REAL School, Budapest

COBIS speaks to Dave Strudwick, Principal, REAL School, Budapest about their experience of COBIS Compliance in 2020.

With travel restrictions in place through much of 2020 due to the global pandemic, the COBIS Accreditation team worked to adapt its quality assurance process and offer virtual visits in the place of face to face. 

REAL school, Budapest, Hungary was one of the first schools to go through this virtual visit process and we speak to its Principal, Dave Strudwick about the experience and the impact the COBIS Compliance process has had on this unique school of 27 pupils.

What drew you and your school to pursue COBIS Compliance?

DS: What I was impressed by was this sense of partnership and working alongside [the school] to develop your organisation. So rather than just collecting an accreditation or a badge, there is real value of having that external validation and using it as a school improvement process, and that was very much our case. It was fantastic.

And can you tell us a bit about your experience of the process itself?

It was thorough. I think the process felt rigorous and it was really helpful. I could tell with both [LIPs] they were really experienced, and our tack from the beginning was to be completely transparent. We didn’t want to pretend that certain things were in place when they weren’t. We wanted to be open about where we were and where we wanted to get to. It meant that they could signpost help. For example, they could help with the SCR and give us examples of different forms to use. That was something that when I joined I noticed needed more work. That was so helpful of Gary [Minnett – the LIP assigned to REAL] to share best practice and examples. It felt rigorous and genuinely supportive and it is unusual to find processes that combine those two.

That is great to hear, because we are here to help schools as opposed to setting them up to fail. What about the preparation: do you feel it took sufficient account of local challenges and local context?

I think so, yes. It is an interesting question. I liked the ways [the LIPs] would share ideas about what different models of governance might look like.

As REAL was one of the first schools to pilot the virtual process, can you tell us about what  might have worked particularly well? Or anything could be improved?

I thought what was particularly great was how [our LIPs] kept checking in about how the process was working. I felt we had a very high level of their time.  They also tried to push us along at a good pace to ensure things got covered, but there is nothing that stood out as needing to be improved. It felt like a really supportive process.

Turning now to impact of the scheme: which areas do you feel have seen the most impact?

I think it was really helpful for our parents. Where they could see that we had been through that external validation and it was really reassuring for our families because we are school that is innovating and so it makes it difficult to benchmark when other schools are not doing things in the same way. But the fact that we had been though that process has been great for our families. The thing that was helpful for myself [and staff], was the fact that I was new and it was very supportive of developing that understanding of exactly where the school was and making sure the foundation pieces were in place. It gives a nice, structured framework, to make sure you don’t just work in your comfort zone. The rigour has been a culture accelerator for me as a leader, and for us as a school, to develop that foundational piece, we are growing from that really strong base.

There can be anxiety attached to quality assurance processes for staff – how did your staff find the process in terms of that pressure?

Accountability is tender loving care with edge! And I think that is what the staff got. They got support, but they knew that [the LIPs] would challenge in a healthy way. They would ask them questions to find out more because they were genuinely curious and what was super was they were coming out of these meetings with ideas for moving forward, it was a great professional dialogue. One of the things that is central to the pedagogy of the school -  we have large open spaces in the school - is the idea of ‘sitting alongside’. It is interesting for me, that the root of the word ‘assessment’ is to sit alongside […], and we use that process for staff development, and it felt that [the LIPs] were a continuation of that and it felt great to have that curiosity but also the external direction. It is really healthy to have that challenge and thinking and signposting.

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

It was the process! To engage fully with it and to really get back what you put in.  I think by us being open and honest about where we were at [as a school] allowed us to have great professional dialogue and to have recognition of the strengths of the school. It was still really early days [in the development of the school] so it was great to have that appreciation […] It is very unusual to have people feel both heard and known and understood and it was clearly very moving for the board [and founders]. Because they had invested so much of themselves to create a new school and so that was very special.

Thank you and end.

REAL school was awarded beacon school status against standard 5B, for its commitment to sustainability and to building a better world. This is a recognition by COBIS of excellence and best practice in the Compliance process.  REAL is now a COBIS member and working towards COBIS Accredited status.

To see the full COBIS Patron’s Accreditation and Compliance standards, please click here.

For more information about COBIS Patron’s Accreditation or Compliance, please contact