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Setting Standards, Improving Schools - How accreditation drives quality in international education
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6th Apr, 2009 | Source : Kevin Bartlett & Richard Tangye

Just how good are international schools? In the absence of national systems of school evaluation, how do we measure current quality while ensuring that international schools are continuously improving? These questions lie at the heart of a well-established system for school evaluation and improvement: the Accreditation Service managed by The Council of International Schools (CIS).

CIS is a membership organization currently serving over 500 schools worldwide, of which 335 are engaged in the Accreditation programme. This global programme has its historical roots in the US, where major regional accrediting agencies manage the quality assurance of tens of thousands of schools and colleges. CIS works in collaborative partnership with these agencies, notably the respective Associations of New England, The Middle States, The Southern and the Western States, frequently collaborating in joint accreditations for schools in different regions of the world.

The Accreditation process itself centers around a set of standards that provide descriptors and indicators of quality for every aspect of a school, from mission, through quality of learning and teaching, to the more 'operational' areas such as finance and facilities.

The Accreditation standards drive a five-stage process that takes place over a ten-year cycle. When a school applies for accredited status it is first visited by a small team that ascertains its readiness to participate with a reasonable expectation of success. The school then embarks upon perhaps the most valuable element in the whole process: the Self-Study. This two-year self-assessment involves representatives of all school stakeholders in evaluating practice against the school's own philosophy and against the Accreditation standards and in developing an analysis of their school's particular strengths, weaknesses and future plans.

The school is then visited by a carefully selected team of peers trained in school evaluation, who spend a week on-site validating the school's Self-Study, collaborating on a Visiting Team Report and developing a recommendation with regard to the school's application for accreditation, or re-accreditation. Following the Accreditation decision, made by the Board of CIS, accredited schools continue with a cycle of improvement that includes a report at the end of the first year, and a report and visit after five years, prior to commencing the cycle again for a further ten years.

This cycle of self and peer assessment based on common standards is so successful that it is not only growing fast within the circle of international schools but also spreading rapidly into national systems. In Australia, for example, 41 national schools are involved in a CIS Accreditation programme jointly managed with the Council of Internationally Accredited Schools Australia (CIASa), a cooperative venture with State Governments. Other state and national systems are showing interest in similar joint ventures.

The Accreditation Service is a vibrant example of how international schools, through membership organizations like CIS, pool expertise and resources to provide services that would normally be provided by national systems. By combining self and peer evaluation with clear standards and effective training for visiting teams, Accreditation combines quality assurance with strategic improvement. All in all, a system that serves international schools well, and a model well worthy of consideration by national education systems.

Kevin Bartlett
Board Chair
The Council of International Schools

Richard Tangye
Executive Director
The Council of International Schools



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