Chicken or egg?

One of the most common discussions we have with parents is whether they should choose the school or the house first.

Simply put, in what order should they relocate?

Our first answer would instinctively be “school”.  It makes good sense to centre a home search around a preferred school.  Living close to the school provides logistical ease and helps both the children and the family as a whole settle into a new area.

But this instinct does need to be informed.

A schools search without proper reference to what type of house a family can afford or what type of area might suit their needs is like going into the desert without a map – and risks wasting the time of the families, the agents and the schools.

It does not need to boiled down to one area, but having a shortlist of, for example, five areas provides real focus to the relocation process.

This is also important when families are looking to move into the state sector.   Availability in the state sector is always tight and the situation can be extremely fluid.  Often research needs to be carried out when the family are on the ground, checking around individual preferred properties.

So, in a perfect world, schools would come first.  But it is never as straight-forward as that.

Understanding the journey

One of the dangers when helping families moving internationally is viewing each assignment as an individual element without considering the wider journey that the family are taking

This is not just a professional journey, but, more importantly for children, an academic journey that will dictate future choices and options.

Before a family commits to a school or college in a new country, time should be taken to consider both what the future holds and what the past has given them.

This could include what a student wants to do when they leave school, what curriculum they have studying, how they have responded to academic environments in the past and the length of time of the assignment and how that will impact on future choices.

Every single school handles children differently and one can only make a judgement on which would be best by understanding the journey that the family are taking.

Dean Associates is an international education consultant that can provide a unique insight into this journey, having helped over 6000 families moving home over the past thirty years.

New media, new network

The rise of the internet and social media have offered many opportunities for schools to “showcase” themselves to potential families around the world, and to keep parents up-to-date with exciting new developments and innovations.

However, it has also led to a new means of evaluating schools – what could be termed the “Click Google” method – where parents trawl through a variety of online sources, some reliable, others much less so.

Parents have always been available to take advice from existing networks of families in destination countries, however the anonymity of online “advice” has seen the rise of three potential pitfalls.

Information taken out of context

Stories on schools – both positive and negative – have the potential to float in the ether untethered by context or perspective.  

Any rumour, even if unfair or unsubstantiated, can calcify and become a permanent mark on a school’s record.  This has occurred in the last year with both a leading international school in the UK and a leading English boarding school.

Vituperative Forums

Our team at Dean Associates spends time evaluating school discussions on online forums, for example Mumsnet.  

Some can be helpful, but it is depressing to see how quickly a positive, open question searching for advice can be struck by arguments based on personal choice, social class and limited information.

Misleading information 

Increasingly, we find ourselves unpicking difficult situations for families who have made housing decisions based on the “catchment information” that many estate agency websites – Rightmove, Locrating – publish.

This information seems to be compiled with no recognition of the nuances of year-on-year admissions patterns or the particular admissions criteria of individual schools.

Although the websites do add the necessary caveats, these are often lodged in the “small print” and ignored.


We are also noticing that “Click Google” research is leading families to make instant decisions, often bypassing more traditional, tried and tested means of evaluating a school – namely proper assessment of websites, reviews of reports and academic metrics, and, most importantly, a personal visit to see the classrooms in action.