British International School of Ukraine

We spoke with David Cole, Principal at the British International School of Ukraine, to hear about the school’s experience of COBIS Compliance and the impact it has had on the school community.

If you could please share any reflections on why COBIS and why COBIS compliance? What was the decision-making process for the school?

The school is on a journey and we need these benchmarks. Not only to gauge our view of how we well we are doing but to evaluate ourselves against international standards.

Naturally, we looked to prestigious organisations, and COBIS does have a great reputation so, COBIS immediately came to mind.  Its uniqueness in terms of representing British international schools made it a natural choice. We have always met Ukrainian standards, but we know within international circles, there can be different criteria. It was important we adopted such ways of working and embedded them into how the school functions.

How had you heard about the scheme? 

It is well publicised. We had looked at other options, but COBIS has now become a standard in terms of high quality, so it was very natural for us to look at COBIS Compliance. What we found was that because the school is on a journey of change, the advantage of COBIS was it offered a two-stage process, and that suited our particular requirements. We are working hard to further improve our leaning and teaching and have a unique situation here because we have a bilingual programme. COBIS offered us the opportunity to secure the compliance aspect first and then to evaluate learning and teaching [through Patron’s Accreditation]. So that was ideal for our situation.

Let’s turn now to the process itself. There are a variety of different stages to the process, and the idea is that it is collaborative and supportive. Can you reflect on how you and team found the early stages of the process in particular?

We were fortunate with our LIP [Lead Improvement Partner], she had a great reputation and I have known her for a number of years so there was there was a great comfortability and trust. It was good to have that professional partnership set up very quickly.  In terms of the initial process, the documentation and guidance that is accessed online made it really clear.

We as an organisation had to adapt and change our processes to offer virtual visits in the face of travel restrictions. But we needed to do this in a way that was as rigorous as possible.  How did the virtual process work for you?

It was uncharted territory for us too. I could not reach out to other Heads who had been through it to ask how it had gone? So, there was some nervousness, but when the process started, what was expected in terms of procedure was made very clear. It had all the demands of a face-to-face visit. In that respect it was good. You do not want to go through the whole process of preparation and not have that chance to show your best. You want to know you have really earned any positive outcome. For the team there were small challenges - the mechanics of running around with laptops and organising online meetings - but the feedback from the staff was they knew they had been through a rigorous visit.

Now, when I go around the school, the systems are clearly well established and the processes are securely embedded.

One of the greatest benefits for us is the attention that we applied in our safer recruitment processes, and that has actually paid dividends in this last round of recruitment.  It has helped us to maintain the highest standards of safeguarding.

You were commended for your safer recruitment and your SCR in particular and that is great to see as you know safeguarding is a ‘red thread’ for COBIS. Feedback from other schools is that sometimes that can be a tricky area and that it helps to benchmark against what best practice should be.

This is one of the reasons we looked to COBIS. In other areas, such as Health and Safety, much can be determined by common sense and experience, but for safeguarding you need good guidance and clear standards. For example, when we are looking to recruit, we ask applicants for continuous police checks and complete employment history - supporting this process is something that COBIS does exceptionally well.

Turning now to impact of COBIS Compliance, what would you say is the impact? Can you give specific examples?

It has certainly boosted morale. It served as a positive focus during a pandemic; it motivated the staff. The school is going through a process of clarifying its identity and during the visit it functioned at the highest level that I have seen. It helped us to operate really effectively as a high-quality British school.

We have had several different inspections, but they have only involved one of the sites at a time. This is the first occasion all four of our schools, every phase and everybody, was involved. When I gave feedback [to the team], I said that it did not matter if their contribution was big or small, each contribution was vital. It is a great comfort to me to walk around the school and to see the systems that we would expect to see in other schools as the norm are standard here too. With regards to safeguarding, it is obviously essential and compliance ensured we were very focussed. In Ukraine, the idea of references and police checks is not natural in a lot of businesses, so for us to promote this, can only be beneficial to the wider community.

How did your school community respond to the process and outcome?

For parents, it has given them the confidence in the school. They know that we now have recognition from an internationally respected organisation.  So, it is valuable and important that it is COBIS.  For us it has been great, because when we have parents coming from the Ukrainian system asking us why we are doing what we are doing, we can reassure them it is the required standard and it is fundamental to being a British international school. Furthermore, it is practice endorsed by COBIS. That has been particularly comforting for them.

What would you say was the biggest takeaway from the process?

A reassurance that we are on the right track and the standards to which we are aspiring are the right ones. The things we are doing are appropriate and that they meet the highest international expectations. That is crucial.

Having membership of COBIS is also important to us. We are proud of what we have achieved. We worked hard for it. The school is 24 years old and we feel we have earned this.

It has also helped us with our recruitment, especially now. There are many new schools opening and it is reassuring for prospective staff that we adhere to the very highest standards and are proud COBIS members. There are so many benefits for the school.

The British International School of Ukraine is a 4-campus school in Kiev and Dnipro welcoming pupils from 3-18 years of age. BISU completed COBIS Compliance in March 2021, and is currently working towards COBIS Patron’s Accreditation.

For any questions or for more information about COBIS Patron’s Accreditation and Compliance scheme, please contact