Do Corporate Schools Have a Heart?

Years ago I returned from a few pleasant years teaching overseas. Recently, however, I decided to throw my hat into the ring this upcoming recruiting season and head back to a life of teaching abroad.

Overseas, I taught in small, independently-owned International schools. Looking around at job opportunities now, though, I’m noticing the trend in International Education appears to have shifted to multi-national educational empires, with names like GEMS, QSI Schools, United World Schools and Nord Anglia.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there does seem to be advantages to being part of a big, global network of schools:  established curriculums, sister schools that share resources, clear management structures, professional development conferences and potential lateral moves between schools, to name just a handful. The downside for me is this:  I’m not much of a corporate gal (hence the teaching degree) and worry about being a part of a huge, impersonal bureaucracy. Considering the size of some of these education goliaths, I’m concerned the needs and day-to-day affairs of the little guys (i.e. the teachers) might be overlooked. There is also the ever-present threat of the bottom line…Will the need to turn a profit overshadow the needs of the children?

Anyone willing to share their experience with large education companies as compared to smaller, more intimate schools? Are the corporate schools simply money-making machines focused on maximum profit, or are there schools with heart and community that happen to fall under a corporate umbrella? Should I stick with what’s familiar to me and recruit for a small independent school? Or take my chances in finding a corporate school with a heart?

Thanks for your input!

Please scroll down to participate in this Discussion Board

23 Responses to Do Corporate Schools Have a Heart?

  1. Anonymous says:

    For profit schools are all about the loot. There are no personal feeling in business. Some folks will care about the kids / teachers. But for the most part it is only about the bottom line. It is what it is.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with many of the other comments. I am at one of the giant schools, and it feels like the only important thing is our image. Teachers have no voice, and were told about many changes that were “for the best”, but not fully planned out. This included a whole new administration, unbalanced classes and schedules and at least 4 different schedules in the first 2 weeks. Most of us that were optimistic when we arrived (over a year ago) are now looking for other jobs at non-profit schools. The schedules that we now have seem to have been made with the assumption that teachers are robots who don’t need any down time to eat or go to the toilet. Classes just keep getting larger, so that the corporation gets more money, but we had our pay frozen last year…
    On the positive side, since we are supposed to be a cutting edge school, we do have some amazing technology available!

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I came from a small international school to a corporate international school. I could say that both experiences have been positive. The smaller school was a great fit for me, but benefits were quite limited. The pay scale structure and benefits in the corporate school was better and more organized. I am yet to experience a “horror school” although my desire is to have no such experience.

    Thankful for the reviews here as they do give me a better perspectives of schools to consider.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    I would not recommend teaching at any “corporate school.” I can only confirm your fears from my many years of teaching abroad. Many of those schools not only undermine the needs of the students-the needs of the teacher as well! Go for a school that has a board of trustees. That way it will be less of a dictatorship, similar to many corporations. Every major city in Europe and Asia has one international school that is very old with a good reputation. They usually teach through the PYP or IB. Often have clear salary payscales and benefit packages. They often are able to retain older teachers as well, participate in conferences to exchange ideas and are quite tech savey. Go for the gold! Skip McDonalds!😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Anonymous says:

    I echo everything that has been said. A lot depends on the ability of the school teaching management to be an effective buffer between the owners’s need for profit and the teachers’ need to effectively teach. This is my 3rd year at a group profit school. We came back to school to find a new pricipal and vice principal. Clearly the school has decided to up the ante with branding, cutting resource budgets, and micro management. So called initiatives are to look good to parents and have zero educational benefit or foundatioon. Placement testing for english levels are conducted but the entrance level is 0 yes zero. One primary class of 19 students is running 4 different groups to cater for the different english levels. The school’s solution is to charge parents for additional esl lessons for the students at the end of the schol day, staffed by any teacher with free periods. It has become the teachers’problem to deal with this in class. Why are your exam grades so low? Will be the mantra in a couple of years when these students take their igcses.already this has started. Enthusiastic teachers are frowned upon and squashed flat. It is ok if you are there to bide your time till you retire but horrible if you actually love teaching. There are problems in our home countries of course which is why we are teaching internationally. We have a more comfortable life but it is not easy by any means. For the first time i am looking to move out of teaching altogether which is a terrible shame. I started by thinking i must move to another school but now i feel that this is the way it is going and i can’t face it. I started with talking about a good principal being a buffer between the owners and teachers. Surely someone can undertand that it is possible to have profits and a good education? Listen to your teachers! It doesn’t have to cost money! Such short term thinking. However ultimately if you want to defraid parents by taking thier money and not delivering on an education for their children then that’s what they will do. When parents vote with their feet after a few years they will have already made their millions and then sell their so called thriving schools for another conglomerate to reap the results.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Having worked internationally in for profit not for profit large and small schools, schools that are semi global, schools that are one offs, schools that are part of a large group, there are many stories to tell. Avoid some, go with others. Just because you’re going international doesn’t mean life is necessarily going to be better than at home. At home, there are taxes, great resources or lack there of, ok pay or not, professional growth or not, great leadership or not, helpful; administration by that I mean the Hr team or not, quality of life ok or not, students eager to learn or not, parents eager to contribute or not, international doesn’t mean better or means different. Back to at the end of the day its your choice. I didn’t make the right decision in some cases, bit my tongue and got on with it, as owners can be mean and nasty individuals and as some have mentioned are all about bums on seats and profit making. And being a thoughtful kind human being doesn’t always cut it as it can be cut throat and soul destroying. Even working with people from your own country they can turn nasty, most likely they are nasty back home as well. In summary, do your homework get those gut reactions going, decide what is best for you, there isn’t always a best fit, it’s deciding why you’re going to where you’re going and is it worth it?

