Samui Wining & Dining
Education, Education, Education
There’s no need for expat parents to worry about their child’s education here, with the detailed
curriculum at the International School of Samui.


Education, Education, EducationSamui is the type of place where people come for a short time and end up wanting to stay forever. The palm trees, the sun, the beaches, the leisurely pace of life ... it’s no surprise that the miserable weather back home combined with living in the cut-throat rat race suddenly seem less appealing.


But it’s not easy to just pack up and move if you have kids. They adapt and learn the language quicker than adults but there are other things to consider before making a permanent move to Samui. The most pressing issue for parents moving here is normally education – how will their children keep up at the level they were when at home, and how can they learn what they’ll need to if they want to take exams or go to university in their home country? There’s also the issue of finding a good school to think about, taking in consideration things such as curriculum, teacher qualifications and student-to-teacher ratio. A seemingly difficult task.


Samui has quite a few private schools following the British national curriculum, so it’s definitely possible to send your child to school here and be confident that they’re learning what they would at home (and with added sunshine). But only one school on the island (in fact, the only one in the entire south-east Thailand) has been accredited with ‘International School’ status by the Thai Ministry of Education, and that’s the International School of Samui (ISS).


Established in 2006 under the name Bluewater (the name of the school was changed to International School of Samui following its accreditation in March 2010), ISS is tucked away just past BigC in Chaweng, and was set up by the Principal, Jeremy Lees, a UK-qualified teacher and former British Army officer. It now has 220 pupils throughout its kindergarten, primary and secondary departments, following the same model as independent schools in Britain.


Kindergarten at ISS is made up of the Ladybirds, Pre-Nursery, Nursery and Reception classes, covering the ages of 12 months up to five years, whilst Primary is the beginning of formal education up to age 11, covering Key Stages 1 and 2 of the British curriculum. The secondary school covers Key Stages 3 and 4, and pupils also study for their international GSCE’s to prepare them for A levels.


All the main subjects are covered, with the core set of English, maths, science, ICT and RE are supplemented by additional classes in the Thai language, history and culture, as well as Mandarin language and PE – the school has a football and volleyball court and a multi-purpose artificial grass sports pitch. There’s a swimming pool as well as plenty of outdoor play space and equipment, and both dance and music studios. There are also numerous day trips, sports activities and school events, such as ‘chairball’ tournaments.


Perhaps most importantly to parents, all the teachers covering these subjects and activities are properly qualified, with most coming from the UK and holding the benchmark Post-Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE), a year-long study and training programme for graduates in various disciplines to learn how to teach their subject. It’s not the type of school where a basic TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate is going to be enough to get a teacher hired.


There are 16 British teachers at the school, along with one Spanish, one Chinese, one Dutch and three Thai teachers. Being mostly British, but with a healthy mix of other nationalities and cultures, means the teaching team reflects the ISS ethos as a whole. And it’s the same with the students.


Principal Jeremy Lees says that around 20 per cent of pupils at ISS are Thai with two Thai parents, taking advantage of an English curriculum and lessons in English to get an excellent head start on their later life. Around 30 per cent of pupils have one Thai and one non-Thai parent, with the rest of the school’s intake made up of pupils with both parents from outside Thailand. Overall, students at the school come from over 35 different countries.


Jeremy also explains the strict criteria in place for a school to be awarded international status. As well as having qualified teachers, an internationally accredited school has to satisfy criteria on the size of the land it’s on, the size of the classrooms and the number of pupils in each class. A maximum of 25 pupils in one class is allowed under the guidelines, but ISS limits class size to no more than 22 so that every pupil is helped to develop his or her full potential. With some class sizes in Britain topping 40, the small class sizes at ISS are a major pull for parents.


“Our fees are higher than other schools of this type on Samui, but that’s because we are accredited and have all the facilities we need to deliver a full curriculum,” Jeremy says. “We have more pupils at ISS than any other school on Samui, and our fees are actually much less than comparable schools in Bangkok or Phuket. One school in Phuket charges more for its entrance fee alone than it costs for a full year’s education here.’


And he adds, “The cost-effective curriculum means that the school is getting enquiries from parents in Singapore, Bangkok and even Russia.” There are plans to soon open a boarding department at ISS, so that pupils can come from anywhere in the world and study the British curriculum at ISS without the whole family moving permanently to Samui. It certainly sounds like it would be a very tempting prospect to a 13 year-old in Moscow!


As Samui has grown and developed over the past ten years or so, so too have the services and opportunities here. Where once-upon-a-time parents might have felt they had no choice but to send their child to the local Thai school, now the growing number of expats and the increasing quality of life on Samui means there’s a growing number of choices. And for parents trying to choose a school for their child on the island, the International School of Samui is deservedly popular one.


Lisa Cunningham


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