There is an awful lot involved in choosing the right school for your child. And, there is much advice available about what to do and ask as you narrow down your search.
Of course, it is essential that as parents you like the school – the atmosphere, the location, facilities, and curriculum not to mention the Head, staff, and pupils. One area not to be missed is: what does the school do to ensure it is continually developing and improving? For this, parents need to consider and examine the favored school’s Memberships and Accreditations.
In recent years, schools in Vientiane have become somewhat fond of displaying logos of the organizations to which they belong or have a relationship. Exam Boards are particularly crucial for schools where their students take IGCSEs or ‘A’ Levels. Furthermore, all schools which follow the International Baccalaureate (IB), for example, at whatever level will display that organization’s logo. There is a myriad of other organizations whose logos schools can display to show there is some affinity or affiliation. Some organizations are tailored towards regional affinities and others more global.
Two of the most significant for international schools will be those belonging to COBIS (Council of British International Schools) the Premier Global Association for British International Schools and CIS (Council of International Schools). One other significant organization for British International Schools in this region is FOBISIA (The Federation of British International Schools in Asia). Schools that belong to any of these organizations are found in South East Asia and around the world. In particular, the COBIS or CIS logo that a school is entitled to present depends on what status the school has. The first step for any school is to become a member after which schools should move forward by going through an Accreditation process.
Typically the route to membership and accreditation involves an external validation of the school involving educators from other schools and countries arriving at the school. These educators will spend up to a week visiting classes, inspecting documents, checking standards of safety, and looking at how the school provides for its pupils. Moreover, there will be talks with Board members, parents, staff, and students to see that the school meets the Membership and Accreditation Standards. During this period when visits to schools are not possible due to travel restrictions both COBIS and CIS have developed robust online/virtual visits to ensure that quality standards are being maintained.
In other words, in order to achieve membership and/or accreditation of COBIS, CIS and FOBISA, it is essential that schools can demonstrate that robust recruitment practices including background checks are in place and those essential procedures to ensure child safety are at the heart of all school practices.
To be a member of COBIS, the school has demonstrated a level of quality by successfully completing COBIS Compliance where in the months before visiting the school for three days, the COBIS lead Improvement Partner (a highly qualified and experienced educator) will examine documentation, have online meetings with key stakeholders and prepare to verify everything with an onsite (or online) visit. Schools also have to submit relevant documents including their current child protection policy, school development plan and various others which demonstrate the school’s commitment to quality.
COBIS describes its compliance and accreditation model as being a “Quality Accreditation Scheme for British international schools overseas”. Schools that apply for membership will need to complete COBIS Compliance which will allow them to retain COBIS membership status for five years. After four and half years a school will have six months to prepare for their next COBIS Compliance to retain membership or to go for the COBIS Patron’s Accreditation.
Once awarded the school has Patron’s Accredited status for five years before having to re-submit for their next Accreditation. COBIS states that the value of its Compliance Membership and Patron’s Accreditation is the External Validation and the detailed quality report. It includes a detailed report which declares both the school’s compliance with the high standards, a statement of quality, and an action plan to support the school’s internal work and ongoing development and improvement.
With CIS, members schools will receive a two-day visit from one of CIS’s 24 full-time School Support and Evaluation officials as part of the membership process, in addition to providing a range of documents as in the COBIS model. On being accepted into Membership of CIS, the school is, in effect, publically declaring it is committed to school improvement through their Accreditation process.
CIS Accreditation judge Schools against their own Guiding Principles and the CIS Standards of Accreditation. The process involves several educators from other schools and countries arriving at the school to be accredited. These educators will spend nearly a week visiting classes, inspecting documents, checking standards of safety, and looking at how the school provides for its pupils. Moreover, there will be talks with Board members, parents, staff and students to see that the school meets the Accreditation Standards.
In both systems, the peer visitors – those who come into schools to assist in the evaluation process – are usually trained by their respective organizations in their Accreditation procedures. Both organizations refer to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and accepted good practice from the world. A huge strength that both COBIS and CIS shares, is that those schools which reach Compliance or become Accredited are required to produce an Annual Report as part of the process to evaluate whether schools are addressing and acting on issues – failure to show development could result in the removal of Compliance Membership and Accreditation.
The COBIS model, as one might expect, encompasses British values with “sensitivity to the local cultural context”. CIS, meanwhile, has a greater emphasis on the development of intercultural learning and global citizenship. Finally, FOBISIA incorporates “student enrichment and professional development within the region”.
In Laos, Panyathip is the first and only FOBISIA and COBIS Member and is firmly committed to full COBIS Accreditation, whilst VIS is the only CIS Accredited school in Laos, but in the end, a school’s memberships and accreditations should be only one part of deciding which school is best for your children. There are so many other factors which are probably more important.
Many would say that schools either get better or worse, they do not standstill. Parents should make sure the school they are considering is committed to improving and are open to external scrutiny via Accreditation that it is doing precisely that. Look out for the logos and understand what they represent.
Teacher Chris is currently Managing Director of Panyathip International School – the British International School in Laos. Since 2017 he ensured that PIS met the standards to join FOBISIA (The Federation of British International Schools in Asia) and subsequently COBIS Compliance. Teacher Chris has been an evaluator of schools in his spare time for CIS for nearly 20 years. As well as Chairing Evaluation Teams he is also a Facilitator for CIS – helping to train teachers to become qualified as CIS Evaluators.