April 29th, 2018

Planning not Panicking - Brexit and Schooling

SCI Process Flow


As the March 2019 Brexit deadline approaches, companies that will be impacted significantly who do not have contingency plans for addressing a range of outcomes, are far behind the curve. Waiting and watching is not enough.


Some companies have announced publicly that there will be a significant movement of employees from their London offices to other European cities over the next 2-3 years. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup Inc., Standard Chartered Plc, and Nomura Holdings Inc have picked Frankfurt, Germany for their EU headquarters. HSBC Holdings Plc is the biggest non-French bank so far to opt for Paris, while Barclays Bank Plc has chosen Dublin (Bloomberg News, June 22, 2017). WIth regards to banking and financial services jobs, the estimates of employees relocating from the UK may be around 30,000 (Bruegel, 2017). Frankfurt is in the lead of all the EU cities in attracting roles. More than 9,750 potential job moves have so far been announced (The Guardian, October 5, 2017).


Numbers will depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, which will also impact who those employees are, where they will be moving, when they will move, and under what circumstances.


One known fact, however, is that research shows that the first concerns for mobile employees with families are around lack of available spaces in desirable schools (Cartus, 2015).


This article will address the context, key issues, and potential solutions to support talent mobility objectives by finding appropriate K-12 schooling for employees’ children. The clock is ticking for effective planning.

The Panic

Companies relocate employees, and their families, all the time - so why is Brexit creating so much anxiety for employees with school-age children?  The root of the anxiety is based on two issues. Numbers and Uncertainty.

  • The number of school options vs. the number of children vying for spaces at the same schools in a limited number of choice cities.
  • Uncertainty - For international schools, an expected rate of turnover traditionally resolved most admissions issues. In the uncertain Brexit scenario, influx is expected to exceed expat turnover rate as companies select destination cities and timelines. But when will it happen? And how many are coming?

When relocating, expatriate families typically start their search by looking at schools used by their colleagues. Often there are waitlists at popular international schools, but a percentage of turnover is also the norm. Although the increase in the local workforce is not expected to be felt for a year or two, the pressure of Brexit-induced mobility is expected to result in fewer school openings and longer waitlists.

The key for companies and employees, is to not depend on old practices for getting into schools:

  1. Relying on a set list of tried-and-true international schools
  2. Assuming that places are guaranteed as in the past
  3. Applying at the last possible moment 

By taking a new approach to the school search, the problem of spaces, while not eliminated, will be diminished. It will take flexibility, not only for families to consider new options, but also for companies to start new practices.

Major European cities affected

School Choice International has received Brexit planning research requests to date from companies for over 10 different European locations including Prague, Stockholm, and Warsaw.  Typically, however, the most interest has been schooling options in Dublin, Frankfurt, and Paris.  Not all companies are setting up new operations in one EU city - some are setting up multiple smaller operations or growing existing offices and therefore are not looking for as many spaces in one location. The companies that are concentrating their employees in one new city, obviously, will have a more vested interest in locking down schooling options for their employees’ students.

What are the School Options?


For the purposes of this article,international schools are those schools that were created to educate expatriate children - whether they were American, British, French, or Japanese.  There are international schools that existed for decades, others that are brand new independent schools or are extensions of their parent schools being transplanted in foreign soil.


Even before Brexit, new international schools were opening as outposts of teaching and learning with a global perspective - garnering interest and tuition dollars. The significant change in this growing market is that even though schools may call themselves ‘international’, have a non-local curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), they may not in fact have an non-local student population. That in and of itself does not diminish the quality of the education, however, the school culture and curriculum may differ from the expectations of an expat family. In Dublin, for example, a new Nord Anglia school will open, which is the city’s first English language international school opened specifically to educate expatriate families. International families have generally gone to private schools where Irish families send their children.

State or Public

State or public schools can be reasonable options for expat students moving to a new country, especially if the child is elementary or primary school aged and wants an immersive local experience or if the family is faced with insurmountable wait lists at international or private schools. 


Public schools have been feeling the pressure of migration for years, with more than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015, sparking a crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx. Although the numbers are decreasing, the crisis in the cities is not over. In Frankfurt, absorbing the numbers has stressed the public system and overcrowding is prevalent.  As in the U.S., Brexit cities under consideration have formal programs to integrate the newcomers that includes language support, however, to take full advantage of the school system a child must be fluent in the language in order to progress on the more competitive academic tracks. This can sidetrack academic progress significantly.


