If you are considering setting up a school in South Korea you certainly have a lot of things to consider. We have done this many times and in many unique locations.
We are here to help you along the way and have put together this quick summary to help you get started.
Feasibility Study & Market Research for a New School
It is essential that the process of setting up a school begins with this important step. Making assumptions can be expensive and a comprehensive study will minimise risk and also maximise your chances of success. Even if it is already clear that the school will go ahead, this research will influence many decisions in the set up process including Vision/Mission, Financial Planning, Curriculum, Admissions and more. As much as a high fee paying elite school maybe ‘sexy’, the South Korean school market may not demand this based on population demographics and location.
Is There a Demand?
With the South Korean school national curriculum being quite highly rated, international schools with foreign curriculum are more often attended by expatriates who require an English medium for education. There are also caps on how many South Korean students can make up the population of the school. This cap is set a 30%.
To enrol at an international school, applicants must meet at least one of the following requirements:
- They must have foreign citizenship.
- They must have permanent residence in a country other than South Korea.
- One parent must be a citizen of a country other than South Korea.
- They must be South Korean citizens who have lived overseas for more than three years – this requirement applies to some international schools only.
Vision & Mission – “The Voice”
Although to some a school vision and mission may seem like an obligatory message on a feature wall, when you are setting up a new school these statements are invaluable. We prefer to describe this step as identifying the school’s unique “voice.” It is important that the school voice is clear and that all decisions about school design, curriculum, choice of staff and policies reflect a unique plan. Project forward to a time in 20 years when South Korean and expatriate graduates return to the school and share stories of great times. How will they describe the school? What is unique about it? How will people distinguish your school from others? What are the “Signature Experiences”?
Financial Planning – The Business Plan for a New School
Both non-profit and for-profit schools need to have a comprehensive business plan that outlines a sound financial strategy both short and long term. We recommend a comprehensive 10-year plan with knowledge that it usually takes 3 – 5 years for a school to reach a sound financial position. South Korean schools have unique characteristics in terms of legal authorities, governance and policy and there are risks associated with this. All these differences need to be taken into account.
Long-term planning is essential as it is easy for school leadership to become reactive and move attention away from the end goal. Schools are busy, complex and stressful places, but good management focuses on strategic planning at least 5-10 years in advance. It is also key to look in depth to the future as many new schools do not begin to make significant profit until after operational year 4.
Accreditation & Licensing
Local License: In most cases schools will require local licensing through an education ministry and the endorsement and support from several government departments. This can be tricky and requires thorough planning and attention to detail. In South Korea it can be difficult and the process usually takes up to a year to complete providing people, plans and documentation is all in order.
International Curriculum: In South Korean schools the use of the American curriculum is the most popular. Curriculums such as UK, US, or a framework such as International Baccalaureate (IB) will also require programs meeting standards that will be checked and monitored by a governing body. Mosts of these accreditations are best achieved by good education management principles and these begin right from the early planning stages.
School Accreditation: A school might choose to pursue external accreditation as a way to validate quality. The key forms of accreditation can include:
- Local Education Ministry License (required)
- Curriculum accreditation eg. Cambridge, Oxford, EdExcel or others
- Partner standards and accreditation eg. an overseas school brand or other form
- International accreditation eg. WASC, CIS or others (3-4 years)
All schools are different and the school design will reflect both local needs as well as the nature of the curriculum and the school’s vision and mission. Before you begin working with an architect, you must first engage a school operator who understands the school curriculum and the key teaching and learning priorities. Gone are the days when architects line up boxes with a corridor down the middle. You also need to consider capacity, class sizes and future needs. These are both educational as well as business decisions. An educator must be part of this process.
So how to stand out from the crowd? To match what the other schools in the market are doing is one thing, however it’s worth considering strategies to excel or be unique in a particular area that no other school has adopted. One of these recommendations could be a unique STEM/STEAM LAB that could be placed on a platform and showcased as best practice to the consumer.
Every location will have different construction standards, costs and processes and South Korea is no different. This specialist field requires experts to closely monitor. If construction costs blow out or there are time delays, it will cost you dearly. Employ a very good project manager with an attention to detail. Micro manage and follow project timeframes carefully.
