International schools leave body as standards overhauled

Council of British International Schools says more rigorous accreditation scheme aims to deliver 'long-term improvement'

Helen Ward

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Membership of a major international schools association has dropped by 6 per cent after the introduction of tougher quality assurance standards.

The Council of British International Schools (Cobis), which describes itself as the “premier global membership association for British international schools” had 259 school members in 2018, compared with 276 in 2017.

Cobis says it introduced new accreditation standards in 2017 and while schools were encouraged to work towards accreditation, some decided not to. Some schools have also ceased paying membership fees.

The numbers were included in the association’s annual survey, published today, which also reveals that school-leavers from British international schools were less likely to choose to study at a UK university in 2018 than in 2017.

The Cobis standards include: making sure the school’s recruitment process is fair and transparent, that the school provides a pastoral structure that meets the needs of all students, and that a British ethos is apparent and important to the school, with reference to British values, freedoms and culture as far as it is permissible within the context of the host country.

Colin Bell, CEO of Cobis, said: “The Cobis Patron’s accreditation scheme is designed to deliver long-term school improvement for British international schools.

"Feedback from schools that have already been through the scheme has been very positive, and we have a strong pipeline of schools who are preparing to pursue accreditation or compliance in order to become Cobis members. This process takes at least six months from the point of initial registration.

“If schools are found not to be compliant with any components of the rigorous standards, Cobis works to support them to work towards and make necessary improvements to enable them to be awarded either the internationally recognised Cobis Patron’s accreditation or compliance status.”

“In certain cases, however, schools that have reached their mandatory QA [quality assurance] date have made the choice not to pursue accreditation and are therefore no longer in membership.”

'Rigorous quality assurance'

There are 25 standards schools must meet to show compliance and therefore be eligible for member status. A further 15 (of which six are optional) must be met to reach the higher Patron’s accreditation standard. Schools can also be Cobis members if they have completed a Department for Education's British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection. Schools are validated on a five-year cycle.

Mr Bell added: “Cobis has long advocated the importance of rigorous quality assurance within the international education sector. The current BSO inspection system appears to be in retreat – particularly in some parts of the world.

"The Cobis Patron’s accreditation and compliance system provides an alternative, designed to fully meet a diverse range of needs in this growing and flourishing sector.”

There have been concerns expressed from some schools about the BSO system which updated its standards in September 2017, because they are required to encourage respect for people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act, and these characteristics include sexual orientation. This has caused difficulties for schools in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

There were 9,549 international schools in May 2018, according to ISC Research which provides data on English-medium international schools. ISC Research also reveals that 3,586 schools used the UK curriculum in 2018.

ISC Research found that 15 British international schools opened in 2018, partly due to a rise in the number of British independent schools such as Wellington College and King’s College School, Wimbledon, which are opening “sister schools” overseas, particularly in China.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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