How school accreditation works
Accreditation is a stamp of approval by an outside agency. Accredited schools go through the process as a means of quality assurance. These schools adhere to a set of educational standards which pertain to the curriculum, the finances, extra-curricular programs, and governance as seen through the eyes of all of the members of the school community whether they are the administration, teachers, staff, parents or students. The type of accreditation which a school will seek is often dependent upon its curriculum. The type of accreditation a parent should look for would depend on where they want their child to go to college or university.
Vietnamese schools are accredited by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET). Schools offering the Vietnamese curriculum are required to send reports to the MOET on a regular basis and can expect yearly visits from the MOET.
Schools teaching a British curriculum will be accredited or authorized by the Department for Education (DfE). The DfE has established an inspection system to inform parents how the standards in the overseas schools match up with the standards for the independent schools in Britain. Inspectorates are approved by the DfE and are monitored by Ofsted. They produce reports which are to be made available to parents and prospective parents of the individual schools.
Schools teaching an American curriculum are accredited by one of the six regional accreditation associations recognized by the US Secretary of Education. These associations have visiting committees which consist of teachers from other accredited schools who conduct onsite inspections. Upon completion of the visit, schools are granted accreditation for a limited period of time. As with the DfE model, schools receive reports which are shared with all stakeholders.
Another recognized agency is the Council of International Schools (CIS) which is a non-national non-regionally affiliated association. Accreditation through CIS is often obtained in conjunction with another accreditation or authorization.
Accreditation vs Authorization Some schools are authorized to offer programs such as the International Baccalaureate program or the Cambridge International Examinations but these authorizations are not the same as an accreditation. Authorization only look at the school’s ability to teach a set curriculum and not at governance, philosophy or finances as accreditation does. Often schools will be accredited by one organization and then authorized by another to offer certain programs.
From a parent’s perspective accreditation has some important implications. The first is that schools looking to get, keep or renew their accreditation conduct self-evaluations. These reports force schools to take a close look at their programs, their finances, their results and not just what they are doing but why they are doing it. When schools compile these studies they ask not only teachers but also include parents and students. A high level of transparency is required.
Secondly, the visiting committee is an unbiased independent body. They are not invested in the results of their visit but rather the reputation of their accreditation organization. It is their job to ask the tough questions, evaluate the responses and results, and give recommendations for improvements. They will be returning within a set period of time to ensure that steps have been made towards improvement.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when your child graduates from an accredited and authorized school you can be assured that the diploma will be recognized by universities around the world.
Parents should ask questions about schools’ accreditation. If a school is a candidate for accreditation, it is fair to ask how long they have been candidates and when they expect to be accredited. They should go to the various accreditation agencies’ websites and read about their school.
Bio: Katie Rigney-Zimmermann B.S, M.B.A, M. Sec. Ed, is director of Admissions and Marketing at Saigon South International School in Phu My Hung.