There are important design considerations when decisions are being made about internal facilities, materials and resources. Upfront costs are a factor as well as maintenance and function. This is a chance for the educator and the architects to be creative and exploit different characteristics of a building. For example at a GSE school in Malaysia, Primary classrooms were 120m2+, incorporating a mezzanine floor and a slide.
Branding & Marketing
South Korean Schools and indeed most schools, offer a very different “product/service” than you might expect. A parent and child is joining a community. You are not selling a car. How you brand and communicate your key messages must reflect a deep understanding of education and what families value, all within the local context. Study carefully and seek out expertise. It will make a big difference. We advocate strongly in the use of social media; the modern day “word of mouth.”
Building a strong brand image in South Korea includes aspects such as:
- A well regarded education management brand
- Overseas brands, pathways and study programmes
- A quality Principal with an excellent profile
- High quality native speaking English teachers
- Partnerships within the local community
Student Recruitment Strategies
How about taking a glance at our other blog here. But let’s note that South Korea is different and a more in depth dive is required and can be found during a GSE Feasibility Study.
Check out our blog on the pros and cons of partnerships in education.
Expensive upfront and expensive to maintain. Get an expert involved. It will save you money by making good decisions right from the start.
Determining what you need and when you need can be very difficult. Be careful also about the difference of opinion that may exist between your key staff. These decisions about what is needed and what is best use of money can be quite subjective. We suggest starting with a core list of resources and then expanding it based on need.
Any research will tell you that school management is the number one factor that will determine success in a school. It is essential that your leadership is underpinned by education expertise. Put in place a quality management team.
Admissions processes must be clear and have an educational rationale for placement. Your goals should be to accept children “whose needs you can satisfy.” Create admissions tests that are credible and use these as benchmarks for determining grade placement.
South Korean schools have had some recent issues and changes to visa processing that hit the headlines recently so this is another aspect that needs your careful time and attention along with local expertise. Your staffing plan will be determined when you create your financial plan. The ratios of staff to students as well as your support and administration staff must be calculated carefully. As the school grows these ratios will become more efficient so seek good advice in your planning process. There are many ways to recruit with varying costs but, as always, you will often get what you pay for. The best teachers work through the best channels. Also, be aware that as a new school you are marketing yourself to new staff also, not just students. Build a great website and promote yourself well to this audience also.
In this initial planning phase you will not create a detailed curriculum but you must begin outlining the general curriculum plan. This will be different depending on your key priorities for pedagogy (how you teach) as well as your curriculum choice; be it British, American, Australian, IB or any other.
Standard school handbooks containing school policies can range from 20 pages to 100+. This comprehensive handbook takes time to produce but also must reflect local laws and government policies as well as the standards set by accreditations you have or are seeking.
School Review Processes and Action Plans
To be the very best, a school must have review processes and internal standards by which it is measuring itself. A 10-year strategic plan must be broken down into an annual plan, term plans and, sometimes, weekly action plans to achieve key priorities. When a school owner does not have a strong education background, engaging an education management team will be important.
Training and Development
Employ great teachers but then train them. Respond to internal school review processes, academic data and feedback by adjusting practice. The most valuable resource within a school is its Human Resources and investment in this is important.
Timelines for Setting Up a New School
A tough question! Many and most of the above will happen concurrently. The accreditations may depend on each other as well as your recruitment of a strong team. The building process may take anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on the size and location of the construction and the length of time it takes to complete additional approval processes. If you are using an existing facility or refurbishing one, then that might be easier for you, but just like any renovation, you can run into problems. Plan for the process to take longer than you expect as you are depending on factors out of your control, such as government approvals or the weather.
Who is Global Services in Education (GSE)
Global Services in Education is a company led by education experts. They are proven education leaders who know how to set up and manage international schools. GSE can lead the project from the initial idea to set up and full management. Kindergarten, Primary, Middle and High School, Universities and Adult education.
– 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
Duncan Douglas, Project Manager at Global Services in Education:
– A specialist in marketing, admissions, project management, Special Education Needs (SEN)
– Extensive experience in school start-ups and senior education pathways
– Worked across UK, China, Australia, Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, India and Malaysia
– Expert in UK curriculum