Beyond 2020: Improving the values and actions of international education worldwide
Chris Durbin Associate Director of School Support & Evaluation

By Chris Durbin, Director of International Accreditation 

The most important aspect of CIS International Accreditation is school improvement. Accredited schools rely on our work to continually review and reflect on our processes, standards, and practices to ensure that they are committing to a school improvement journey that is sustainable, meaningful, and relevant to their needs. 


Updates over the past few years have seen our CIS Accreditation Protocol become more concise while maintaining the rigour required via our focus on 4 Drivers for high quality international education.

The 4 Drivers of CIS International Accreditation

Purpose and direction | Learning and teaching | Well-being for life | The development of global citizenship.


And then came 2020, necessitating large-scale change to our practices to ensure timely support for our members to match the reality of what education looks like amidst a global pandemic. Plus, urgent and magnified focus on the gaps in inclusion through diversity, equity, anti-racism (I-DEA) practices and behaviours across international education.

Much like our systematic and significant work to develop our Protocol over the past few years to embed safeguarding and child protection in our framework of standards, we now intend to address ongoing inequities and racism in international education using the accreditation process as a vehicle for change.

We intend to address ongoing inequities and racism in international education using the accreditation process as a vehicle for change. This is just the beginning. @CISEducation stakeholders continue our organizational self-assessment. I’m inspired by the emerging recommendations.

Jane Larsson, Executive Director CIS


2019: A strengthened expectation that schools ensure global citizenship and intercultural learning is planned and intentional

When we last updated CIS International Accreditation in 2019, we strengthened our expectation that schools ensure that the global citizenship and intercultural learning they offer has relevance, depth and rigour.

Three related standards were made core standards because global citizenship and intercultural learning in these areas should be more than ‘nice to have’ in a globalized world. We ask schools to state their intentions through an engaging and purposeful statement which defines global citizenship in their context [CIS International Accreditation Standard A3]. In Africa, this may look different from Korea for example. We knew these aspects of learning contribute to the long term life skills of students and they needed to be purposeful, intentional and embedded in the written curriculum [Standard C3] and then manifest in both teaching and learning [Standard D3] and not only in the informal and incidental curriculum of international schools. 

The incidental curriculum is defined as the learning that takes place between students themselves and through the influence of the school culture and climate on those students.


Recent updates have built upon this commitment to global citizenship and intercultural learning in three ways:

  1. In learning, we strengthened the need to acknowledge learner diversity in a deeper way and encourage learning in more uncomfortable areas. Often, we see inclusion embedded in international schools through stressing similarities. We want to clearly signal the importance and advantages of inclusion and diversity.

  2. In well-being, we strengthened how the school should take into account inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism (I-DEA) in the school culture and climate as well as student voice/agency.

  3. In purpose and direction, we strengthened criteria related to intercultural competencies of leaders, staff and the cross-cultural relationships between all stakeholders, between staff and students and staff groups in particular.

With increased focus on both individual competencies and institutional systems, schools and their leaders should feel emboldened by these revised statements to cultivate mindsets that value diversity and equity and to institutionalize structures that mitigate discriminatory behaviours in cultures that they inherit. […] I am excited to follow and learn from CIS membership schools that commit to aligning themselves with these values and that are activated by these revisions to self-identify steps to take. Sharing stories of how institutions use these revisions to elevate oppressed and disenfranchised individuals and communities could ignite a global movement that sustains equitable and just institutions.

Angeline Aow, member of the CIS I-DEA Board committee and IB PYP Coordinator (Upper Primary)

2021: Standards that have direct references to equity and anti-racism in particular 

Working across the world, much of our work at CIS is in privileged communities. Equity issues are evident and we hear from many students, alumni, teachers, and staff that they are or have experienced racism in international schools and our standards have lacked sufficient and direct references to equity and anti-racism in particular. 

We often hear different perspectives and challenges about intercultural relationships between groups within the school. One particular to many contexts in which we work is the contrast in the positive language used about a multi-ethnic diverse student body and the negative or stereotypical language used about the group of local staff. 

It was therefore essential for us in 2020 to reflect on what we could do to support schools through our accreditation process in 2021 and beyond as they examine systemic roots of discrimination, inequity, and racism.


So, what updates have we made?

I’ve emailed all our accredited schools with the updates in detail.

I really enjoyed your recent CIS circular with reflection upon 2020 and the revised standards. Particulary of pertinence to 'us' at our place are B5 and F5 and intercultural relationships of staff(ing) - something we are currently working on in our school that has a mix of local, national and international staffing with quite different outlooks and expectations.

David Ardley Assistant Head Lyceum-Alpinum Zuoz, Switzerland

Was thrilled to see this in my email this morning and looking forward to seeing the many ways our schools take on this important work.

Here are some highlights:

Essential Questions have been added for leadership teams and self-study committees to reflect on and consider how the school can be improved. Questions like:

  • How well does the school promote inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism through its guiding statements? How can these guiding statements be developed to improve policy and practice in these areas?
  • To what extent do teachers demonstrate a clear understanding of the aptitudes, cultural context, well-being and prior attainments of their students so that they learn effectively? How can this be improved?
  • How well does the school protect and safeguard students from all risks, including those arising from abuse and discrimination to ensure their well-being in both the short, the medium and the longer term? How can this be improved?
  • How well does the school promote inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism through its staffing policies and its working relationships? How can policy and working relationships be improved in these areas?

If I were to draw on the work so far (and Chris’s writing), what struck me initially was the “ strengthened expectation that schools ensure that global citizenship and intercultural learning they offer has relevance, depth and rigour.” Initially, when this was being discussed, I wondered what this would entail in terms of our work with schools and the CIS accreditation process in particular. However, the ensuing updates on 3 related standards being made core standards to ensure global citizenship and intercultural learning go beyond ‘nice to have’, and the 3 drivers (learning, well-being and purpose and direction), being strengthened to reflect our intentionality, have given us purposeful steps to approach this task in a systematic way centred around the learner. That to me is very exciting. I am also hearing positive feedback from heads of schools, since the updates have been shared with schools over the last week

Sudha Govindswamy, School Support & Evaluation Officer, CIS

We’ve completed an audit of the standards so that there are direct references to inclusion, diversity, equity and anti-racism where relevant: from staffing to teaching to leadership to school residential settings and more. Not just in areas referencing global citizenship and intercultural learning. I-DEA work will be completed across the standards, and especially those that reference well-being, safeguarding, and child protection.

In a standard that focuses on intercultural competencies of leadership, the criteria require leaders at all levels to demonstrate that they actively enhance school culture through the development of intercultural competencies and an understanding of the cultural contexts of all staff and the community. It asks leaders how they can improve their own intercultural competencies to ensure a diversity of constituent voices are taken into consideration in order to improve inclusion, equity and anti-racism.

The redefinition of the CIS International Accreditation standards addressing anti-racism and DEIJ! (Excerpt from the CIS email) Thanks for your commitment and leadership, @CISEducation Looking forward to the work of other agencies as we collectively demand shared accountability.

@Joel Jr Llaban, ES Learning Specialist / Instructional Coach (ES Teaching and Learning) at The International School of Kuala Lumpur


We’d like to know more about: There is a need for further research into our variety of contexts as issues related to I-DEA manifest themselves in many different ways. As well as diverse ethnic and cultural international schools, there are also schools with two dominant cultural groups, or schools where there are diverse languages or very few students of colour. We want to hear about these diverse scenarios, the concerns you have and any ideas you have to improve the any one of the concepts in I-DEA. Please post comments below or get in touch.


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