QA in times of crisis: a health checklist for school leadership

Maurice Dimmock, Chairman, ASIC Accreditation


QA in times of crisis: a health checklist for school leadership

Effective, internal quality assurance has never been more critical to the successful governance and running of a school. In a time of crisis, as normal daily challenges are compounded and new ones are seemingly never-ending, the foundations a school is built and run on are crucial in maintaining a strong sense of community and in achieving desired outcomes for pupils. From what I have witnessed in communicating with our schools, and in undertaking remote inspections throughout the pandemic, there are three key characteristics which signal a school is weathering the crisis better than others.

Adaptive. The schools who were already champions of innovation, and who actively nurture this attitude in their operations, have found the shift to online teaching and governance the easiest.

Collaborative. Those with established links and partnerships with other schools and sector networks (with whom to share best-practice) have found much-needed reassurance and support throughout the pandemic.

Robust and healthy leadership. Schools who have strong leadership and governance, with clarity of vision, ethos, and direction have been able to draw upon their defining characteristics and maintain both purpose and effective communication with pupils, parents, staff, and their local communities.

It is a difficult time, and with much being outside of a school leaderships control, it can be tempting to assert and direct to get things done. However, though it may seem easier to pull rank and dictate (often done with good intentions of improving accountability and streamlining processes) this method breeds dissatisfaction and eventual distrust in leadership. Over time this erodes the school’s sense of fellowship, harming pupils, staff, and outcomes. Instead, we find that schools who have continued to operate with the guiding principles of quality, equity, and collaboration have found it possible to continue to work efficiently in pursuit of their goals, whilst also strengthening their school’s community.

While it seems hard to take time amidst chaos to sit back and take stock, it is a far greater task to battle against the consequences of lost time and opportunity. The health of your school’s leadership and operation needs attention now. ASIC does not believe in busywork, and all the questions we ask below, if acted upon, have proven benefits for a school’s operation and reputation. The areas covered below are by no means exhaustive, nor will one school be facing identical challenges to another. My advice is to reflect on which areas may have been overlooked or need raising with the schools governing board.


School Leadership health check:

Governance and Management, Quality Assurance and Enhancement

  • Are you ultimately operating and making decisions in line with pupils’ best interests and outcomes?
  • Do you continue to govern inclusively, welcoming feedback and input from a diverse range of voices and experiences?
  • How is the leadership and governance of the school continuing to set and safeguard high standards and expectations?
  • In your response to the pandemic, is the school’s vision and mission reflected consistently in both its policies and practices? If not, why? What are you doing to address this?
  • Have you taken the time to review your risk assessment, learning from the current difficulties to ensure the school meets future challenges with knowledge and hindsight gained from this experience?
  • Do not neglect self-evaluation; the pandemic will have shed light on both areas of strength and areas in need of improvement. Are you continuing to evaluate the impact of decisions made? Is this being fed into the school’s self-improvement plan?
  • Parental engagement (in addition to representation on the governing board) can have a sizable positive impact on children’s learning. Is the school continuing to communicate and seek the views of parents and caregivers, including disadvantaged families, ex-pat families, and families where the school’s language of instruction is not the family’s first language? How are you demonstrating, and feeding back, that these views are acknowledged?

Student welfare, learning, teaching, and systems management

  • There are inherent challenges in remote learning, particularly for vulnerable, SEND, and disadvantaged children. Are these pupils and their caregivers being catered for (as best you can) in decisions made?
  • Have you re-assessed your safeguarding policies and arrangements?
  • With more learning being undertaken online, and often without supervision, how is the school ensuring that it keeps pupils safe from bullying, harassment, and online grooming? Is your school aware of the risks of extremism/radicalisation; how are you building awareness, and resilience, to this in your pupils?
  • Are global citizenship activities still taught alongside the curriculum?
  • How is a sense of community being fostered?
  • Are international students at risk of isolation; if so, how are you making sure that this is not the case?
  • How have you adapted your record-keeping of attendance, behaviour, and bullying? How are you monitoring behaviour, progress, and attainment of all pupils?
  • Which groups of pupils are the highest and lowest performing? Why is this? The achievement gap is growing for the most disadvantaged pupils, do you have credible plans for addressing this? How will you know if current approaches are working and how will the impact of decisions and interventions be monitored?
  • Is the school still encouraging a healthy, active lifestyle for its pupils and staff? There are many extra-curricular activities and sports which may not be practical to run at present, but can you share materials to encourage additional learning and engagement at home? Are you using your networks and partnerships with other schools and bodies to full advantage?

