International A warmer education
Sunny spots near the best overseas schools
With tomorrow’s applications deadline for UK primary schools, getting the best education for their children is at the forefront of many parents’ minds. Yet some will be casting their eyes further afield and considering the benefits of bringing up their family abroad.
Times have moved on from the days of Swiss finishing schools. Parents are seeking an environment that offers an outdoor lifestyle, cosmopolitan outlook, fluency in two or three languages and a good basis for transfer back into the UK system.
There’s a lot more choice today, too. In an increasingly globalised world, the demand for international schools teaching an English curriculum is growing dramatically. There are now 8,443 international schools worldwide, according to the International School Consultancy Group (ISC) – an increase of 42 per cent in five years.
“Not only is the demand for these schools from expatriates but increasingly from local families looking for the best route to higher education for their children,” says Richard Gaskell, director for international schools at the ISC.
While the greatest expansion has been across Asia, America and the Middle East, closer to home the increased popularity of remote working and shifting lifestyle priorities has seen families decamping to European locations. So where are the popular hot spots for expats seeking a different pace of life without having to compromise on schools?
For many expats attracted to France, the quality of schooling is a major driver in itself. This was the case for Ruby Soames, a lecturer in education who left the UK 14 years ago with her journalist husband and two-year-old daughter Bluebell. They moved to the elegant university town of Aix-enProvence, before relocating to Nice for a more cosmopolitan buzz. “I used to teach in UK state schools and thought the more socialist French system sounded fairer,” says Soames, 49. “I think British people moving to France for a few years should always start with the state system as the standards are very high. But if a child is above 11, joining would be tough because of the language, so an international school could be better.” Bluebell, and her brother Edison, now 12, started at the local French school in Nice. “It was only when Bluebell was learning Romeo and Juliet that I thought, actually, I’d really much rather she did it in English,” Soames says. “She is very academic and managed to get into the Centre International de Valbonne (CIV). She had to pass an exam – only 24 out of 2,000 applicants got in that year.”
Bluebell, now 16, loved her new school. “At the local French school in Nice I had to quickly adapt if I didn’t want to fall behind. There were no extracurricular activities and it was a lot of learning by heart,” she says.
“But at CIV I was bombarded by theatre classes, sport clubs, films showing at the school’s cinema, Model United Nations debates – the school was much more culturally diverse, dynamic and imaginative than my previous school.”
If your child doesn’t make it into CIV, prestigious alternatives in the area include the International School of Nice (ISN), Fénelon de Grasse and the Anglo-oriented Mougins School. Fees vary between €15,000 and €20,000 (around £13,000 to £17,400) a year, depending on age.
“British parents choose Mougins because they want their children to do A-levels to get into an English university, but also because it is excellent for special needs like dyslexia – unlike most French or private schools,” says Soames.
Many expats live in the village of Mouans-Sartoux, about six miles north of Cannes and conveniently located for both CIV and Mougins School, says Chris McGuinness of Fine and Country.
“Foreign buyers love Valbonne as property prices are lower than Mougins, but you can get a four- bedroom family home in Mougins – without views or needing work – for around €1.75 million,” he says.
Within Italy, Florence offers some of the best options for international schooling. Many overseas students at the city’s prestigious art academies stay on to live there, according to Lynne Davie of Beauchamp Estates.
“Parents need to understand the different systems,” she says. “Private schools are either run by religious organisations or are international and the latter is the obvious choice for expat families – although they can be expensive, up to €25,000 per year.”
The International School of Florence, one of the oldest in Europe,
‘I’d rather she learn Romeo and Juliet in English’
teaches in English, Italian and French. Alternatively, Italian state schooling, which Davie says is “academic and didactic”, teaches English as a second language and much effort is made to integrate expat children.
Strong demand from both international and local buyers is driving the city’s property market.
The ISC points to an expansion – especially in Spain – of bilingual schools that teach in English but offer a different curriculum, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB).
This academic year, the British School of Barcelona opened a new secondary and sixth form campus in the nearby beach town of Sitges that will draw more British expats to the area, according to Beatriz Carro de Prada, a consultant at BRS Relocation Services.
“English-oriented Agora International School at Sant Cugat is the top-ranked school, and has historically attracted Britons to the Sarrià district of Barcelona,” she says. “Families at the popular British School of Barcelona like to live close by in Castelldefels.”
Buyers should also look north at the Maresme coast for the popular Hamelin Laie International School at Montgat, says Tom Maiden of estate agency Lucas Fox. “Property prices are more competitive than in Sitges, Castelldefels and St Cugat and the area offers 50km of beaches, marinas, equestrian centres and golf,” he says.
Expats with children have historically based themselves with easy access to Palma, where all the international schools are based.
Now there is an option in the northeast of the island, with the opening of the American International School of Mallorca on the campus of the Rafa Nadal Academy at Manacor.
The new school is not just for tennis-oriented children, and its global mix of students come from Spain, Germany, the UK, Romania and Russia.
Fees are from €10,500 per year, and property prices are lower around Manacor than in Palma.
With more than 60,000 Britons living in sun-drenched Andalusia, there’s long been a demand for international schools and there are dozens of options on the Costa del Sol.
Several attract expats to specific areas such as the village of Benahavis, which has a new private school, Atalaya College, according to James Vizetelly of Chestertons Affinity.
“The school run can be an issue with traffic, so we do get parents wanting to buy a home within a 20-minute drive of Aloha International College, one of the most sought-after schools,” he says.
“The same goes for EIC (the English International College) in Elviria, which also has a long waiting list.”
Aloha, Swans International School in Marbella and Deutsche Schule Juan Hoffmann, the German school in Elviria, are the three most asked-for schools by overseas buyers, according to Savills.
One problem with international schools is the poor level of Spanish taught, warns Vizetelly. “For that reason I send my son, Luca, five, to a Spanish school, Colegio San Jose. I don’t want him to struggle with the language when living in Spain.”
A few miles west in Gibraltar, Prior Park – an offshoot of the Bath-based independent school – opened in September, increasing the desirability of the area.
Britons relocating face a choice between living there or across the Spanish border in Sotogrande, says Mike Nicholls of Chesterton.
While Sotogrande International School, set within a large gated estate of luxury homes, has long been a popular option for expats, Gibraltar’s tax regime is the most benign in Europe.
“Most buyers with children want our advice on whether to live in Sotogrande or Gibraltar, and while the latter has a great ‘one size fits all’ state system, it has always lacked a good independent school,” says Nicholls.
His son Harry, 15, has flourished at Sotogrande, where fees reach €15,000 per year, but his daughter Lucy, 12, enrolled at Prior Park, at £9,000 for the first year. Its headmaster, Peter Watts, reports that of the 60 new pupils, 49 are British, with others from Holland, India, Russia and the Czech Republic.
Nicholls says that many expats with pupils at Sotogrande, like him, live at Ocean Village Marina, a cosmopolitan community 10 minutes from the border and airport. Prices vary from £600,000 for a fourbedroom property to £1.5 million for a penthouse (oceanvillage.gi).
The tax regime in Gibraltar is the most benign in Europe
Invest: this fourbedroom Florence villa is €4.75 million with Sotheby’s, main; Ruby Soames with Bluebell and Edison, below
Top of the class: a five-bedroom home, above, near the British School of Barcelona is €1.55 million with Lucas Fox