Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Expat Schools Report Rapid Growth

In five months --without any advertising -- the British International School has nearly tripled its enrollment to 250 students. The headmaster of the for-profit school calculates that number is likely to double by next September as classroom renovations are completed.

"If I didn't control it, I would see parents all the time, every day," said the school's headmaster, Henry Searle, who estimates he interviews the parents of 20 prospective students each week.

Such extraordinary growth is an indication of the huge pent-up demand for an English-language education beyond the Anglo-American School, which has been constrained by lack of space. Other foreign schools also report a steadily growing demand for places.

At the German School, where three grades have recently been added, headmaster J--rgen Hackenberg hopes to begin construction next year on an expansion to the school's southern Moscow facility that would allow the school to grow from 400 to 500 students. And, as a way of guaranteeing German children places, Hackenberg said the school is likely eventually to exclude students who are not German citizens.

The Japanese School, which takes only Japanese students, grew from 125 pupils in the last school year to 148 this year.

While growth appears steady across the spectrum of foreign schools, the shortage of classroom seats seems most acute in those serving the English-speaking community.

The situation has improved considerably since April, however, when Nord Anglia Education plc opened the British International School in a renovated kindergarten on Ulitsa Bolshaya Akademichiskaya, and later leased another kindergarten nearby. "Clearly there was an enormous demand for good-quality British education in Moscow," said Trevor Wilson, education officer for the British-based Nord Anglia which has invested almost $800,000 in the project so far. "We had anticipated about 175 students at the beginning of the school year and we have 250."

The Anglo-American School, too, is planning to expand. The school, run under the authority of the American, Canadian and British embassies, would more than triple in size to 1,800 students under the expansion plan. After a July meeting with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov is helping in the search for a suitable plot of land or building, said the school's headmaster Kenneth Wrye.

Through a $2,500 a year seat fee, the school has a fund of some $3 million for a building. Wrye said it is difficult for school officials to predict whether the new school could accommodate all potential students.

"You'd have to build the school, open the doors and see what happens -- to see if the situation stabilizes," said Wrye. "We assume that the growth will continue, but that's an assumption, only an assumption."

Asked if the construction of an 1,800-student school was a gamble, Marc Winer, a member of the school's board of directors and head of Moscow's three McDonald's restaurants, said: "Not in my opinion. In our business we see practically linear economic development."

Part of the problem is that no one seems to have a clear picture of the number of expatriates in Moscow. As the German headmaster Hackenberg said when asked about the number of German nationals, "Maybe 3,000 or 4,000. I really don't know. Ask the KGB."

Even at the British International School, where considerable research preceded the investment, headmaster Searle said, "The one thing we don't know is the future of the school. The company that owns the school has to tip-toe softly, having invested a lot of money really on a hunch that a school like this is needed."

Ultimately, filling that need will strengthen Moscow's business community by making it a more attractive place for expatriates to live.

"I know of a number of cases where good employees of companies decided not to come to Moscow because there was not a grade or the classrooms were overcrowded," said Winer, who has a daughter in the 12th grade.

Were it not for the addition this year of a 12th grade at the Anglo-American School, Winer said his family would have been faced with the difficult decision of where to send his daughter for her final year.

"I personally think that's awful to have the family separated like that," said Winer, a Moscow resident for 5 1/2 years.

The existence of the British International School has already helped to make Moscow a more hospitable environment, according to parents there.

"Education is one of the prime considerations when people come out here," said Sue Jameson, a British television journalist whose nine-year-old son attends the school. "Five years ago you might have had to turn the posting down simply because there was not an alternative if you couldn't get a spot at the Anglo-American School. It makes a huge difference."

Over a year ago, Jameson and a group of parents dissatisfied with the Anglo-American School enrolled their children in the Moscow International School. The school had a tumultuous first year, changing buildings twice and firing its founder and director before being folded into the British International School in April.

The school's base fees are comparable with the Anglo-American School's, but are considerably lower when the $2,500 annual seat fee at the Anglo-American School is taken into account. Parents of students in Year 11, the final year, at the British International School pay $8,000, while the tuition for a 12th grader at the Anglo-American School is $8,200.

Jameson also praised the British International School for the presence of Russian students, a group excluded for now at the Anglo-American School because of a lack of space and a mandate to serve foreigners first.

"I'm very happy that Russian children can go to it," said Jameson. "Yes, you have to be quite well off, but still they are there. It is a healthier environment when you have the resident nationality. I think it better reflects what is happening here in Moscow."