About your guide Over the past few years we have reported on pupils helping to build houses on the mainland, refurbishing an old school in Laos, trekking to a leprosy colony way up in the Himalayas, joining a famous adventurer in New Zealand and doing their bit for the environment, both at the G8 conference in Kobe, Japan, and in an eco-garden in Hong Kong. What, you may ask, has all this to do with the Good Schools Guide? The answer is: everything. All parents want the best for their children and it goes without saying that for many, this means securing a thorough basic schooling to set them up for life, with the aim of getting a good job and salary with solid prospects, or a ticket to university. The endeavour requires dedication to the student work ethic; swotting, burning the midnight oil and exam stress. For others, though, there is much more to education than that. The fact is that knowledge itself is only half the story. The curriculum is vital but it is not everything. There is much more to learning than absorbing facts. Education is about human development, learning to live in an increasingly internationalised world. Extra-curricular activities and student empowerment often pose the individual challenge that the timetable doesn't. It is the difference between simply educating children to do well and pass exams and producing lateral-thinking, imaginative, courageous and confident youngsters for whom the world at large is an opportunity rather than a challenge. These are the aspects of education that are worth those considerable extra dollars - 'you pays your money, you takes your choice', as the old saying goes. But bear in mind that just because you're paying the extra money there is no guarantee you're getting the creative best. To make sure you are, you have to research schools and ask probing questions to be sure the environment you're sending your children into is the best one for both their abilities and your expectations. Some children, for example, may not benefit from the rigorous demands of the International Baccalaureate, others may thrive on it. Some schools may have a great academic reputation, but do they focus on creativity? Do schools foster a culture of inquiry and lateral thinking? Do they have student councils? Do they value pupils' views enough to allow them to have a say in the running of their school, perhaps even in the hiring of teachers? Government reforms of the curriculum in the local school system are designed to give pupils an 'all-round' education and move away from an exam culture. It's easier said than done in any system. Although many international schools embrace the same aim, it takes expertise and inspiring, creative teachers to turn the buzz phrase into meaningful reality. Choosing a school for your children will be one of the most important decisions you make on their behalf. It could make them or break them; it will definitely shape them. Whether you send your child into an English Schools Foundation, private independent, Direct Subsidy Scheme or local school will depend partly on your budget and partly both on your children's ideas of who they want to be when they leave school and your dreams for them. You have to speculate to educate, one of the headlines in this publication says. It sums up that education is an investment in life, and this guide is aimed at parents who, in seeking the best for their children, choose the fee-paying option. You only have one go at schooling - getting it right has never been more important.