Private, partially subsidized, non-state or public schools, vary the most in their organization, number of students, and curriculum in different locations.  Like the U.S.,the majority of families in Europe do not send their children to private school, but send them to a state or public school.  There are a number of private schools in European cities, some of which educate in the non-local language or are bilingual. The costs can be significantly less than international schools and the class sizes smaller, however, there is less curriculum variation than one sees in the U.S. between public and private schools.  Private schools in Europe still typically follow the national curriculum of the country.


What are companies doing?

Fear of being locked out of certain cities and trying to make plans in an unpredictable environment, some companies have been proactive in getting information on the different international, public, and private school options. Others have sent HR teams to meet with schools to discuss how they can work together on securing future spaces, waitlists, and other ways in which a company can build a relationship with a particular school. The relationship building is important, but is not a guarantee of admissions of any employee’s child.



Companies must be practical to ensure the smooth transition of  employees’ families from school to school and country to country, but they also must ensure long term success of these placements. They must not only find spaces for children, but spaces in schools that are the best academic and social fit.  A ready made list of schools to be handed out to families does not address each child’s individual needs - there must be provisions made for the different ages, curricula, and aptitude of the children.

What are schools doing?

To succeed in this uncertain environment, schools need to plan how they will react to numbers of applicants.  To overestimate the number of students and to expand too quickly could backfire as Brexit unfolds. This is a dynamic situation where schools are changing how they do business.


In some cities, schools that cater to expats are seeing corporate partnerships, in the form of debenture agreements, as a welcome capital development source. Debentures are financial arrangements between corporations and schools. This has been common practice for popular schools in the Middle East and in Asia for years, but completely novel in cities such as Dublin and Frankfurt.


There are two kinds of debentures - personal and corporate. Companies purchase debentures to ensure that international schooling does not become an obstacle to an overseas transfer. Debentures do not guarantee admission, but place the debenture holder’s assignee closer to the top of a lengthy wait list. In Hong Kong, for example, a debenture can cost more than $64,000 USD per child. Students also must be “admissible” to the school, as determined by prior grades, testing, as well as subjective factors. The guaranteed funds make it possible to make plans for school expansions.


What we are seeing is ‘priority admissions’ agreements schools and individual companies negotiating to find mutually agreeable terms as a hedge against uncertainty.


Mapping School Decisions in the Time of Brexit

If an expat family chooses the well-trodden path to the most popular international school, chances are that may no longer be a viable option unless steps have been taken to ensure priority admission. New influences and options include the arrangements that corporations are making with targeted schools.


Looking closer at the students’ ages and academic needs as well as how long the family will be in the new location is important in expanding schooling choices. Not all choices will provide a reasonable transition or happy pairing of student and school. However, expanding families’ schooling options that offer cultural and language advantages may be a matter of HR departments doing a good job of explaining value of the possibilities.


The following diagram is a basic decision tree that goes beyond the old approach of having one school of choice.


Top Tips

  1. Options. Understand the nuances of the school options available in the target city.  Are there state, private or bilingual schools that families might consider?
  2. Don’t wait. Research the admissions timelines for schools of interest, including residency requirements to go to public schools.
  3. Language skills. Evaluate the foreign language capabilities of employees’ children. Do they need language training to order to enter certain school programs?
  4. Special education needs (SEN). Survey families about students with any special education needs in order to ensure appropriate school choices.
  5. Vetted data. Be well resourced with school information from trustworthy and unbiased sources.
  6. Confirm! Schooling situations - waitlists, priority admission policies,  can change daily.


The degree of flexibility that companies and their employees with children have in reacting to uncertainty, a new schooling landscape, as well as their ability to identify new opportunities, will become the measure of successful transition. Visionary, thoughtful and active strategies are the surest means for success.


School Choice International is presently surveying companies on their Brexit Contingency Planning.  If you would like to take part in our Brexit & Schooling survey, the link is here https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZJT2KDB


Submitted by:

Alexandra Ruttenberg, Ed.M, Ed.S. Director of Research  

Pauline Rodriguez, Ph.D., Deputy Director of Research

Global Education Consulting Services

School Choice International

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