Tier-Ranking International Schools


There is no master list, or even a universally agreed upon criteria, for Tier-ranking International Schools. Even if there were such a list under development, it’s doubtful teachers could reach a definitive consensus. Depending on personal priorities, the attributes of a Tier-1 school vary considerably from teacher to teacher, making it virtually impossible to set a standard by which all International Schools are measured.

Some educators focus on the size of the paycheck & benefits package as the main factors for assigning a Tier ranking. Other educators weigh in on curriculum, facilities & academic integrity. Still others, in pursuit of a Tier-1 experience, look for an admin that values teachers’ input. With so many individual priorities, a Tier-3 school for me may be a Tier-2, or even a Tier-1 school, for you.

Can a for-profit school ever be considered a Tier-1 school? What about a school made up of mostly host nationals? Are there Tier-1 schools in developing nations, or is the Tier-1 experience found only in fully developed locations?

With no agreed upon criteria to define Tier rankings, how do you interpret a Review in which the author says, “This is a Tier-3 school”? If you’ve been on the International circuit for any length of time, you probably have your own personal system of interpreting Tier ratings. But if you’re new to International education, these ratings hold little, if any, relationship to the realities of living & teaching abroad.

To help educators gain an understanding of the realities seasoned International educators are referring to when assigning a Tier-ranking to an school, ISR invites you to share your definition of a Tier 1, Tier 2 & Tier 3 International School.

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20 Responses to Tier-Ranking International Schools

  1. Anonymous says:

    I find it shocking that no one has mentioned the ONLY pre-requisites of a “tie-one” school: it has to have over 500 students, or be subsidized by a government, or both. I lived down the street from a “tier-one” school. It has 200 students. The faculty are very well-paid, and the school has enormous resources. The faculty are mostly people who interact very little with the local population.

    The students who are not foreign are the children of the super-elite who usually have dual citizenship. There were some great kids at that school, but many were rude and entitled, and made no effort to conceal this when they were out and about.

    I knew many of the teachers there, and they were happy, but there was enormous pressure on them from both the school and the parents. And most importantly, that was the last International School that those teachers were expected to work at. There is an hierarchy of teachers, and teachers must teach to what the department heads say is to be taught, There is little freedom, and not much collaboration. If they left, they would not get a recommendation. The only choice was to stay or go back to the home country.

    I work at what I suppose is a “tier three school”. I am very happy here. I can adjust my material as I see fit, and I can explore topics that interest me. Why? The school only has 200 students. Can I get the awesome ex-pat package? No. Do I get what I need as a teacher? Yes.

    School size matters. If a teacher is only overseas for the savings, the only way that happens is to give up a lot to get cash, and that almost certainly means working at a large school. For those of us not in this for the $10,000 US savings, “Tier One” means you get what’s best for you, not what pays the most.

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  2. Ben says:

    I think any school with level 10 facilities, level 10 admin, and level 10 students, in which one saves 10K or so per year is “top tier”. However, such a school is likely not a tenable option for career international teachers. Math shows that being able to eat food after age 80 is incompatible with saving an average of under 20K/year from ages 30-60 (assuming no state pension).

    When doing an initial scan for possible jobs, a true career international teacher should consider filtering out any schools, top tier or not, that sell facilities, good students, reputation, or location at the cost of you living a destitute life in your old age.

    One of the few exceptions to this might be if you’re only going to serve at such a place for a short time to get its name on your CV.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I’ve worked at a variety of international schools, everything from Tier 1-3. And I think that when teacher put all their stock in pay they’re missing the point entirely. I’m actually saving less at a Tier 1 school than I did at any of the others, simply because I now live in Europe.
    Tier 1: facilities are amazing. Technology is integrated into the school. Ethical standards for student grades. Qualified teachers. Accredited school. Establish curriculum with either IB or British system. High student scores. Plenty of professional development. High teacher retention. Good benefits. Salaries at minimum allow teachers to live comfortably and save some.

    Tier 2: facilities are good. Curriculum still in flux but has IB or British system in place. Some issues with ethics but overall they’re alright and cases are few and far between. Most of the teachers are qualified. Good amount of technology. Student score are good. Minimal professional development. Some instability in the school. Good benefits. Teacher retention is ok, most sign on for another contract. Teacher’s salary allows for teachers to live comfortably and save some.

