For many of our clients, one of the trickiest areas of education benefits policy writing seems to be around preschool, and we are often asked for input as they decide at what age they should begin providing support for children on assignment. The first question is really how to define preschool since school is technically preschool if it exists before regular school. Often, our clients are focused on a particular country, and they begin discussion with us by asking the age at which children are legally required to be enrolled in school in that location; in essence, what is the age when children must be in school, because perhaps that is the age when they, as a company, will begin to offer schooling support.
In such instances, our advice is to be careful of the “legally required to be in school” approach to policy because, as we know, what is typical or what I like to call a “cultural norm” can be very different from the bare minimum required by law; and it’s in the gap between what is legally required and what is culturally typical that assignee upset and dissatisfaction fester.
Take the US as an example. In the US, the official start of publicly provided education is Kindergarten, when children are five years old. This is much later than when children in other countries have access to state-provided education, and assignees relocating to the US are often horrified to discover that their children, who have been in public school for two years in home country, still don’t even meet the age cut-off for US Kindergarten.
That said, we all know that in the US, the vast majority of children go to school, part-time or full -time, long before Kindergarten. Especially for professional families who can afford fuller, more “academic” programs, the fact that Kindergarten doesn’t start until five years old has little bearing on when their children actually begin their formal education.
Nothing is more sensitive to international assignees than the welfare of their children, and knowing that their children will receive a good education while on assignment is often what balances an assignee’s concern over uprooting and relocating them.
Ideally, preschool policy is a natural outgrowth of company philosophy and culture; it makes more sense and is easier to apply when based on something broader, something more coherent and compelling than the semantics of what is often an irrelevant legal detail.
Elizabeth Sawyer, CEO
Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.