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Malaysia: What is a 'Tier 1' School?

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

We often get asked questions like, 'What are the top tier international schools in Kuala Lumpur?' or hear statements like 'We really don't want [our child] to attend a second or third tier school, if possible.'

But what does that mean? What is a 'tier'?

Educators and parents often use the idea of tiers (Tier 1 being the best, Tier 2 being 'pretty good' and Tier 3 being not-very-good-at-all) when talking about international schools.

When international teachers talk about a 'Tier 1' school, they are often referring to a school that:

- Has consistently excellent academic results, including strong value-added results.

- Has excellent facilities.

- Boasts a strong international reputation for academic excellence.

- Pays well and looks after their staff. As a result, staff are generally stay a long time (i.e. there is low turnover, which is a really good thing) and teaching jobs at these schools are extremely competitive. Top-tier schools often receive hundreds, if not thousands, of application for every advertised position - so they really get their 'pick of the litter' when it comes to hiring teachers.

- Offers outstanding professional development opportunities.

Due to the constant investment in teaching and learning, 'Tier 1' schools tend to be the most expensive (though not always.)

By contrast, some features of a 'Tier 3' school might include:

- A high turnover of staff due to one or more of the following: poor renumeration and/or benefits; poor teaching conditions (think heavy teaching timetables, a lack of management support, high pressure); dishonesty during the recruitment process; a lack of support during the staff induction process.

- Poor facilities and resourcing

- A lack of expert knowledge and experience amongst the staff, and a lack of high-quality professional development

Tier 3 schools tend to be the cheapest - though, again, not always!

As you will probably have picked up, this 'tier' terminology is a somewhat biased approach to labelling schools. The International Schools Review (ISR) site put it succinctly when they point out,

"There is no master list, or even a universally agreed upon criteria, for Tier-ranking International Schools. Even if there were such a list under development, it’s doubtful teachers could reach a definitive consensus. Depending on personal priorities, the attributes of a Tier-1 school vary considerably from teacher to teacher, making it virtually impossible to set a standard by which all International Schools are measured."

You can read more from teachers about the tier ranking system by clicking here.


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