Staff welfare and resources

  • Whether you are still teaching remotely or are back in the classroom, you can use these experiences to assess how you holistically teach soft skills and digital skills alongside the curriculum. Do you have staff who have been previously reluctant to embrace technology? Encourage them to see that they are helping to teach and shape the attitudes of a generation who will need digital skills as standard in their futures. Can you provide more support and training?
  • Are you continuing to hold all staff, including leadership, accountable for their conduct and professionalism?
  • Are teachers and support staff being used as effectively and efficiently as possible and in line with best practice and guidance?
  • To what extent are staff reporting a positive culture? If they report dissatisfaction, are you taking steps to understand why this is so and change your approach if necessary?
  • Are you continuously seeking feedback about work/life balance and understanding that this can change for individuals over time?
  • Conversations with parents to alleviate concerns and to assess the impact on individual pupils are more important than ever. Do staff have time to do this?
  • How are you reviewing workloads and ensuring tasks are completed to a high standard, whilst streamlining and dropping unnecessary activities?


Strong leadership and governance set the expectations and standards of a school. Quality assurance involves the systematic review of all areas of educational provision to maintain and improve its quality, equity, and efficiency – this is more important than ever in times of crisis. Schools must also look past the current pandemic to the future. The skills and capabilities which their pupils need for fulfilment and development, for further study and employment, and for social inclusion and engaged citizenship, must not be compromised by the challenges of the present.

I urge school leaders to ultimately concentrate on what matters – making decisions regarding safeguarding and outcomes in the interests of your pupils and their futures. Communicate effectively with staff, parents and caregivers, and your pupils about how you will achieve this (alongside explaining the limitations that you face) and ask for their help in trying to address any problems you encounter. At ASIC, we work on the premise that quality assurance is about people and attitudes. If, in your leadership, you take people along with you, nurturing collective responsibility and accountability, your school and its pupils will make it through this period of uncertainly stronger, quicker to adapt, and more resilient. Traits the world needs from its citizens more than ever.


For more information about ASIC Accreditation for International Schools, and how our services can help you, please get in touch with us at or call UK office-hours 09:00-17:00, Mon-Fri, on +44 (0)1740 617 920.




Maurice Dimmock is the Chairman of the Accreditation Service for International Schools, Colleges and Universities (ASIC) and the ASIC Group of Companies. He has 40+ years of experience of working in education, with this expertise grounded in working at all levels in the sector throughout his career. He has taught at schools, colleges, and universities as well as leading institutions as both Head of Sixth Form and College Principle, before becoming more involved in development and project management in his role as Director of International Development and as International Project Manager at universities in the UK and overseas. He has a diverse and comprehensive consultancy portfolio, having worked as a consultant for universities, governments, the World Bank, and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS World University Rankings.)

What is expected of a Board in today’s world?

Michael Thompson, Director/CEO of Hillel Academy, Kingston, Jamaica



What is expected of a Board in today’s world?

(This article first appeared in International School Leader Magazine, October 2020 issue.)

I was recruited for my present job in 2019 because of my experience and yet nothing that I had experienced in a long career in international school leadership had prepared me, or any Head, for the events that have rapidly evolved in 2020. The international school community has shown that it will emerge from this global pandemic in a new and potentially better position due mainly to the sharing and caring of the international school’s community and flexible, decisive board and school leadership.


In its simplest form, the main responsibility for the Board, pre-COVID-19 was policy and oversight of school finances. The rapidly changing situation caused by the global pandemic has required a different mindset where the board and school leadership had, by necessity, to respond effectively and quickly to the rapidly involving situation. I will give an example of one week in the life of our international school:

  • Monday, March 9th – The accreditation visitor informed me that much of our teaching was very old fashioned with minimal use of technology.
  • Wednesday, March 11th – In anticipation of a worsening coronavirus situation I wrote to parents and said from Friday 13th students should keep their books at home.
  • Thursday, March 14th – The first COVID-19 cases were reported in Jamaica and we announced school closure.
  • This was followed by a weekend of the most committed staff professional development on how to use technology as the medium of instruction.
  • Monday, March 16th – The campus was closed but school re-opened with online education. Many mistakes were made but we continued working and learning and by the end of the Easter break we had an online programme we were proud of and comparable with many in the international schools’ world.


However, we were faced with a crisis. The country’s economy is largely based on tourism and the island was in lockdown. Consequently, many parents had financial difficulties. We have a very attractive campus and strong co-curricular programme, both of which were not available due to campus closure. When this was added to the difficulties parents had in guiding their young children’s online education, there was a demand for a fees reduction.


