Amongst the criteria parents should consider when looking to enrol their children in an international school are its accreditation(s), authorization(s) and affiliation(s). Broadly speaking, an accreditation is a seal of all-round quality with regard to the education the students receive, an authorization gives approval for the delivery of a particular academic programme, and an affiliation can be equated to the membership of a group with like-minded establishments. But of course, there is more to it than that!
In essence, both accrediting and authorizing bodies are looking to ascertain that a school is in a position not only to deliver an excellent education but that it has the capacity and the means to ensure that the students’ learning experience is maximized. They each have slightly different requirements, but these fall under similar headings. For example, a school must have a clear mission which expresses its educational values end encourages positive, supportive relationships between students, staff and parents. In addition, the school management and leadership must be suitably qualified and experienced, set clear targets for school improvement and staff development, and professionally manage the school’s finances. The suitability of the school premises, satisfactory specialist facilities and the availability of up-to-date resources are also areas in which standards must be satisfied. A school must have approval to operate according to the local guidelines and legal requirements and have in place appropriate operational licences, fundamental health and safety checks and procedures, as well as child safeguarding measures. These factors together provide the foundation upon and framework within which teaching and learning take place. The school curriculum must be clearly mapped out and communicated, taking into account the different needs of the students; outcomes monitored and evaluated through quality and fair assessment procedures that give consideration to the individual learning processes; and a culture of continuous professional development and institutional advancement established.
The most common accreditations to be found among international schools in Switzerland are those delivered by the Council of International Schools (www.cois.org), the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (www.neasc.org) and the Council of British International Schools (www.cobis.org). The accreditation cycle in each case covers five years, and places high demands on the schools and their staff. Such external validation is not simply a matter of compliance with a number of qualitative standards, but rather an encouragement for objective self-reflection, continuous self-improvement and judicious strategic planning. Student learning and well-being is at the heart of the process, as is the development of intercultural awareness and global citizenship. The process is validated by a visiting group of peers from other schools, who spend several days confirming observations using the school’s self-study and making recommendations, as well as commendations, to drive progress. It is important to realize that schools undergo accreditation voluntarily, and are evaluated within their own context, not measured against a generic definition of what constitutes a good school. Not all accredited schools will look or feel the same, but they will have a number of common characteristics, which embody their commitment to the students in their care.
Authorizations also entail rigorous preparation and visits by independent evaluators. A school wishing to deliver one or more components of the high-quality and challenging International Baccalaureate Programme, for example, must apply to the International Baccalaureate Organization (www.ibo.org), requesting to offer the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), the Diploma Programme (DP) and/or the most recently developed Career-related Programme (CP). Schools seeking to become IB World Schools must have been in existence for a number of years and agree to comply with the programme specific requirements. The IBO determines assessment criteria, moderates projects and assignments, and sets externally marked examinations. This allows a consistent level of comparability between students attending IB schools in different countries, and provides universities with a reliable yardstick for evaluating compatibility with their entry requirements. In a similar vein, schools wishing to offer any of the other internationally recognized programmes, must meet the expectations of the organization which oversees their delivery (e.g. the Cambridge International Programmes www.cambridgeinternational.org, or one of Fieldwork Education’s International Curriculums www.fieldworkeducation.com).
Provided they fulfil the membership criteria, opportunities exist in Switzerland for international schools to join organizations such as the Association Vaudoise / Génévoise des Ecoles Privées (AVDEP www.avdep.ch or AGEP www.agep.ch) at the cantonal level, and the Swiss Federation of Private Schools (FSEP www.swiss-schools.ch) at the national level. These bodies are open to private schools of all kinds, and provide a platform for their representation, working to optimize their positioning vis à vis the public domain within the local and federal political, economic and legal framework.
The Swiss Group of International Schools (SGIS www.sgischools.com) has its origins in the 1960s and exists specifically to promote cooperation between international schools through inter-school activities for students, as well as providing professional development through job-alike groups and an annual two-day conference in the spring. On an international level, many schools, or individual educators, are also members of the Educational Collaborative for International Schools (ECIS, originally the European Council of International Schools www.ecis.org), which helps them to remain current with latest educational trends, receive professional training and network with colleagues from around the world on various occasions throughout the year.
Submitted by Christine Knight, Head of Administration at Haut-Lac International Bilingual School