There are no specific requirements for British schools overseas, unless the host country has its own requirements, but these can be very varied. Ofsted inspects foreign schools in the UK.
The Department for Education (DfE) was approached by several countries to give an assurance that British schools in their area are run properly. As a result, we introduced the BSO Inspection System last September, providing a government-approved inspection process which is absolutely voluntary.
We called for expressions of interest in carrying out inspections from interested organisations. We had applications from nine international organisations with roots in the UK and six were approved, including CfBT Education Trust, Cambridge Education and Tribal Education.
So far nine inspections have been carried out and they all went well. The schools were sufficiently confident about the education they provided to put themselves forward for the first wave. The problems in the Middle East resulted in a number of inspections being delayed last term because of concerns for the safety of inspection teams, but they’ll take place as soon as things quieten down.
During this first year we have been trialling the process. At the moment we’re not actively promoting the inspection system but I’m confident it will grow organically, by word of mouth. Once national governments decide to support it – and Egypt and Dubai have been finding out more about it – it will snowball. Large corporates who move people around are very interested as education is very high on the list of priorities for people being relocated.
The British Council is often asked to recommend an international school but until now they’ve had nothing to go by. This inspection system helps them discriminate between schools and direct parent to a respected independent report about the school.
How does the BSO Inspection System work and is it similar to Ofsted?
The inspections are broadly similar to Ofsted’s. However, the international aspect means that they’re not short notice visits and most inspections will be booked in advance – it’s all about being pragmatic. The costs of an inspection depend on the organisation that’s carrying it out; the DfE isn’t privy to this as it’s a commercial matter.
The system looks at two overarching issues:
- how easily will a pupil slot back into schooling in the UK and
- if a pupil completes their education in a British overseas school, how difficult would they find it to fit into a UK university, in terms of their qualifications and awareness of how British society works.
I’d like to stress that the system isn’t just for the expensive top public schools; it’s for every good British school overseas that provides a good quality education: it’s not necessary to have lavish facilities. We want to be inclusive, to provide parents with the best quality information about a range of schools, with the reports giving them a real understanding of the ‘flavour’ of a school.
How does the inspection system combine the British character of schools with the need to allow for different cultures?
Again, we need to be pragmatic. Where there’s a conflict between international standards and the requirements of the host country, schools must comply with the host country – and the schools must make this clear to inspectorates who can reflect the situation in their reports.
The ‘British’ aspect of education in international schools can relate to the school’s ethos, values, and extra-curricular activities – its ‘Britishness’!
What are the benefits of the system?
The benefit for schools is that it makes it clear to parents who want a good quality education and understand the value of inspections that the school has reached the gold standard and is as good as the best schools you’ll find in Britain. It also provides an independent view of whether a school will deliver what parents are paying for and that the education provision on offer is as good as it can be. This means that they need have no hesitation in sending their child there. A further benefit is that the inspectors can suggest how a school can improve, update them on forthcoming developments and things on the horizon.
It’s useful for teachers too. The inspection reports give teachers a better idea of the kind of school they’re considering working for. They can get information on issues like the curriculum of the country and how it impacts on international schools, the school’s facilities, turnover of pupils and how many teachers speak English.
Finally, the government has just confirmed that schools that have had a BSO inspection will be eligible to provide induction for new teachers training in the UK. These new arrangements are likely to come in from September 2012 and we anticipate consulting British Schools Overseas in the autumn on these new arrangements.
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Colin Bell, from the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), commented:
“We support all schools to work towards a DfE approved inspection. We encourage schools to focus on this in their development plans and target setting, with buy-in from governors, senior leaders, teachers, and parents. The inspection system gives schools confidence, increased pride, a feeling of well being and an opportunity to share collective success. It enables a clear comparison with quality education in the UK independent school setting, and evidence of ease of transition for pupils.
Another tangible benefit for a school with a successful BSO DfE approved inspection and fully accredited COBIS membership is that from September 2012 they will be eligible to support NQTs to complete their induction process – something which COBIS has campaigned for.”