Council of British International Schools

Executive Director of COBIS Colin Bell discusses what makes COBIS schools so desirable.

Colin Bell is the Executive Director of the Council of British International Schools; otherwise known as COBIS. It is a highly respected organisation within the international schools market and many teachers and leaders seek out COBIS member schools as part of their selection process when looking for new job opportunities. Here we ask Colin for more information about what COBIS member schools have to offer:

Q: Can you describe the type of schools that are part of COBIS?

There are a diverse mix of schools within COBIS including primary and secondary schools. We have around 140 member schools in over 50 countries; approximately 50% are based in Europe and the other 50% are spread throughout the rest of the world. Our member schools are of all sizes, from very small new schools to large, established schools. For example, the British School of Abu Dhabi and the British School of The Netherlands both have over 2,000 students. 

Not all students who attend COBIS member schools are British children. In fact, about 80% of all our students are children from local families who want their children to have an English-speaking, British-oriented education. Approximately 20% of our student base are expatriates. An impressive 47% of students from COBIS schools go on to the UK for higher education.  We also have a diverse mix of nationalities for teachers. Not all are British and we think this is important as it supports the international dimension that COBIS schools provide.

Q: Does COBIS demand quality assurance to be a member school?

All of our member schools have to achieve a level of quality assurance to maintain membership. Member schools must follow the British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspections and many of our schools also go through quality assurance accreditations from organisations such as CfBT and CIS too. These standards are very important for international schools as they help to differentiate quality. In some locations where there are several international schools to select from, this can be a crucial selection factor for parents, and for recruiting teachers. As a result of this, standards in the best schools remain very high.

For the BSO inspections, schools are inspected against a common set of criteria. Inspectorates approved by the Department of Education in England (and monitored by the English schools' inspectorate; Ofsted), inspect the British Schools Overseas including COBIS member schools. The inspection reports are available on the Department of Education’s website and provide parents and prospective recruits with information about the quality of provision within the school and its compatibility with independent schools in the UK.

COBIS will suspend a school if it does not comply with the association’s code of practice and good governance.

Q: For a teacher or leader considering a new school placement, what reassurance does COBIS membership provide?

Selecting the right school can be a challenging process. However qualified job seekers can be reassured that a COBIS member school works within specific guidelines of ethical practice which reflect the high standards and ethos of the British educational system. These guidelines include following a recognised curriculum which reflects the English National Curriculum. This can include international curricula such as the International Baccalaureate, iGCSE, and the International Primary and Middle Years Curriculum which all help to deliver the English National Curriculum in an international way. Other quality assurance criteria include suitably qualified school leaders, staff safeguarding, and polices and procedures to support enrichment and professional development.

It is important to remember that, as a teacher working in a COBIS school, you will be challenged; it is hard work and although many schools are in unique and interesting locations, the learning and teaching standards remain very high. Needless to say, you can gain a great deal from working in a COBIS member school

Q: Does COBIS act as a lobbying and authoritative representative for member schools?

Yes. COBIS represents its member schools to the British Government, educational bodies and the corporate sector. It also provides member schools with access to information about trends and developments in UK education, effective professional development for leaders and teachers, and ensures disclosure and barring checks to support child protection and safer recruitment and employment practices.

One example of representing member schools through legislation change was in 2012 when COBIS spearheaded the move by the British Government to approve NQT induction in accredited British Schools Overseas. This means that qualifying British International Schools - which currently includes six COBIS member schools - are now able to access, support and deliver induction for teachers who wish to gain their NQT experience abroad. We currently have 12 NQTs going through this process and our first NQT teacher has recently completed her induction at the British School of Tokyo.

Q: TIC’s Director, Andrew Wigford is a mentor on the COBIS Leadership Mentoring Service. What does that mean?

We aim to develop our school leaders and we do this through a leadership mentoring programme that enlists the support of other COBIS school Headteachers, past and present. We currently have 16 trained mentors doing this, providing expertise on such responsibilities as financial planning, recruiting, etc. Andrew is one of these mentors. The aim is to nurture our talent within the organisation and we’re delighted that we have such experienced and skilled mentors as Andrew supporting us through this initiative.

Q: What advice would you offer to teachers and leaders considering new positions in international schools?

I would say do your research - and that research starts with you. Ask yourself why you want to teach overseas and make sure it’s for the right reasons. Make sure that you choose the right school in the right place for you. Is it a big enough school or the right sort of school to support your own professional development and career plans? Talk to other teachers at the school to get first hand feedback. Check out inspection reports as they give you a good sense of the school. Make sure you carefully check through your contract of employment.

Q. What qualities do you think make a good international school teacher – particularly one for a COBIS school?

It’s definitely a lot to do with your personal skills. Adaptability is a crucial skill and being able to get along within a rich diverse mix of teachers, students and parents. COBIS schools want stable teachers but those prepared to go the extra mile and who are eager to support extra curricular activities; which range from debating and sport to poetry and science clubs. Qualified and skilled, English-speaking teachers are essential.

As for the benefits international teaching provides, you will gain exceptional cultural and emotional intelligence that will benefit you and any school you work with in the future.
To find out more about COBIS schools visit

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