How do you conduct quality assurance of an international school group during lockdown?
We often use familial terms when describing the relationship between schools in a group. We talk about the “mothership” and “sister” schools, and we welcome staff into the family when they join us.
At the heart of any school quality assurance framework is the reinforcement of such family ties, and like a family, we want to make sure that none of the members are becoming wayward, making decisions which will cause them to move away from the others.
NLCS International takes this family connection between our schools very seriously. Our aim is to ensure that, wherever in the world our schools operate, they share the same fundamental ethos and values as NLCS UK.
This is not to say that we expect all our schools to be clones of one another, and a brief glance at their most basic characteristics quickly dispels this belief: whilst the London school is a girls’ day school, we have co-ed, diamond model, boarding and day schools offering a variety of different qualifications.
What we do expect from our schools is that whilst differing in location, structure and qualifications, a student and their family, or a staff member, could transfer between any of our schools and instantly know that they were in an organisation working to the same fundamental educational principles.
“Quality assurance goes well beyond the inspection.”
Realising a group-wide ethos in action is not easily achieved and we invest a significant amount of time and energy into ensuring that this aspiration is a reality for everyone in the community.
For us, quality assurance goes well beyond the occasional inspection. To start with, whilst they are physically separated, we make sure that our schools are not remote from one another.
From weekly contact with all of our principals, to formal academic board meetings where the principals convene to discuss educational matters, we try to ensure that our school leaders maintain a dialogue with us and with each other.
NLCS International is involved in the recruitment of all teaching staff, and to training all new staff in London before they take up post. In this way, whichever school our staff are working in, they have had the opportunity to spend time seeing our ethos in action at its origin.
“How can we we maintain our shared consciousness?”
This is followed up with a rigorous induction programme in all of our individual schools and further reinforced with ongoing CPD opportunities.
We visit all of our schools at least annually, to carry out either a full inspection or a monitoring visit. New schools will, in the normal course of things, receive three visits in their first year of operation.
The emergence of Covid-19 in 2020 has separated us from one another in the same way as families all over the world have been separated from loved ones. So, in these strangest of times, with our schools closed and our teams unable to travel, how can we make sure that we maintain our shared consciousness about what matters in education?
We first experienced a wave of shutdowns in our schools as the virus reached different countries, followed (we hope) by a wave of re-opening activity. Whilst this meant that one of our schools was always destined to be leading the way, our ability to share information at all levels about how to manage lockdown became invaluable.
Our links between the schools, our subject departments and our students have been maintained (and in some cases enhanced), even when it has been conducted from kitchen tables rather than classrooms and offices.
In addition, we maintained involvement in school recruitment activity and offered NLCS UK-led training to all of our new joiners this June. As with our student experience, we migrated this training to an online platform, with the added challenge of co-ordinating 115 participants spread over time zones from western Canada to New Zealand.
Of course, we couldn’t replicate the full experience of a three-day residential visit to the UK but coupled with the strong induction programmes in our international settings in the coming weeks, we are confident that our new staff will be well-prepared for life at an NLCS school. Governance has continued too, as of course it must, but with some obvious concessions to practicalities: whole-day meetings (which are most efficient when meeting face to face) have not been possible, replaced by convening for shorter, more frequent sessions.
“A four-day inspection visit is not a practical solution.”
So, what of inspection visits? Here, we are still working through the challenges. Currently, visits to our schools would require a combination of special dispensation to travel, Covid-19 tests and up to one month of quarantine.
Clearly, for a four-day inspection visit this is not a practical solution and this situation is unlikely to change in the short to medium term, so we need to continue to think creatively about what’s reasonable and achievable. Yet I hope that you have gathered from this overview of our activity, we see inspection as being just one facet of quality assurance.
We know therefore that quality assurance activity will continue in its many forms over the coming year, and quite possibly in innovative ways which will eventually enhance our future practice.
However, in the same way that the early celebrations of online schooling as “the future of education” were replaced with the realisation that face to face contact is essential for the wellbeing our students and teachers, we know that ultimately we would hope to return to in-person visits between our schools to reinforce our connections…socially distanced and appropriately masked, of course.