Public education in Thailand is free for Thai nationals up to the age of 13. At this point they need to satisfy academic entrance requirements and begin to prepare for university, which starts for students as young as 16 years old.
To be considered a Thai national, the child must have at least one Thai parent and their birth must have been registered in Thailand. Schools will ask for proof of this in the form of a birth certificate. Children who don't meet these requirements are not usually eligible for free public education in Thailand.
Private bilingual schools are a good option for expat parents who can't afford the high costs associated with international school fees. The standard of some of these institutions has greatly improved over the course of the past decade, and Western-style teaching philosophies which focus on student-centred learning have had more influence in recent years.
The English programmes offered vary between schools, so expat parents should do their research before making a selection. It is also worth bearing in mind that many of these schools are religious, and the curriculum will likely include a value-based learning system which aligns with the school's designated faith.
For families who plan to live in Thailand long-term, these private bilingual schools are often the best option. They offer an opportunity for children to develop closer links to Thai culture and society while still allowing access to a higher standard of education, a wider assortment of extra-curricular activities, and better facilities which are usually associated with private schools.
Most expats in Thailand, especially those only relocating for a short time, choose to send their children to international schools in Thailand. These schools teach in a language and style familiar to children and allow for continuity by providing Western curricula.
These institutions are accredited by external bodies, and it follows that both learning standards and the criteria for hiring teachers are high. Wealthy Thai families often prefer to send their children to these schools, and as a result, it's normal for their student bodies to include a large number of local students too.
International schools in Thailand are almost always well-financed, boast modern facilities, small class sizes and an impressive range of extra-curricular activities.
Although a large variety of international schools can be found in major cities like Bangkok and Pattaya, options are more limited in rural areas. Expat families living in more rural locations should explore boarding options or home-schooling.
The more popular international schools tend to have have long waiting lists and admission may be based on language proficiency and academic achievement. Requirements vary from school to school, but it's always best to start the admissions and enrolment process as early as possible. Fees for international schools in Thailand tend to be high and expats relocating for work should try and negotiate an education allowance into their employment contract.