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  7. Anonymous says:

    We had a bunch of suits touring our school recently. Their rep precedes them (one of the teachers worked at one of this group’s schools). If a deal goes through, quite a few of us are voluntarily out the door.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    I work for a big corporate firm and the changes since it took over my privately owned school is vast. Restrictions on spending on resources because the budget spends more on creating a corporate image, which is recognized globally. No pay increases for four years. A bums on seats attitude towards class sizes. I could go on but there are advantages of working for a large ciompany. They do get rid of the free riders, people who have had the same jobs for years and do little for their wage packet. Opportunities to work at their other schools, many inset courses good for the CV., all this said give me back my old owner and happy school.

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  9. Denominator says:

    I just want to back up what has been said about Nord Anglia. I worked in a bilingual school where the pupils had to have a standard of English to be accepted. The Secondary curriculum was taught in English apart from the local language and literature classes. Nord Anglia bought over our school and the standard of English for entrance pretty much disappeared. It was very much a bums on seat approach. We ended up with students in our class trying to access the IGCSE curriculum who could pretty much only say Hello and Goodbye in English. I felt sorry for the students as their parents were paying very high fees for the location with very little chance of their child being able to access the curriculum.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    This is my first contract at one of these conglomerates and it will be my last. It has been a very tough adjustment coming from a small non profit international school with heart to a corporation. I’m not corporate but this place reeks of it. I feel that everything that is done is done for the image. Everything else is done for the acceeditation. This makes for a lot of amazing Teachers who leave quickly and for Teachers who smile and nod and shut their doors and do their own thing- and for arguments sake, yes, there are Teachers everywhere that do this! Saying this, there are pockets of heart and people trying to give it heart, but those things are quickly squashed.

    Also, there are other schools in the corporation that win awards and have amazing reputations.

    My next step is back into the small school world. You can see the money going back into the school and everything is about the learning happening there. Not quite what I have experienced in the corporation!

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  11. Anon says:

    I have only worked at for-profit schools, but applied to a non-profit international school in The Philippines. I got a really positive response very quickly and very early on and a contract was about to be sent out until I mentioned causally that I have been learning Tagalog for a few years and that I have a Filipina wife and two kids. The principal then told me directly that he does not want to hire anyone with dependents (has nothing to do with visas since my wife and kids have Filipino passports). So this let me know that non-profit schools are not focused on hiring the best educators, but the cheapest.

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    • Hi Anon, the situation could have been that the Principal had a bad experience with a teacher having their kids at the school and it was not financial (ie disciplinary or a teacher crossing the line when they had their parents hat on.)

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      • Anonymous says:

        Anon,two teachers are ‘in the frame’for a position in my school, I am the head. Nothing between the two in terms of experience, philosophy etc,but, one is single and the other has spouse and children. Why would I employ the one who is going to cost me more?

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    • Anonymous says:

      That is not what I have experienced.
      At my present school a few of us teachers have children and trailers spouse. Was the same in Paris.

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  12. Deborah Ellen says:

    It really does depend on each school and its director/board. I’ve worked in a number of smaller schools, but they were definitely driven to cut corners, cram kids, take kids who had been ousted from other more profitable schools or may have been too tightly controlled by parents/board members. Some of the larger more corporate schools I worked in had times when they weren’t under such tight scrutiny for a time, but then board members changed, leadership changed and they went right to cramming classes, cutting back on resources, etc. So even if you land a great situation in a smaller or larger school, things can change. I think the main thing is being able to communicate with teachers at a school – although they can be handpicked by HR to communicate with candidates. It’s all a journey…

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  13. Anonymous says:

    I very briefly worked for a school run by Dipont China. It became quickly apparent there were problems with leadership and management. Governance was simply poor.

