A plan to open a school starts with a big idea but requires careful planning and research. The international education industry is unique and schools are living, breathing entities that depend on more than just a fancy building and slick marketing campaigns.
Here are some tips to consider before you open a school.
1. Open a School with a Clear Vision
It is important to have very clear ideas about your school and the values that underpin your plan. Of course all businesses have vision but schools are driven by values, beliefs and principles. At this stage of the process try not to be too specific. All curricular, price points and facility designs can deliver these values you aspire to. Begin by making your dream very clear and determine what you value most in an educational institution.
2. Determine What the School Vision Looks Like in Practice
Determine the signature experiences that will reflect your vision. When we translate an idea into reality there will be behaviours, a tone, environments and features that directly represent that. They say that the genius of Starbucks success lies in its ability to create personalised customer experiences. They ask your name, write it on the cup, call your name and there are many other unique features of the experience that connect you to a very clear mission. The Starbucks Mission is: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit–one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” This mission is more about the experience than just coffee. Schools have signature experiences that reflect the values they operate by. Sometimes this accurately reflects the vision and mission. Sometimes it does not. Vision and mission integrity is important.
3. Analyse the New School Market
Analyse the international school market including the community and market needs in the location you are considering. This is often where blind determination and vision can sometimes cloud judgement and it is important to challenge your own assumptions about what the school should look like. Remember, your life experiences attending a school of a particular curriculum or type might represent your likes and values but may not reflect market demand. UK, US, IB, Finnish, Australian or Canadian schools are all equally valid choices but only when they match market demand in the context you are considering. There are many international curriculum options.
4. Complete a Comprehensive Financial Analysis
Financial modelling is very important as you try to determine not only what your initial investment will be but also your projections. As a rule of thumb, most schools take 3-5 years to reach a break even point. Although there are circumstances that will speed this up, there are also cases where it will take longer. Have a very clear understanding of your business plan and financial needs.
5. Open a School With a Team of International School Experts
You are not the complete expert, on your own. No one is good at everything and no one has the full perspective that is required to attend to all key areas. International schools are unique in that most often overseas experts are brought in to create an international model but many misunderstand what they are truly trying to build. Local knowledge about culture and context is invaluable. Schools are not McDonalds franchises. Every model must be adapted for local context and operations need to respect cultural norms and conventions.
We believe there are 3 key leadership priorities for a school.
- Educational leadership – the school must have strong leadership in areas of curriculum, teaching and learning. A visionary leader who understands the true foundations of education is required. Not just a figure head but an educational leader.
- Business Acumen – the school must have a sound business plan and leadership on the financial side. “Without money there is no mission. Without mission there is no money.” The financial side of school management is crucial to the schools success.
- Marketing and Admissions – the school must be effective at communicating its vision and mission. Educators are very good at communicating values and they will play a key role however the science of marketing, converting leads and admissions is a specialist skill that is rare and invaluable. It is not a task well positioned within the education portfolio. Get an expert!
Rarely are the above three areas found in one person. Whether it is 3 people you are looking for, or teams to cover these priorities, their importance must be understood.
6. Design a New School with Purpose
The school design must match the vision and the curriculum. Countless times we hear stories about investors who first build a school and then choose a curriculum and management team. Curriculum is different, visions are different and signature experiences are different. There must be alignment between all these areas otherwise your new school will not have a clear mission and will also not be cost effective. A great architect matched up with an education team will create great conversations and a better design. There will always be financial guidelines to follow but there is a way to create an excellent design with all the “experts” in the same room. Open a school that is designed by all the key experts that will make good design decisions.
7. Be the Leader you Want Your Students to Become
We often describe our next generation in terms that might not accurately describe ourselves. Innovative, critical thinkers. Adaptive problem solvers. We must not open a school that reflects our past experiences but one that meets the needs of a generation that will live a different future. If you genuine believe in leaving a legacy it should not be measured in buildings or artefacts but by the impact students will have long after you are gone. Innovation may require you to find ways to do things that have never been done or others may think impractical. The school model for beyond 2030 must look very different from the models commonly seen. Challenge yourself to be contrarian. Not just for the sake of it, but to truly test that your plan is the best it can be. Stay with tried and true strategies that research has proven but discard “old school” methodology and thinking that will hold you back. Your leadership will have impact. Make sure your mindset is challenged as much by these values as it is by finances, ordering tables and chairs, books and daily operations.
8. Understand International Education and Cultural Context
Are you opening an American/British school in a foreign country? Or are you opening an international school in a foreign country that uses American/British curriculum? There are countless studies of how McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and other overseas brands initially failed in new countries because they did not understand the market or the need to adapt their product or service for a unique cultural context. Guaranteed success in one location does not guarantee success in another. Let’s use China as an example. KFC succeeded in China in response to a demand for Western food products but they took a unique approach where others failed. They adapted their products to local tastes and localised their operations and leadership. KFC have many features of their American product lines but also local delicacies such as egg tarts, shrimp burgers and even congee (rice porridge). They are led by local leaders who have graduated from universities abroad. They understand local consumer needs as well as conventions in staff management that are different to the west. Schools succeed or fail for similar reasons. International schools in unique cultural contexts such as China serve a different product. Chinese students are English Second Language (ESL) and are very different to American or British children in their native homes. Similarly overseas Principals and teachers find it difficult to adapt and need specialised support to work in these environments. Leading and supervising staff in this context is very different to home. It requires an adjustment to a unique cultural context. Before you open a school read more about Global Leadership and Cultural Diversity in Practice.
9. Open a School to a Very Clear Project Timeline
There is more to creating a clear project timeline than just getting the building and resources ready for opening day. Recruiting international school teachers follows a specific timeline. It is a very competitive process to get good teachers and they will sign well in advance of the new school year. There are peak times that put you at advantage and missing these timelines will make you less competitive. Student recruitment similarly, as there are peak times that need to be aligned to a targeted marketing campaign. This will be different in different locations. Some resources are locally available, while others may require import. Accreditation and licensing is very important and you will need to attend to local and international processes that all have crucial steps. Project management is very important across all areas including education, construction, resources and staffing. Put together a plan early that may target “just in time” deadlines but also has safeguards against things that can always go wrong.
10. Open a School After completing a Comprehensive Market Research and Feasibility Study
Many of the above points are key parts of a market research and feasibility study. This study is a precursor to developing a clear business plan and often includes financial modelling. By documenting all of these things in a professional report you serve 2 key purposes:
- You have a clear business plan that sets a direction fuelled not only by emotion but also logical and strategic thinking. It becomes an objective tool for analysis and planning.
- You have a report that can be used to attract investors and drive decision making by the key stakeholders who will lead your school. You have a blue print.
Global Services in Education conduct many market research and feasibility studies, incorporating business plans and financial modelling. The audience of such reports can range from a moderate investor making plans for a small school as well as private equity and investment funds or large education groups. Learn more…..
If you want to learn more about the steps required to set up a school check out some of our other articles:
GSE set up schools in all areas of the world
CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry
Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.
Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these discipline.
Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.
– School Management
– Strategic Planning
– Feasibility Studies
– Architectural Conceptual Design
– Interior Design
– ICT Planning
– Staffing & Recruitment
– Curriculum Design
– School Policies
– School Audits & Action Plans
– Training & Development
– Accreditation & Licensing