The major differences between international schools and schools in the UK

Working abroad fosters an environment that allows students and teachers to develop and grow. 

Although I sometimes feel that British schools receive a bad press in both the national and international media, the UK educational system is, on the whole, first-class. However, when you move to an international school there are some very apparent differences and ones that should be recognised and understood by any teacher looking to work abroad. For the most part, these are positive differences that allow students and teachers to develop and grow.

Having worked at Harrow International School Bangkok for several years, I feel I am in a position to explore the contrast between state schools in the UK and international schools. For anyone who is considering taking a post abroad, they must understand what to expect and recognise that there are significant variations. As a teacher, you will need to adapt, but for the most part, any changes that you do make will improve your credentials professionally as well as on a personal level.

From my experience, here are some of the major differences I have noticed.

Most children enjoy school

When you work in an international school in Bangkok, one of the first things that becomes apparent is the difference in attitude predominantly from the students. Even with pupils from the UK, there is an increased willingness to learn, and school is viewed as an opportunity. On both an academic and social level, the vast majority of students enjoy their time in school and the extracurricular activities that are offered. Naturally, this makes a teacher’s job far easier and more enjoyable. Happy students also tend to perform better academically.


There is no escaping the fact that international schools are well funded and on a par with many public schools in the UK. Generally, this creates a better learning environment for teachers and pupils. Sadly, in the UK, state schools have been underfunded for years, even decades which has created challenges for teachers, pupils and parents. At our school, we are fortunate enough for this not to be an issue and teachers and pupils enjoy the best that is available.  

Facilities and environment

Thanks to the funding mentioned above and the warm climate, students enjoy the best facilities that can help both academic and vocational learning. Our sports facilities are amongst the best in Southeast Asia with outdoor activities promoted to all our students. The facilities, most which I had never experienced before in the UK, lend themselves perfectly to the overall educational experience of students as well as teachers. 

Smaller classes sizes

In most international schools, class sizes are lower than in the UK, giving students the extra attention that they need along with allowing teachers more time with individual students. Of course, this is something that is beneficial to all parties and perhaps goes some way to explaining why students enjoy their schooling to a greater degree. While not wishing to cast any disparaging remarks about schools in the UK, the extra attention that pupils need and want is given purely because of the reduced numbers in the classroom.

Classroom support

Teaching assistants are common in the UK, and this undoubtedly takes some of the burden away from teachers but in international schools you often get additional support. Tied in with the point above, this is beneficial for students who may find some subjects or topics more challenging. It is noticeable that the extra help that is available from someone who isn’t the main teacher, and perhaps students find more approachable or sympathetic to their needs, helps with exam grades.

Opportunities for students and teachers

International schools do present more opportunities for both pupils and teachers. To an extent, this is due to the increased funding, but the climate and positive learning environment play a role. International schools frequently offer students the opportunity to travel overseas and experience new cultures. Naturally, this requires teacher involvement which many believe enhances the quality of their teaching now and in the future.

Fewer changes

As a general rule, most international schools undergo fewer changes in curriculum and teaching practices. While members of the teaching staff inevitably change periodically, teaching methods overall remain the same, as too do the higher standards that are demanded. Headteachers, governors and department heads tend to make tweaks rather than wholesale changes which have proven to be the best practice.

Language barriers

Of course, it is impossible to overlook some of the challenges that teachers will face. In a city like Bangkok, it is common to experience language barriers both with students and teaching assistants. While the standard of English is, on the whole excellent, misunderstandings do occur. After a short period, most teachers find that these obstacles help them to become better teachers, appreciating the need for more concise explanations and checking that they have been understood. It is something that will stand them in good stead throughout their teaching career either at home or abroad.

Cultural differences 

Most schools in the UK have a diverse range of students, particularly in inner-city areas. However, at an international school, many students are mixed raced and from different cultures or have cultural differences. Being sensitive to these differences is essential in any walk of life but especially in teaching. Once again, it is something that most educators adapt to relatively quickly and enhances their professional skills and awareness of others. From a student’s perspective, it also increases their appreciation of those around them and helps to forge higher emotional intelligence; a skill which will be useful throughout their personal and professional life.