Why we've been offering virtual school accreditation

COBIS quickly moved its accreditation services for international schools online to provide support, says Colin Bell
25th November 2020, 12:55pm


Why we've been offering virtual school accreditation

Coronavirus: Cobis Has Been Offering Virtual Accreditation For International Schools This Year, Says Colin Bell

Of all the things British international schools have had to face this year, going through an accreditation or inspection process may have seemed like the last thing they needed.

And yet, schools in various parts of the world have made it clear that despite the recent challenges, there continues to be an appetite to engage in meaningful quality assurance and external validation.

After all, international schools have risen admirably to the challenges presented by Covid-19: from remote teaching and learning, continued focus on pupil and staff wellbeing, to strong leadership and governance, and remarkable innovation and resilience from the whole-school communities.

These schools have not been standing still; they are continuing to be committed to school improvement and development, and external accreditation can play an important part in this process.

Virtual accreditation for international schools

This is why we are coming to the end of a pilot project to deliver our Patron's Accreditation and Compliance scheme virtually, which proved a very popular offer.

Perhaps it's no surprise.

Showing current and prospective parents and staff - as well as host country ministries of education, regulators, governors and investors - that your school meets the rigour of COBIS Standards on everything from safeguarding and safer recruitment to student welfare, governance, learning and teaching and facilities is never a bad thing.

This is why we were clear from early on in the pandemic that we would maintain this work because we could see how important it was that this sort of opportunity existed.

So harnessing the power of technology, our dedicated global team of trained lead improvement partners and peer accreditors have engaged with a range of high-quality schools including Marlborough College Malaysia, Brighton College Dubai, Prior Park School Gibraltar, Panyathip International School Laos and REAL School Budapest.

Refining the process 

We worked quickly to reorganise how we could carry out these accreditations remotely, such as organising interviews with teachers, senior leaders, parents and students online.

We also conduct live feed, remote tours of school campuses, allowing us to ask the person hosting the tour to take us where we want to go and to ensure that we can assess facilities almost as well as if we were there in person.

So, while the mouth-watering aromas of the school dining hall were denied us, we can still see the food hygiene certificates and examine Covid protocols in action.

Overall, testing our methodology in terms of school size, structure, phase and location has been really important to get the pace and balance of the new process right.   

Global challenges 

Doing all this remotely may sound easier than having to travel across the world, but far from it.

Time zone differences can mean that lead improvement partners and peer accreditors conducting these accreditation visits are doing so at unsociable hours.

Plus, organising interviews with a variety of stakeholders and securing relevant filming permissions can be time-consuming and not without challenges of connectivity.

But the pilot has shown that it can be achieved and that it is something that schools are keen to continue with and adopt.

No alternatives? 

Looking ahead, I imagine we will keep many of the new ways of accrediting that we have established.

Of course, while we are a not-for-profit organisation, accreditation is part of our core services and income, so perhaps it is no surprise we have found ways to deliver it in an alternative way.

However, what is notable is that if we had stopped doing this there would be no other specific accreditation service for British international schools to turn to as the Department for Education's own inspection system for British schools overseas is currently suspended.

This is a quality assurance system that COBIS also recognises as a route to COBIS membership.

I appreciate that there is a lot for the DfE to focus on right now, but I worry the message it sends is not a positive one when it comes to recognising innovation or demonstrating how it prioritises its focus on British international schools.

This is particularly of importance when you consider some international schools in countries like Romania and the Czech Republic which are required to have completed a successful DfE inspection to continue to operate.

The cessation of this scheme could potentially make them less attractive to current and prospective parents and threaten the stability of fee income that comes with them.

In the interests of ensuring that British international schools the world over have a choice of accreditation processes open to them, and meet local regulatory requirements, the hope will be that the DfE inspection service returns in due course.

Until then, for British international schools, we will continue to offer our services to help provide the reassurances that parents, students, staff and governors, plus host country regulators and ministries of education worldwide, require.

Colin Bell is CEO of the Council of British International Schools

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