‘Unprecedented’: a word that has certainly received a lot of airtime over the last year. Schools around the world have had to make fundamental changes to the way in which they operate and serve their communities. Whether that be moving to online/hybrid learning, running recruitment processes virtually, ensuring staff are fully equipped and supported to teach/lead from home, or integrating robust new health and safety measures onsite.
Organisations that serve and support schools have also had to make significant adjustments. The Council of British International Schools (COBIS) is one such organisation. As the leading membership body representing over 250 British International Schools around the globe, COBIS is keenly aware of the challenges its members are facing due to the ongoing pandemic, and the commitment of all members to maintain high standards for pupils.
As the primary route to COBIS membership, this scheme is an internationally recognised mark of quality, supporting British international schools worldwide through professional partnerships. Rooted in long term school improvement, it’s not an inspection regime, nor a one-off snapshot. It’s based on external validation of evidence provided by schools and supported throughout the process by dialogue with Lead Improvement Partners (LIPs). These are like-minded, supportive professionals with first-hand experience of British international school leadership.
“The accreditation process provides schools with a rigorous self-reflection exercise, and also conveys a hallmark of quality for those who are successful.”
Some schools opt, initially, for Compliance only while others choose the full Accreditation which looks at a broad range of aspects of school life. The accreditation process provides schools with a rigorous self-reflection exercise, and also conveys a hallmark of quality for those who are successful.
And in the highly competitive world of British international education, the need for recognised accreditation has never been greater. Discerning parents (and increasingly students) expect it; and many schools see it as essential.
Over 150 schools around the world have either completed or registered for Patron’s Accreditation or Compliance, and the programme is now well-established and trusted.
“The COBIS team meets with school leadership over several months, helping the school to prepare for a successful process and building trust.”
Of course, an essential element of the process is the school visit. This allows the LIP to see a school in action, view relevant policy documents, speak to staff and pupils and give initial feedback. However, as travel bans began to sweep the globe back in February 2020, COBIS was forced to postpone a number of these scheduled visits, which was disappointing for all involved, particularly those schools who had been working tirelessly to prepare.
At that point, COBIS recognised that we needed to adapt to the new circumstances. Therefore, our accreditation team worked closely with an expert team of Lead Improvement Partners and school leaders to develop and pilot virtual Compliance and Accreditation visits.
These virtual visits are hosted over a series of days, using video meetings and live video feeds (nothing is recorded or retained). The COBIS team meets with school leadership in the lead-up to the visit over several months, helping the school to prepare for a successful process and building trust.
Video meetings are held during the week of the virtual visit with various members of the school community, including students and parents. Live feeds, guided by staff responsible, enable the team to gather and analyse evidence around aspects such as health and safety, security, supervision, learning and teaching and co-curricular activities.
“The feedback from the early pilots of virtual visits has been tremendous.”
To ensure these virtual quality assurance visits are as thorough and robust as their in-person counterparts, COBIS has assigned two LIPs to each of the pilots, instead of one. Schools benefit from the additional expertise and support through the process and COBIS can evaluate and refine its remote visit practice.
Not all schools going through the process would be eligible for this virtual option, and COBIS has developed clear qualifying criteria for these pilot schools.
Since the launch of this pilot programme in November, the COBIS Accreditation team has carried out seven virtual visits (with a further 18 scheduled before June) with schools that include Marlborough College Malaysia, Rugby School, Thailand and Brighton College, Dubai. The feedback from the early pilots has been tremendous, with Dave Strudwick, principal of REAL School Budapest saying: “We found the whole approach, including the online meetings and tours, to be so helpful for us developmentally.”
“By conducting a virtual compliance visit, COBIS have bravely adapted their process to the changing circumstances in the world – just like what our learners will need to do as a core skill,” added Barna Baráth, the school’s founder.
Ultimately, COBIS Patron’s Accreditation and Compliance is about raising standards and helping our schools to be safe, secure and exciting places for staff and students, and this pivot to online has enabled COBIS to continue to provide this support.