Response from the Board

The Board reacted promptly. Senior leadership produced various cost-cutting scenarios and we were able to reduce the term three fees and maintain most of our student enrolment. We began the 2019/2020 academic year with 702 students. We had more student withdrawals than usual during the year, without enforcing the usual financial penalty for withdrawal which was unrealistic in these times. We commissioned a professional video showcasing our use of technology in education, and opened the new school year with 702 students, online, at last year’s fees level. This was only possible with the support of a flexible, responsive Board.


Preparation for a new and different year

As a leader who believes in empowering others, I set up a task force for planning the school’s re-opening in September 2020 and had expected to involve the full Board and parents as much as possible. According to reports on the weekly Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) online conversations, many schools have succeeded with that model. But that was not how we developed, in reality.


Teachers, and parents, who were burnt out from the unusual four months of online education as well as all the other changes in their lives, needed a break. And so, we decided to keep the community informed with regular newsletters and to involve them by obtaining their opinions through parent and teacher surveys. The drive for preparing the school for the anticipated re-opening of campus, with student safety as the priority, was led by the Senior Management Team, Board Chairman and Finance Committee with regular updates and additional meetings for all other Board members.


A leadership model through crisis and change

In the crisis caused by the coronavirus, we discovered that our community expected and needed clear and decisive leadership. They wanted reassurance that the school was rapidly evolving to provide for the safe and appropriate education for their children.


The community wanted to be consulted but expected the board to show leadership. We found the ‘executive’ model, of a dynamic, hard-working School Management Team supported by a fully informed Board Chair, to be the most effective way of leading this school out of crisis mode. In my opinion this was only acceptable for a maximum of four weeks but moved us into planning for the future sustainability of the school.


I am a firm believer in open governance and community decision-making but, in these times, the more streamlined model was required in order to respond to the unique situation that we faced this year. Now, as we return to the new reality, the Board must be prepared to revert to its usual, more distant role of overseeing the direction of the school.


The global pandemic forced schools to totally re-think their purpose and delivery of international education. I firmly believe that we must take the positives from this time and move forward confidently. Past norms have been challenged and often found wanting. The international schools must continue with the best of its practices and incorporate the new achievements in order to develop and move forward.


Advice for Board and Leadership collaboration

  • The key school relationship is between the school Head and Board Chair; work on it.
  • AAIE is providing an outstanding source of ideas and support through its weekly online conversations.
  • Keep wellness and sustainability a priority. We are asking a huge amount of ourselves and our colleagues. If we are to lead them, we must look after their, and our own health.
  • It is essential that Board members understand their roles. An excellent, easy way to achieve this is by using the Educational Collaborative for International School’s (ECIS) Board Governance Training online platform.
  • The school community deserves to see clear, decisive governance and leadership.
  • Boards should mirror their community in terms of diversity.
  • Grow your own talent; perhaps schools should re-think their recruitment strategy as a core, professionally developed local teachers and administrators provide stability in uncertain times.
  • Always be moving forward. To remain in the same place does not work in international education.





Michael Thompson is Director and CEO of Hillel Academy in Kingston, the largest international school in Jamaica

Connect with Michael on LinkedIn or Twitter @mickthompson49


School Governance in the Age of Covid-19: How Effective Boards Ensure School Survival and Continued Success

Ray Davis, Senior Consultant, The 5Rs Partnership


There has been much speculation about the longer-lasting outcomes of the remote learning challenges that schools across the globe have experienced as a result of Covid-19. The pandemic has brought unparalleled challenges but has also been a catalyst for some exciting thinking and invigorating ideas on the nature of the future of pedagogy and learning.  Educators, school leaders, and students have responded well and adapted very quickly to a new paradigm which has tested and challenged the traditional way of teaching and learning. Our education systems are not known for initiating rapid changes to the ways in which they operate, however, the experience of adapting teaching and learning in response to the current pandemic has demonstrated that effective change can take place more rapidly than previously thought.


As educators look toward implementing new ways of teaching and learning it is also a time when school Boards can begin to identify what they have learned about effective governance during the Covid-19 crisis. Forward-thinking Boards are now asking themselves how they might turn the crisis into future opportunities and how they might implement more effective ways of operating to ensure the continued sustainability and the promotion of continuous school improvement. School Boards have grappled with a wide range of challenges that have necessitated rapid decision making, often in realms that they previously had never considered. Good governance and strong leadership has always been the key to school success. For many schools during the present crisis good governance and s leadership is now a necessity for survival as well as success.