    Tier 3: bad facilities. Unethical practices. Low teacher retention. Minimal technology. Little to no professional development. Curriculum is a mess. School is unstable. Not all teachers are qualified or in positions that they are qualified for. Resources are minimal. Student external scores (IB or GISCE) are low but their local or American diploma grades are high. Salaries can be enormous in order to compensate or they can allow for little teacher savings.

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  4. All Tier'd Up says:

    Firstly, I’d say a school being Tier 1 is relative to its location. A tier 1 school in one area might not be considered Tier 1 in another location. It’s the idea that a tier 1 in sub-Saharan Africa might not be close to a Tier 1 in Western Europe but it is still relevant and appropriate that each is a Tier 1 in their particular area in order to facilitate comparisons amongst schools in that general locale.

    Secondly, I think that if a school is truly a Tier 1, then there’s almost zero discussion/debate as to whether it’s Tier 1 or 2. Everyone recognizes that a Tier 1 school is truly a Tier 1 school, and that is based on a lot of the factors you all have mentioned already (package, non-profit, reputation, makeup of student body, etc.)

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    • EnglishManInTheKnow says:

      I completely disagree. Only “wannabe” Tier 1 schools say things like, “Oh, we’re a Tier 1 school for Honduras” or “We’re a Tier 1 for Latin America,” etc. etc. I usually see mediocre to crappy schools in Latin America and Africa saying things like that constantly in full recruitment mode. So someone that has been at a legit Tier 1 get to the “Tier 1 for Honduras” school and quickly realizes it’s not close to a Tier 1.

      The whole Tier system, from my perspective anyway, is to compare and contrast international schools from all over the world. Period. Thus, if you’re comparing a school in Romania vs. a school in Brazil vs. a school in Thailand, using the Tier system, you can gain a ballpark understanding of how they measure up.

      If you want to know how the international schools stack up in Korea, instead of using a cop-out like, “Oh, school X is a Tier 1 for Korea,” one should say, “School X is the best school in Korea, but would still only be considered by most as a Tier 2 or 3 school relative to other schools in the world.”

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      • Anonymous says:

        You’ve made (part of) my point well. A true Tier 1 school has no need to say “we are a tier 1 school” because everyone already knows they are a tier 1 school.

        And someone who has been to a Tier 1 school prior would never be tricked by a school fraudulently recruiting as a tier 1 because, again, everyone knows the tier 1s if they’ve been in the game long enough (which one probably has if they’really currently at a tier 1).

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        • EnglishManInTheKnow says:

          I know what you’re trying to say but just by the number of teachers asking on the forums, “Is this school a Tier 1?”, I still don’t fully agree outside about the top 10-15 schools in the world. And I believe there are probably 25-35 truly Tier 1 schools in the world based on all the variables shared on the open forum (salary and benes, and ultimately savings potential, being the #1 variable by most international educators).

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  5. Got the T shirt says:

    Interesting that some teachers would rank a school solely on the pay check. I worked at a school in the ME where the pay was high but everything about the place stunk of corruption and graft. Grades were sold to rich parents and we were basically paid good salaries to look happy and just go along with the scam. Okay, they never called it a scam but we all know what the score was. I have also worked in schools where the pay was mediocre but I stayed because I believed in what they were doing for the students. Plus, they treated us good and the country itself was a wonderful place to live. The experience and the pay together added up to more than the sum parts.

    It’s important to make a living and few of us can afford to offer our talents for free. But, money is not what teaching is about, so if your idea of a Tier 1 school is simply a pay check I would say you are in the wrong profession.

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  6. Walkerman says:

    Tier 1 schools are more than often, Not-For-Profit schools. Their money spent on students, programs, teachers and their professional development.

