Why diversity and strategic CPD matter in international schools

In 2000, just under one million students attended international schools around the world. At the end of 2022, that figure stood at 6.5 million (ISC Research 2023).

Meanwhile during the same period the number of staff working in international schools has gone from 90,000 to 627,000. 

In Saudi Arabia where I am now based, education is a major growth area, thanks in part to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 goal to raise private school enrolment to 25% by 2030. 

For us, this growth is manifesting with a move to a new 21-hectare campus, doubling our pupil cohort to 1020, and hiring more staff. 

Given this growth, one of the most pressing issues for us – and indeed for all new international schools – is building high-performing leadership and staff teams that are also truly reflective of our communities.

So how can schools do this best?

The importance of valuing local talent

Running an international school without access to expertise in cultural nuances and language skills is not a recipe for success. 

After all, the best way to ensure schools develop a deep understanding of their context is to build a diverse staff team that includes a significant number of professionals from the host nation.

To do this effectively, leadership teams need to have an open-minded and curious approach to recruitment and talent development. They should retain a willingness to treat others as professional equals and avoid falling into the trap of making generalisations – whether implicitly or explicitly.

Practically speaking, a first step is to set a recruitment target for local hires.

For us at Misk Schools, an early goal has been to ensure we have strong Saudi representation at a senior leadership level. 

To that end, we have a Ministry of Education Vice Principal working alongside our school Principals, and our Well-being and Safeguarding lead is a bi-lingual Saudi who recently hosted the first ever Safeguarding Forum in the Kingdom. 

From our Director General to our Vice Principals, many of the team are bi or multilingual. Of the ten members of our academic leadership team, we are close to a 50/50 gender split and our Board is almost entirely made up of Saudi nationals, who ensure excellent governance. 

The majority of administrative staff are local, and we are working hard to increase the number of Saudi teachers.

You hired the talent, now what?

Of course, as well as hiring great staff – both international and local – it is crucial to systematically continue to develop their talents too. 

By engaging in professional development each year regardless of their experience or nationality, all staff can build their skills and knowledge, thus enhancing their ability to support students and the success of the school.

This is where the power of a properly structured, strategic professional development academy comes into play. 

An academy can take a physical form with its own classroom spaces and facilitators or where resources are more limited, offered as an organised programme of after-school professional development sessions and self-study materials.

However, unless its offering has been set up strategically – ie in a manner that supports the school’s vision and goals – it will not be effective. 

What’s more, exclusively Western-centric CPD, delivered only in English and without an understanding of exact training needs will not produce high performance. 

To overcome this, our Misk Schools Academy runs as a fully bilingual training centre delivering courses from initial teacher training to Cambridge Certified leadership courses, and from engagement in COBIS courses to Dale Carnegie training across the globe. 

Furthermore, to ensure this offering would add value to our school strategy and build staff capabilities and professional self-esteem in areas of core focus, we carried out carried out a six-step process to identify what we needed and that any school could follow top achieve something similar.

1. Identify the school's strategic goals, eg curriculum development, student enrolment, graduate profile/achievement targets, staff profile etc.

2. Carry out a needs assessment to help identify the skills and knowledge that staff require to support these goals.

3. Conduct a gap analysis to identify what skills and knowledge are missing so the academy’s offering can be tailored appropriately.

4. Align professional development with performance management so staff have a clear understanding of how their CPD relates to both individual performance and the school's goals.

5. Allocate appropriate funding from the outset, so the academy is well staffed and has access to the necessary resources and equipment.

6. Evaluate impact and make regular improvements to make sure your academy continues to support school development in a meaningful way.

By focusing on these two areas, schools that are growing and bringing on new staff to facilitate this can ensure they not only find a balance of local and international staff to truly reflect the communities they serve, but ensure they remain at the top of their game throughout their time at the school.

Jeremy Newton, Senior Principal, Misk Schools 

** This article was originally published in English in Tes Magazine and is shared with the kind permission of the editor.