School accreditations - key info
How do you know you're choosing a well-run school? What do the logos tell you? Chris FitzGerald, principal at the English International School, Moscow South-West, gives Winter's readers the facts they need...
There's an awful lot involved in choosing the right school for your child, and there's a great deal of advice available about what to do and ask as you narrow down your search. Of course it's very important that as parents you like the school – the atmosphere, the location, facilities and curriculum, not to mention the Head, staff and pupils you meet when you visit. But there's another really important question to ask: what's the school doing to ensure that it's always developing and improving? This is where you need to look at a school's memberships and accreditations.
In recent years overseas schools have become keen to display the logos of organisations they belong to or have relationships with. This includes exam boards, such as those that oversee IGCSEs and A Levels, and all schools that follow the International Baccalaureate (IB), for example, at whatever level, will display that organisation’s logo.
But there are many other organisations whose logos schools can display in order to show there is some affinity or affiliation.
"The COBIS or CIS logo that a school is entitled to display depends on what status the school has..."
Two of the most significant organisations are COBIS (Council of British International Schools) and CIS (Council of International Schools). Schools which belong to either or both of these organisations are found all over the world. The COBIS or CIS logo that a school is entitled to display depends on what status the school has. The first step is usually becoming a member, after which schools are expected to move forward by going through an accreditation process.
To become a member of COBIS a school must have completed a successful inspection, or satisfied COBIS about its credentials and its commitment to undergoing an inspection. Schools must submit a range of documents including their current child protection policy, school development plan and various others which together demonstrate the school's commitment to the organisation's values.
COBIS has recently upgraded its system so that from April 2017, schools which apply for membership will need to complete COBIS Compliance, which will allow them to retain COBIS membership status for five years.
After four and a half years, a school will have six months to prepare for their next COBIS Compliance in order to retain membership, or to go for the COBIS Patron’s Accreditation. COBIS describes its compliance and accreditation model as being a “Quality Accreditation Scheme for British international schools overseas”.
Once awarded, the school has accredited status for five years before having to re-submit for their next Patron’s Accreditation. COBIS states that one of the key differences of the Patron’s Accreditation is that schools have an element of autonomy to select the areas to evaluate in line with their development objectives.
Schools which are members of CIS will have already received a two-day visit from one of the 24 full-time School Support and Evaluation officials from CIS as part of the membership process, in addition to providing a range of documents as in the COBIS model. On being accepted into membership of CIS the school is declaring its commitment to school improvement through the accreditation process.
Schools taking part in CIS accreditation are judged against their own Guiding Principles and the CIS Standards of Accreditation. The actual process involves a number of educators from other schools and countries spending nearly a week visiting classes, inspecting documents, checking standards of safety and looking at how the school provides for its pupils. They also spend time talking with board members, parents, staff and students in order to see that the school meets the accreditation standards. In effect, the evaluators are verifying what the school has reported in its own self-study, which was completed prior to the evaluation team arriving.
CIS is currently in its 8th Edition of the Accreditation Standards, but is phasing in the 2016 Protocol – a five-year cycle of school improvement through accreditation. One striking feature of the new protocol is that there are approximately 20 accreditation standards – core standards – all of which have to be met before accreditation can be awarded.
"Accreditation demonstrates to the school community the desire of that school to improve and develop."
In both systems the peer visitors – those who come into schools to assist in the evaluation process – are usually trained by their respective organisations in their accreditation procedures, and both organisations make reference to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and accepted good practice around the world.
The COBIS model, as one might expect, encompasses British values with “sensitivity to the local cultural context”. CIS, meanwhile, has a greater emphasis on the development of intercultural learning and global citizenship.
"In the end, a school’s memberships and accreditations should just be one part of the decision about which school is best for your children."
Accreditation demonstrates to the school community the desire of that school to improve and develop. So in addition to COBIS and CIS, there are numerous other models of accreditation. These include North American regional accreditation agencies, such as NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) and WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges). Other curriculum organisations include the IBO (International Baccalaureate) and the IPC (International Primary Curriculum). There are also regional associations of schools such as BSME (British Schools in the Middle East), and those where national identity is stressed like the BSO (British Schools Overseas).
CIS, in particular, has developed relationships with a number of different organisations, so it is possible for there to be joint accreditations with several of the North American regional accrediting agencies, government regulatory bodies in Thailand and China, curriculum regulatory bodies and others.
In the end, a school’s memberships and accreditations should just be one part of the decision about which school is best for your children. There are so many other factors which are probably more important. However, it's often said that schools don't stand still and either get better or worse. So parents who want to be sure that a school is seeking to improve can get a good idea from its commitment to external scrutiny via accreditation. Look out for the logos.
Top image: International School Ho Chi Minh City - American Academy (accredited by NEASC).