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Competition for good teachers key to understanding International school fees

The recent article discussing the rising costs of education was very interesting, but it did little to explain the reason behind the rising costs of school fees.

The Phuket News

Friday 9 June 2017, 03:52PM

After over thirty years as a senior administrator in international schools on four different continents I can confirm that the greatest operational costs are directly related to the employment of teachers.

Typically, in the major international schools, the cost of employing international teachers is approximately 70% of annual operational expenditure and could be even higher.

Parents are effectively paying most of their school fees to ensure the quality of the teachers at a school as well as for the breadth of opportunities that a school is able to offer their children.

Unfortunately, the International Schools are also directly linked to the global economy, no matter where the school is located, or how the economy of the host country is doing.

Most international teachers are temporary visitors and will expect their overseas salaries to be competitive, especially in less than favourable locations.

Of course, teachers will consider lifestyle when examining opportunities in International Schools which means that teachers may compromise on remuneration for the sake of location (although not necessary for extended periods), and the reputation of an international school may also be an influence in decision making.

There are also major financial benefits to a school if it differentiates between local and overseas contracts and is able to recruit teachers locally, but parents should be wary if a recruitment strategy is focused upon on saving money in this way.

There is also the effect of competition within the teacher market – the numbers of international school teachers will need to increase substantially to meet the demand of new international schools that are sprouting like mushrooms around the world (predictions are that the number of international schools will double over the next five years and most of the increase will be in Asia – currently the global number is in excess of 8,000, and there are over 160 in Thailand alone).

Already there is a growing shortage of teachers which is leading to increased competition between schools to attract the best possible teachers by improving the ‘benefits package’, and this will in turn put more pressure on school finances.

Basic questions that parents should ask when choosing a school:

Are all teachers qualified and experienced with the subjects or year groups that they are teaching?


Does the school make a contractual distinction between ‘overseas’ and ‘local’ hires? If so what are the ratios?

What is the range of subjects available at external examination level and are they all taught by subject-experienced teachers?

What is the average staff turnover each year?

What is the average length of service of the teachers at the school?

What is the gender breakdown of the teachers?

These are simple questions that are rarely asked by parents, despite the proportion of school fees that are expended on this fundamental resource, and the lasting impact that teachers can have on children’s lives.

Maintaining a stable, balanced and experienced academic staff is a critical aspect of school management, and not easy when the demand for teachers exceeds the supply.

It doesn’t take an economist to understand the implications, both in terms of fees as well as upon the quality of education on offer in an international school.

By Neil Richards

This article was written in reply to a previous article in The Phuket News entitled: Phuket Expat Finance: The Price of Learning, which can be read here.

Neil Richards is the Headmaster of the British International School, Phuket. 



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