    Schools can be a lottery whether big or small. You will only know when you actually start.

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  14. John K. says:

    SO there is a lot of truth to the stories of profit schools as written above. I worked for GEMS in UAE years ago and saw bits of all those stories. However it wasn’t that bad. There were some bad medical stories, certainly budget limits on supplies and you know they are bean counting. However if you just teach and tune some of that out it is fine. Pay was reasonable, they weren’t very demanding. If you are very altruistic as a teacher, it can be difficult though. I just left a non profit school, definitely treated better with more resources and PD. However I still had lazy and incompetent admin. Pay wasn’t really that great either. Both had their ups and downs. Overall I prefer the non profits but wouldn’t rule out the profit schools.

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  15. Wesley says:

    I have worked overseas in international schools for over thirty years but never for a proprietary school. I have purposely stayed away from them. I am past retirement age now and have reached the point where I will have to reconsider my decision to work at these schools if I want to continue to work overseas. I recommend anyone taking a job with one of these big conglomerates do their due diligence and research the place very carefully before signing a contract.

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  16. Been there says:

    I can speak to Nord Anglia. Several of my colleagues worked for NA schools and enjoyed good salaries and adequate though not exactly generous resources. Some schools will open a window at start of year to equip your classroom then the window slams shut the remainder of the year. Some reported quarrels over minutiae like photocopy quotas.

    In my own experience, NA started off okay, as they’d just absorbed my school the previous summer. There were promises that little would change, that we’d see only benefits from the merger. But over time, budgets tightened, inane policies were established, and the bottom line became apparent. What was once a truly international student population became a private school for wealthy nationals. The salary was good though, so I kept my head down.

    Then there was a medical upset, and I unexpectedly had to leave the country on short notice. NA flew over a slick company man in a tailored suit (picture George Clooney’s character from “Up in the Air”) who saved our principal the discomfort of formally firing me, and piled on assurances that NA is “one big family” (never believe these words from someone in a tailored suit) and took care of its own. I was told I could, as the OP said, move laterally within the company at any of their many schools in my home country. I was given the contact details of that regional HR manager, who would most definely take good care of me.

    No response. Tried to contact the man in the tailored suit. No response. Repeated attempts to contact, no response.

    I can understand, from a business perspective, why it was more affordable to dismiss me then support me. I harbor no ill feelings about that. I just can’t stand being lied to. For that reason, I will forever speak nothing but hiss and vinegar for the company that is Nord Anglia.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I have worked internationally for 15 years, one thing I have learned, avoid Nord Anglia. I have never worked for them but know so many colleagues who have had the misfortune. There are plenty of school who will value you and pay you well. Im glad I dont need to be enticed by the NA promises.

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      • Anon says:

        I hear you guys regarding Nord Anglia and feel the pain. They are primarily a business and learning very much takes a back seat. Admissions targets are high, marketing is desperate and families are frequently sold empty promises, despite teachers doing their best with what little they have. It’s a candy coated, brittle environment with dollar signs where the heart should be.

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  17. Anonymous says:

    I’ve worked in a number of schools internationally for 4 years. Each one was part of a conglomerate, the latest allied to a property company. Short answer is yes, bottom line trumps everything including special needs, resources, wages, staff welfare and CPD. There’s no point railing against it, unless you enjoy “tall poppy syndrome “. I have just learned to suck it up, smile, wave and turn my own classroom into an oasis of calm…mostly.

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  18. Gail Hall says:

    I spent a year working for a GEMS school and then three years working for an independent non profit British School. Both were in the Gulf region. The GEMS School was definitely profit driven, cramming as many children as they could into claustrophobic colour-coordinated classrooms designed more for aesthetic appeal than for utility and comfort. There were no storage areas for teacher materials or books and I had to sew chair pockets for the students so they would have a convenient place to keep their books. There was a shortage of student books and materials but the fact that the cushions in the lobby matched was of greater importance to the management. The high ceilings amplified hall sounds and there was no student bathroom on the same floor as the cafeteria. I did not feel the school had heart and one year there was enough to convince me to move on. My three years in a small school of 130 students, in a minor city, was far more satisfying for me, where children and their families comprised a well supported community despite somewhat unprofessional management and weak leadership practices. I prefer a more intimate environment with strong relationships and a sense of community rather than strategic glitz and glamour as bait solely intended to place bums in seats.

    Liked by 1 person

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