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Parents Do look for international school brand recognition when choosing child’s education in a new country – ISC Research

Parents Do look for international school brand recognition when choosing child’s education in a new country – ISC Research

by Tabitha BardaApril 29, 2022

Many expat parents and teachers will be attracted to a school group or brand name they recognise when they move between countries, according to a new White Paper by ISC Research. There is a perception of trust, security and historical track record in a well-known group or brand name, which has contributed to some enormous growth for international school groups and brand names in recent years, despite the pandemic. The number of schools run by groups now stands at 4,861, up from 2,526 in 2017, and they have a combined fee income of $22.3 billion (AED81.9 billion) up by $13.7 billion (AED50.3 billion) in the last five years. The report also found that the number of pupils taught by international school groups is now 2.18 million, up from 1.28 million five years previously.

Growth despite COVID

The pandemic did not stimy the growth of international school groups, according to ISC data, and many of the biggest international school groups have a presence in the UAE. Total annual fee income for the international-school-group sector grew by 63% between 2017 and 2022, while enrolment growth shot up by 70% between the same five years.

The ISC report reveals that the largest international school group is now a Canadian company called Maple Bear Global Schools, which provides a Canadian education model for pre and elementary school across 361 schools – several of which are in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the wider Gulf region.

The next four biggest providers are Beaconhouse Group (146 schools, predominately in Pakistan); Grupo SEB (140 schools in Brazil); The City School (133 schools in Pakistan); and Nord Anglia (86 schools across the world, including the UAE).

But GEMS is the largest school group in terms of the number of students enrolled, educating 124,000, and 42 of its 52 schools worldwide are in the UAE.

ISC research on largest international school groups by number of students enrolled

The importance of brand

Some high-end school brands offer an element of educational prestige that attract the wealthiest, educationally aspirational families, writes the ISC report.

“These are generally the foreign campuses of Western independent schools that bring with them British or American educational heritage, many of which embody a holistic education experience with emphasis on creativity and critical thinking. They also offer an elite alumni and community network for students, alumni, and parents enabling future opportunities.”


High-profile and historic Western school brands with quality academic reputations that have entered the UAE market recently include the lauded Durham School Dubai – set to open in August 2022 – as well as Brighton College (campuses in Dubai, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi), Royal Grammar School Guilford Dubai, and Kent College, to name just a few.

Meanwhile well-known school groups such as Cognita and Chatsworth Schools have also been very active in the UAE market lately – with Cognita buying up Horizon English School, Horizon International School and Ranches Primary School, in addition to RGSD, and Chatsworth becoming launch partners in the launch of the innovative new Citizens School, set to open its doors this August 2022.

According to ISC Research data, the independent school brand segment of the market represents only 1.3% of the entire international schools market, but these schools are frequently so well known within their communities that they raise awareness of the wider international school offering to families in the locality:

“Some of these premium quality brands and groups operate with extremely high standards. This can set an expectation by some parents for the wider international school community, placing other international schools under greater scrutiny.”

The report states that a reputable school group or brand can play a powerful role in market confidence, validating those international schools already operating in a location, as well as attracting development interest to emerging markets. For example, the recent news that Wellington College was entering India led to significant interest in new school investment and development opportunities in the country.

The influence of a school group or brand, and its standards and services, can also benefit a wider collective of international schools (and schools of all types) through local cluster collaborations, shared action as part of an association, or shared best practice. Several school groups have contributed towards setting standards through good practice including the Be Well Charter of Cognita.

Sam Fraser, research director at ISC Research, told TES: “It is anticipated that existing school groups will expand and more school groups will emerge within the international schools sector.

“There’s plenty of acquisition opportunity remaining for school groups because of the high number of individual schools still present within the sector.”

ISC data on world’s largest international school groups

International School Groups seeing growth in the UAE

This edited summary from the ISC report represents just some of the recent news from school groups and brands currently impacting the international schools market.

Aldar Education

The education group announced it will open 3 international schools in Abu Dhabi. The group currently owns 9 schools under the Aldar Academies brand as well as Cranleigh Abu Dhabi.


Cognita opened RGS Guildford Dubai in 2021 and this year (2022) has acquired Horizon International School Dubai, and Colegio Internacional Meres in Spain. In 2021 the company launched Cognita Tutoring supported by micro-lesson provider CENTURY.

Durham International Schools

Durham School Dubai will open in August 2022 which will make this the third sister school for the independent Durham School UK. Its other international schools are in Qatar and Kenya.

GEMS Education

Having divested of its schools in South East Asia, GEMS Education has partnered with Hassana Investment Company on a joint venture to build more than 50 schools in Saudi Arabia, strengthening its brand presence in the Gulf region.

For more on brands:

Read our story on “Is a British Education (still?) the Best in The World for Power and Influence? Does it Matter?  Updated.” here.

Read our story on “Eton, Repton, Cranleigh, Harrow, Brighton – Do Big Name British School Brands Matter in the UAE?”

© 2022. All rights reserved.

About The Author
Tabitha Barda
Tabitha Barda is the Senior Editor of Oxbridge educated and an award winning journalist in the UAE for more than a decade, Tabitha is one of the region's shining lights in all that is education in the emirates. A mum herself, she is passionate about helping parents - and finding the stories in education that deserve telling. She is responsible for the busy 24x7 News Desk, our Advisory Boards and Specialist Panels - and Parents United's WHICHPlaydates - a regular meeting place for UAE parents to discuss the issues that matter to them, make friends and network with others. You can often find Tabitha too on Parents United - our Facebook community board, discussing the latest schools and education issues with our parent community in the UAE - and beyond.

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