Is this for me?

Working at a not-for-profit school
5 things to consider when offered a position by a ‘for profit school’

International schools are big businesses, and many are run ‘for profit’. Would teaching at a ‘for profit’ school be for you? Sadie Hollins has some pointers.

The business of education

Data by ISC Research indicates that there has been a 349% growth in English-medium international schools over the past 20 years, growing from 2,584 schools in 2000 to 11,616 schools in 2020. This market now consists of approximately 5.98 million students and a total fee income of $54 billion dollars. As I said, international schools are big businesses. Of that growth, regionally Asia contains the largest of that market with 57.1% of the total number of international schools (6,638 schools).

I am currently based in Thailand, which has seen an explosion of international schools in the last decade. Estimates from the International Schools Database of tuition fee prices in Bangkok alone range from $2,516 dollars to a staggering $31,125 dollars per year. Given the high percentage of the global international school market that exists in Asia, you can imagine the scale of the money that we are talking about.

Who attends an international school and why?

Twenty or so years ago, the early international schools predominantly served the expatriate and diplomatic communities in order to ensure their children could receive a ‘western’ education whilst living far away from their passport homes. The last twenty years has seen a dramatic shift, with international schools now largely attended by wealthy local students, many with dreams of pursuing places at competitive western universities. Although this may very well shift again as a result of the current pandemic, it is unlikely that this desire for a westernised education will diminish anytime soon.

For profit and not-for-profit

Furthermore, whereas twenty years ago, the majority of international schools were predominantly ‘not-for-profit’, over this time period there has been another shift in terms of the opening of ‘for profit schools’, and the purchasing of ‘not-for-profit’ schools by profit-making corporations and companies.

In a very useful article published in The International Educator (TIE) William Scarborough summarises some of the major differences between ‘for profit and ‘not for profit’ schools in the international context. In brief, not-for profit schools are truly independent, run by a Board of Trustees (or similar) and reinvest any surpluses from fees in the school itself. For-profit schools on the other hand do what its says on the tin- they return a profit to the owner, who may be an individual, large company, or one of a group of privately owned schools.

Nuanced comparison

However, the comparison between the two may not necessarily be so binary or distinct (see James and Sheppard (2013) for a more nuanced discussion about this). In fact ‘for profit’ schools can very often feel very community orientated and inclusive, and some ‘not-for-profit’ schools can feel corporate and undemocratic.

Whilst some teachers may have experienced and grappled with this dichotomy already in some form when working at private schools in their home country, it can take time to fully appreciate and understand these differences.

Choosing to work at a for-profit school: five things to consider

If working in a for-profit school is going to be a new experience, here are five questions/considerations that may be useful to think about when being offered a place in such a school:

  1. How much autonomy will you receive? This doesn’t necessarily fall into the ‘for profit’ or ‘not-for-profit’ binary, but if running your own projects and bringing forward new ideas is something that it’s important for you, it’s important to consider whether the nature of the school will allow you to implement new ideas. Sometimes ‘for profit’ schools may have the financial means to put programmes in place, but the school priorities at any given time may also steer you away from implementing new ideas. ‘Not-for-profit’ schools may really encourage projects that benefit the community, but may not always have the means for these ideas to be acted on, or if they do, getting approval could take some time.
  2. Will you have a marketing role in the school? Depending on your values some teachers embrace the opportunity to showcase their work publicly, and some feel like a sellout. Marketing is neither good nor bad in essence, but it’s definitely worth considering what your thoughts would be about playing an active role in ‘selling’ the school.
  3. What are the expectations in terms of self-promotion? Again, depending on where you sit when it comes to self-promotion, it’s either a part of the modern working world, or it’s something you detest. A little self-promotion is never a bad thing, but what you bring to the school in terms of your marketability is something to consider – did you graduate from a top tier university? Did you play sports, music, or do anything else to an elite level? You may find these aspects of your history being utilised in order to assist with different marketing campaigns.
  4. How do you cope with change? In a ‘for profit’ school, both positive and negative change can happen very quickly. You might find your class sizes increased quickly or you might find that the school constructs new facilities that can really help you do your job better. Again what’s involved is not necessarily all good or bad, but it can happen quickly and without much consultation.
  5. What is the vibe of the school? Is it strictly business, or is education at the heart of the school? There are so many excellent ‘for-profit’ schools, this is an important factor. How you felt about the interview is often a very important guide. Also, check the school’s website and social media sites to help you get a feel of what the school is about. Is what you see something that aligns with your values?
Adapting to a new world of education

For many teachers entering the world of international schools, the challenge isn’t just the adaptation to a new culture, it also involves the adaptation to a new way of ‘doing education’. As William Scarborough writes, when it comes to the question of which type of school is better, there is no clear-cut answer. A good school is a good school. It’s just useful for teachers to think ahead about some of these considerations to ensure that their transition into the world of international schooling is a smooth one.

Dr Sadie Hollins



Dr. Sadie Hollins is Head of Sixth Form at a British-Curriculum school in Thailand. She is the creator and editor of the WISEducation blog and magazine.




Feature Image: by John Hain from Pixabay

Support Image:   by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay