Would you accredit it?
Why wouldn’t you?
Gary Minnitt, acting Director of Accreditation at the Council of British International Schools looks at why school accreditation is so important and what the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) brings to the table.
An unanswerable case
Why do British international schools choose to invite inspectors, or accreditors through the gate when they don’t have to? The surprising fact is that some don’t.
Evaluation? Inspection? Quality assurance? Call it what you will, in the highly competitive world of British international education, where the ‘brand’ seems to be growing exponentially, the need for some kind of recognised accreditation has never been greater. Discerning parents (and increasingly students) who shop around expect it; schools worth their salt see it as healthily essential.
It is perhaps surprising, even shocking, to discover that some international schools have never been visited by any kind of external verification team. With safeguarding and child protection at the forefront of contemporary approaches to quality assurance, this is also disturbing.
No two schools the same
For serious, reflective schools seeking external reinforcement, there are a number of off-the-peg, reputable and very effective options to choose from.
For those looking for something more tailored, however, the COBIS’s Patron’s Accreditation scheme offers more of a bespoke service rather than ‘one-size-fits all’ approach. We know that no two schools are the same.
Based on best international & UK practice, COBIS Patron’s accreditation standards are unimpeachable and unapologetically high, while recognising that some schools are more developed than others and the context of each place of learning is different from country to country, even region to region.
Because, like students, the needs and development of each school are individual, a differentiated approach to accreditation allows schools to reach our Compliance and Accreditation standards in their own way.
A different approach
So, how is COBIS Patron’s Accreditation different? Over 37 years, I have been on the receiving end of OFSTED, ISI and CIS both as a school leader and as a teacher. I was also an ISI inspector before joining COBIS. From whichever angle you view it, teachers are anxious about the prospect of external evaluation. I also like to believe that teachers get nervous because they want us to see them and their students at their best. It’s professional pride. My experience was mixed. I was once graded a rather unlikely ‘2’ as a History teacher by OFSTED for an extemporised Geography cover lesson on glaciation; I was less impressed by a more recent visit to my classroom, as a teaching Head, where the visitor stayed all of five minutes in a Year 12 lesson. In all cases, I never received any feedback, other than my OFSTED grades.
Feedback and empathy
Paradoxically, in spite of the staff room dread that might keep us awake at night and preparing for lessons that we publicly hope nobody will visit (but secretly hope they do), teachers welcome the opportunity for feedback.
COBIS Accreditation offers feedback on all lessons observed. We see it as a professional courtesy as well as an opportunity to engage teachers in the accreditation process and chat to them about their school, how things work and what makes their learning community special.
Our lead improvement partners and peer accreditors are like-minded professionals with natural empathy who work (or have recently worked) in British international schools like the ones they visit.
Despite such concentration on learning and teaching, our observations are not graded. This is because COBIS Accreditation is not an inspection. Nor is it judgemental. Instead, we verify the evidence provided by the school; digitally, in the five or six months before our visit and then through observation and dialogue, gathered over the two and half days of a visit – yes, that’s right, just two and half days! – against our challenging standards.
Compliance to full level visits
Some schools opt, initially, for Compliance level visit which just involves a visit from one of our Lead Improvement Partners (LIPs). They cover areas around safe recruitment; safeguarding and child protection; student welfare; facilities; governance; and ethos and values – plus boarding where applicable. For full Patron’s Accreditation, which includes Compliance, LIPs lead teams look centrally at Learning and Teaching, Leadership and, optionally, Communication and Extra-Curricular programmes.
A positive, professional working relationship between the LIP and the school is the cornerstone of the COBIS Accreditation approach. This is not a snapshot in time. Nor is our involvement with our schools ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow’. Rather, we stay with each school, with an annual review of progress, for the long haul over 5 years – not including the six-month lead-in to the actual visit – as the school improves and develops.
If at first . . .
What happens if a school does not meet the COBIS standards first time? This happens, but ours is not a pass/fail system. Remember I said this was a differentiated approach. Schools in this position have not ‘failed’; they have just not reached our Compliance Standards – yet.
Schools in this position are given action plans to guide them towards eventually meeting our standards and, in doing so, they become better, safer and more confident institutions for it.
That these standards are worth reaching and, at the same time, difficult to meet, makes each success that much sweeter and gives our schools the confidence and means to reflect, plan ahead and develop with greater knowledge as well as the ringing endorsement that COBIS Compliance and Accreditation brings.
Open ended, but cost effective
COBIS Accreditation, then, is about open-ended partnership; it is rooted in school development; it offers helpful ‘next steps’ rather than issuing grades and pronouncing judgements; and the process is carried out with the school in the context of their own situation rather being than imposed upon it.
One barrier to any external verification is the cost of the process in money and time.
The COBIS model is extremely cost-effective and success brings with it all the benefits of COBIS Member and Patron’s Accredited Member status as well as that five-year partnership with the LIP, through annual reviews, and the COBIS Accreditation Team.
Schools dread the extra burden of preparing for the arrival of an external team. COBIS Compliance and Patron’s Accreditation offers a user-friendly ‘Digital Workbook’ or DWB. All evidence is easily loaded onto the databases against each of the standards and their sub-sections. The LIP leading the visit advises the school about the quality, suitability and, above all, sufficiency of the uploaded evidence. Why over-face visiting accreditors with films and images which make the school look great but often have little relevance to the standards? Accreditors sense the atmosphere of the school the moment they step over the threshold.
So, the scheme is easy to administer; cost effective; sensitive to local contexts and conditions and the appetite from teachers for feedback; aware of the stage of a school’s development; and non-judgemental.
Above all, COBIS Patron’s Accreditation & Compliance is about raising standards and helping schools to be better places of learning rather than holding them to account.
In the end, we are primarily concerned with helping our member schools develop and enhance the conditions which make schools safe, secure and exciting places where children and their teachers learn and thrive.
For more information see – https://www.cobis.org.uk/about-us/the-patrons-accreditation-and-compliance
Council of British International Schools
55-56 Russell Square
T: +44 20 3826 7202
COBIS works in partnership with the UK Department for International Trade and is formally recognised as a ‘Trade Challenge Partner’ and the COBIS Patron’s Accreditation and Compliance scheme is formally recognised by a number of school groups and international school associations which include FOBISIA, AISA and TAISI.
Feature Image: mohamed_hassan – Pixabay
Other Images: SplitShire, geralt – Pixabay