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  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t agree that Tier rating us in savings capability.
    Tier 1- schools that are constantly innovating their learning principles, teaching principles and learning environments, have high level of internationally qualified teachers with multiple years experience, IB or IGCSE curricula offered, low teacher-student ratios, high level of safety in workplace/living place, high level employment benefits offered. Good salary and multiple pro-d opportunities. Recruitment via accredited agencies. Check their website. How modern is it? How is staff retention? Need balanced between longevity and fresh faces.
    Tier 2- doing above but less developed and not doing/offering as much in all areas.
    Tier 3- not doing most of above. Safety, educational standards and leadership not outwardly or visibly good. Earnings are often good in bad schools. Usually good schools don’t pay as high. They don’t need to. Their reputation, location, work place standards allow them to pay less but still attract best employees.

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    • Chris says:

      Anonymous,

      You are talking about “intangibles” and feelings. Basically, high pay means high credentials. That is Tier 1 all the way.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I agree Anonymous. That’s about it in a nutshell. I would add that sometimes Tier 3 pay very well because they can’t recruit staff, or they work unethically and need to “bribe” staff to work with their unsavoury practices. They may also have a lot of new teachers with little experience or vastly unqualified teachers.

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  8. Chris says:

    Wow, that is the best description I have ever see describing the differences in the three. I have been teaching overseas for 10 years, and that sums them up perfectly.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    How about CIS accreditation?

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  10. Tier 1 teacher says:

    Tier 1 schools are normally well established and respected in the community. Despite their high fees, they remain very selective of the students they choose. They are even more selective of staff. If you remain employed there, other international teachers and local teachers react: “Wow! You work at X!”
    It’s a huge career perk. If you get a good reference, you can walk into any school

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  11. Teacher-Turned-Admin says:

    Tier 1 – savings of at least 35,000 USD per year; accredited by CIS, SACS, WASC, or one of the other big ones, and most likely IB. Also most likely receiving funds from one or more embassy. Most likely uses ISS, Search, or AASA to recruit.

    Tier 2 – savings of at least 20,000 USD per year; accredited by CIS, SACS, WASC, or one of the other big ones, and most likely IB. Most likely uses ISS, Search, or AASA to recruit, but may also use something like TIE. The biggest difference between Tier 2 and 3 is savings potential, but both tiers are good schools that you will enjoy.

    Tier 3 – savings of maybe 10,000 USD per year, if any; maybe accredited, but lots of issues going on so that accreditation might be in jeopardy. Probably not IB, but could be (like Medan International School). Most likely does not use ISS, Search, or AASA to recruit; might use TIE, but most likely uses the likes of Teacher Horizons or Teach Away. Schools in this category include virtually every school in Mexico and many in Latin American (because of the poor savings), and tons of schools in China that might pay well but are very poor in quality of education or working conditions.

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    • Anon says:

      Actually this is a good ranking but I would add Tier 4 – where there are individual profit oriented owners who do not hire qualified teachers – merely white faces or pack the school with Filipino teaches to whom they pay a lot less.. They do not pay for professional development and don’t belong to any professional organizations. Many of these in Myanmar and Thailand.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I would completely disagree with your statement on savings. Many amazing tier one schools in Europe you’re lucky if you touch 10,000 in savings because of tax and cost of living. But their facilities, curriculum, student results, resources, professional developement and staff retentions is nothing that Aramco can touch even though the pay an astronomical amount.

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      • EnglishManInTheKnow says:

        If you are “lucky” to touch 10k in saving, then by many people’s definition, it’s not a Tier 1 school. You are trading in a comfortable retirement, travel opportunities, college savings for kids, etc. for “nice facilities, curriculum, student results..” etc. Just because your dream is to teach in Paris, does NOT objectively qualify the international school there as a Tier 1.

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        • Ben says:

          I think any school with level 10 facilities, level 10 admin, and level 10 students, in which one saves 10K or so per year is “top tier”. However, such a school is likely not a tenable option for career international teachers. Math shows that being able to eat food after age 80 is incompatible with saving an average of under 20K/year from ages 30-60 (assuming no state pension).

          When doing an initial scan for possible jobs, a true career international teacher should consider filtering out any schools, top tier or not, that sell facilities, good students, reputation, or location at the cost of you living a destitute life in your old age.

          One of the few exceptions to this might be if you’re only going to serve at such a place for a short time to get its name on your CV.

          Like

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