How are dads different? – choosing international schools

31/01/2020 By Piers Lee

Parental dynamics are changing. More couples than ever before jointly share the burden of earning, managing the household and child-rearing.

This trend also plays out in our international schools parents’ survey. 67% of respondents claimed their decisions on schooling were made equally between both parents.

For now, mothers still tend to be the ‘main decision-maker’ in choosing international schools for their children.  24% felt that the decisions were more the mother’s, versus 9% stating it was more the father’s decision. The remaining majority (67%) said decisions were made jointly.

Schools confirm this female lead in the decision process: mothers are far more likely to attend their school tours, than fathers.

Among the dads who took part in our survey, rather more stated they were the ‘main decision-maker’ on schooling (46%) with 54% stating it was a joint decision with their wife.  Among mothers, only a third stated that they were the main decision-maker.

Fathers are also more likely to shoulder the burden of school fees.  48% of fathers pay the international school fees, versus 11% of mothers, with the remainder saying fees were covered by both parents. That said, more expatriate mothers are working and contributing to the payment of school fees since two years ago.

So what should international schools know about how fathers’ opinions differ on schooling?
The consideration set
Fathers are actually less knowledgeable of the range of schools available to their children.  They are less aware of the choices of international schools in Singapore, (only 10 schools versus 14 for mothers).  And what’s more, fathers are only familiar with an average of four schools (e.g. have visited the schools or know a bit about them from other parents), versus an average of five among mothers.

The number of different schools fathers and mothers actually considered is similar (three schools on average). And fathers and mothers are equally aware of advertising from international schools, although mothers recall a wider range of schools being advertised.
Reasons for picking a school
We looked at how fathers and mothers decide which international school is best for them.  The main areas of difference are:

Fathers place more importance on:

  • The recruitment criteria for teaching staff
  • More of a structured learning style, particularly for Primary years (which goes against the preference for more structure for Secondary years among all parents)
  • Schools being academically selective (a very stark difference compared to mothers)
  • Less likely to reject faith-based schools and single gender schools (although on balance, most would rather have no-faith and mixed gender schools)
  • They are more supportive of the teaching of controversial subjects like transgender issues, atheism, and political subjects

Mothers place more importance on:

  • Feedback from other parents on schools
  • The level of care and individual attention a school gives to the child
  • Emphasis on discovery-based learning as a means of evaluating the quality of a teacher
  • Teaching of Chinese language

But there are similarities too. Fathers and mothers agree on desired curriculum, e.g. preference of International Baccalaureate including across the range of school years, as well as for UK and US curricular.

Notably there are considerable variations in preference for the various international schools in Singapore, with mothers and fathers giving very different ratings for individual schools in the market.

One area we have not covered in the survey, is how these differences get resolved. Perhaps a topic for further research!
How schools can reach fathers
If you want to reach out more to fathers, the best way of doing this is via digital rather than offline (e.g. print / outdoor).  They are more likely to recall adverts in digital news media and general search. Although mothers are far more likely to see adverts through social media.  Fathers are also more likely to recall international schools through country and sports clubs, and chambers of commerce and associations.
What’s next?
For more information on this study, and other BVA BDRC research into the international schools market, please contact Piers Lee - or complete the form below.

Further notes on the 2019 survey

The mothers and fathers in our survey had about the same number of children attending international schools, but fewer fathers were from Western expat families.  Mothers were more recent arrivals to Singapore, fathers more established.  Fathers were more likely to cover the costs of school fees themselves with fewer having these fees paid for by their employer.  Somewhat fewer mothers (as respondents to this survey) were working (29% versus 19% stated by the fathers answering the survey), but the type of employer was similar between fathers and mothers.