What to expect during a CIS accreditation visit

I am new to the international circuit. I've been through several versions of the ISI inspection regime, but I've never undergone a CIS Accreditation. When I arrived at my current school in August last year, they were already well underway with the self-evaluation. Immediately I could sense a difference in tone and style. Sure, ISI and OFSTED encourage schools to self-evaluate, but no one is under any illusion that their frameworks stop there. If inspection is seen to contain three elements, I'd say the different regimes lie here:

As you can see, CIS accreditation is a good mix of peer and self-assessment, but there is very little sense in which an external assessment - of the job-ending sort that OFSTED and ISI can dish out - is part of the package. I found this refreshing. With ISI/OFSTED the high stakes mean you need to put positive spin on everything - the consequences of not doing so, and getting an unflattering report, are catastrophic. In contrast, schools are able to be searingly honest with CIS. This makes the whole process, in my view, much more valuable. No longer is the sole aim to get a good report; rather it becomes a genuine quest for self-discovery and institutional improvement.
There is a long lead up to a CIS re-accreditation, with the cycle repeating on a five-yearly basis. Here are a few things you might find useful to know about the final accreditation visit (the bit I was involved in) if you are new to the process:
  • A huge amount of weight is put on the findings of each domain by the visiting team. Having someone highly competent to upload the findings and all the supporting documentation to the CIS portal is a must. We were lucky to have Dr Denry Machin do this for us. He'd been through the process (both as the accredited and as the accreditor) several times and so knew the pitfalls. Leave plenty of time for doing this - it is a labour of love.
  • Once the date has been set for the accreditation there is likely to be a long wait. I found this unnerving, but you shouldn't worry. In the background CIS are putting together your team and this takes time, given that they recruit team members from across the world.
  • With only about three weeks to go (I was sweating!) we were finally put in touch with the Chair of our team. I prepared a long list of questions and we Skyped. To my enormous relief he was happy to collaborate on a shared Google Doc that we worked on together to build the bones of the visit. There were numerous changes to this, so having a canonical document proved a godsend.
  • Each team comes with their own secretary, but in our case almost all communication was with the Chair until the team arrived. Two very efficient administrators at Harrow took charge of the check list of things that needed doing prior to the visit. I met with them regularly to confirm that all was going according to plan.
  • We took lot of time arranging things in the two team rooms (one at school and one at the hotel) according to the requirements of the CIS handbook. Below are some pictures of the team room we set up at school:
  • On the evening of the team's arrival in school (the Sunday) we organised a barbecue and some drinks, having shown the team around in the afternoon. It proved a masterstroke giving them a 5-minute welcome and safety/safeguarding briefing as soon as they set foot on campus: they got good impression of who we are and what we stand for. After some discussion, we decided to insist only that responsibility allowance holders, and those actually involved in chairing domain self-study groups were required to attend the evening barbecue. This still gave us well over 100 staff and so I think left a good impression on the team: we were a school taking the process seriously.
  • Once the week itself got underway I felt the pressure somewhat released. Things largely went according to plan with any wrinkles being ironed out in the course of a morning meeting with the Chair. Providing you have been diligent about completing the pre-accreditation paperwork and have organised all the meetings required you can expect a fairly easy ride. The accreditors are trying to corroborate what you have already told them about your school.
  • Make sure you have your finance department prepared for expenses claims and flight reimbursement etc. We had to expedite claims so that the team left us fully refunded, when under normal circumstances such claims would have taken a week or more to process.
  • Many of our staff from the UK were terrified about the lesson observations. We reassured them: there is no 'CIS teaching style', nor do accreditors need to see detailed lesson plans or the like. Staff should do what they do every day and do it well. Do warn them, though, not to swap rooms without letting you know. In our case we have 190+ teachers and with a team of 8 (plus 2 Thai inspectors) most got seen at least once - incredible!
  • Get real clarity from the Chair as to how he/she wants things like:
    • your organisation chart laid out
    • your timetables and rooms presented
    • a checklist of staff displayed
  • We decided - as you can see from the images of the team room - to print out every piece of supporting evidence we had uploaded to the portal. With hindsight I think this was unnecessary, though check with your Chair first before taking my advice.
Do get in touch if you have an accreditation visit coming up soon and you want to pick the brains of someone who's gone through the process very recently.
Good luck!

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