seeking well-rounded teachers!  Being involved in a school beyond the classroom is often one of the most enjoyable aspects of working at an international school.

Staff professional development

The vast majority of schools will happily pay for you to go on a 3-4 day course every year or alternate year.  To assess whether a school is really interested in your professional development you need to dig deeper.  Try to find out about internal training opportunities and team work.  Is a learning environment created amongst teachers through team teaching, lesson feedback or open door policies?  Are training days used as an admin day or are they used to inspire teachers?  The former may seem the more appealing at times but it is the latter that truly help develop a school.  If the school has an HR department, are they purely there for hiring and firing or are they there to help bring out the best in staff.

Teacher reviews???


Opinion remains divided amongst use of International School Review (ISR), a site which provides reviews on schools by teachers (at a cost to teachers).  Whilst its intentions are good, as former international school teachers and heads, we don’t really feel it provides teachers with a useful tool for assessing a school. Sadly, too many of the reviews are anonymous and come from biased disgruntled teachers.  We’ve visited some truly great schools, amongst the best in the world that have had very negative opinions expressed on ISR.  Unfortunately, happy teachers tend not to review their employers (at least not in an anonymous way on the internet!).

A much better way to seek a review would be to ask to teach with a current teacher as part of the interview process.  The kind of school you will want to work for will choose someone who is able to give you a balanced view of the school!


The main point I am trying to make is that whilst finding and judging a great school is time consuming, you do now have the tools to find out.  Given that you are likely to be committing to a 2 or 3 year contract, we would suggest that it would certainly be worth the half day worth of work it will take.  Not only will it make you more confident about signing on the dotted line but it will also increase your chances of securing a great job at a great school no end.  We’ll certainly do our bit to make this process easier!

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.

Interviews in underwear – new format but old rules

Ever wanted to secure a great new international school job whilst wearing underwear!?

97% of Teacherhorizons’ placements have happened via Skype interviews.  With internet speeds improving globally and schools becoming more technology savvy, Skype interviews are likely to become common practice amongst schools. Skype interviews are far preferable to recruitment fairs and make much more sense than flying across the world at huge expense.

However, interviewing on Skype can be tricky, especially if it is your first time.  Read our top ten Skype interview tips to get the best chance of leaving a good impression on the interviewer.

  1. Skype interview tipsCarry out your research. Just like in a face-to-face interview, make sure you have fully explored the school website, their Teacherhorizons profile and any information on the curricula they teach if it is your first time teaching the IB for example. Our article on assessing and researching international schools will help.
  2. Dress formally. Make sure you are wearing professional dress (at least for your top half!) and look presentable as you would at a face-to-face interview.
  3. Test your equipment.  Use a test call to make sure your microphone and speakers are both working well.  It is very frustrating when one interviews candidates that haven’t done this basic check before an interview. Read some tips for testing Skype here.
  4. Ensure you have a good internet connection.  Being plugged in to the internet is often quicker than wifi, try and use a good connection so that you can use the video function. It will help you and the interviewer to connect.
  5. Get the camera right and look into the camera. Ideally, have the camera on your computer pointing at you so that you can see your face clearly and top of your shoulders. Many candidates look at the screen. Don’t! Look at the camera as eye to eye contact is important.
  6. Be on time. Heads are busy people. Make sure you are live on Skype at least 5 minutes early and have shared Skype contact details. 
  7. Smile. It is more difficult to establish a connection with someone on Skype as you can’t see people’s body postures.  A smile will really help both of you feel comfortable.
  8. Ask for next steps. When you finish your interview, ask what the next step is and when you will expect to hear from the school.  Chase the school up if you don’t hear from them.
  9. Follow up with a thank you email.  Following up with the school after the interview is important. A quick note to confirm your interest can only help!
  10. Be yourself. Just like in a face-to-face interview, try and demonstrate your personality by being yourself.  Ask questions and show you have done your research.

The underlying point I wanted to make was that whilst the format of interviews have certainly changed, the rules haven’t. If you treat a Skype interview as you would a face-to-face interview it will certainly help you in securing a great job teaching in an international school.

Written by Alexis Toye, Director of Operation and Finance at Teacherhorizons. Former IB school teacher and IB Coordinator at Oporto British School and Westminster Academy.