Sound Governance during Crisis Situations:


The schools that will emerge in good shape from the current world health crisis will have Boards that have implemented sound features of accomplished governance such as those below:

  • Having a positive mindset and taking the opportunity to be aspirational and ambitious. (Considering how the school may emerge from this challenge stronger, more engaged, and more capable than before);


  • Ensuring that there is a strong degree of trust in and amongst the Board and the school leadership and that the Head of School/Board partnership is functioning effectively;


  • Creating trust amongst all stakeholders through dialogue and actions and not just through public statements;


  • Reaffirming the Head of School as the leader of the school community and ensuring that the respective roles, responsibilities, and authority of leadership and governance are fully understood and acted upon;


  • Ensuring that all Board members are engaged in the decision making and not just the Board Chair and Head of School;


  • Ensuring that all decisions are well-aligned with the school’s guiding statements and protect the interest of students;


  • Creating the understanding that decisions taken during the crisis may affect the school well into the future;


  • Creating operational practices that allow for agility in decision making and strategic planning – (Many of the most successful organisations have moved to 90-day strategic planning and have reshaped Board committees and committee membership to bring in specific expertise to address particular challenges);


  • Insisting on confidentiality of Board discussions and decisions, and identifying who is responsible for communicating decisions to stakeholders– (usually the Head of School);


  • Keeping the school community connected and engaged by having a well-developed and comprehensive communication policy to keep all stakeholders, families, students, and staff, informed in a timely and considered manner;


  • Having established policy and practice in relation to privacy and the disclosure of information;


  • Ensuring that the Board understands the pressures that school leaders and staff have been under during the crisis and supporting them with their task as well as supporting their well-being.


  • Reviewing and adapting strategic initiatives and their timelines;


  • Having a predetermined proactive role with risk management and compliance requirements and making realistic assessments of potential outcomes;


  • Advocating for and facilitating staff training to manage risk;


  • Keeping the school community connected and engaged by having a well-developed and comprehensive communication policy to keep all stakeholders, families, students, and staff, informed in a timely and considered manner;


  • Having well established and effective links with external agencies – (health, law enforcement, local and national government agencies, social service agencies, specialised professionals and embassies);


  • Actively engaging in dialogue and sharing information with other schools and with educational associations;


  • Shifting development priorities where necessary to ensure that the school has the technological capacity to provide engaging distance and remote learning;


  • Ensuring financial stability by considering new models of financial planning and management;
  • Establishing an early commitment to the issue of refunds to parents in areas such as tuition fees, transportation, catering, Boarding, activities etc.;
  • Establishing future fee levels based on data as well as objective market evidence;
  • Identifying alternative forms of income;
  • Developing sound models to predict future enrolment;
  • Reviewing and revising future contingency commitments;


Establishing a compensation philosophy and reviewing school leader and staff salaries to ensure retention and recruitment of staff in uncertain times with the challenges of international travel, nationally imposed travel and quarantine restrictions, and uncertainty about future enrolment levels;


Establishing a plan to retain school leaders: Ensuring that the Head of School and senior leaders feel valued by the Board and developing a long term succession plan for school leadership;


Recognising that the pandemic has brought another  dimension to the management of well-being and ensuring that strategies are implemented to manage student and staff self-care, emotional well-being, and mental health;


Ensuring that appropriate protocols are in place to ensure the safeguarding of students engaged in remote learning;


Ensuring that appropriate support is provided for the individual needs of students.


Questions Boards should consider as schools begin to re-open to students:


As schools begin to reopen their doors to students it now makes sense for Boards to spend some time over the coming months reflecting upon what they have learned from the experiences of responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Some useful questions for Boards to reflect upon include:


  • How prepared were we to face the immense challenges of such a pandemic?


  • Did we have the organisational structure necessary to review the challenges faced and make appropriate decisions in a timely manner?


  • Did we have the necessary data that was required to inform our decision making?


  • Did we have a communication policy that satisfactorily kept stakeholders informed?


  • Did we have the necessary external links with experts and professional bodies to assist us in our decision making?


  • To what extend were our risk management protocols effective in dealing with the challenges faced?


  • Did we have a suitably nimble and agile approach to implementing our strategy?


  • To what extent are we now prepared to meet the challenges of a future crisis?


  • If we could go back in time, what would we have done differently?


Looking to the future, it will be necessary for Boards to consider these three questions:


  • Are we accurately able to gauge the effectiveness of the actions taken over the past months on the school’s reputation?


  • Do we have a suitably effective and renewed plan for a marketing plan to ensure the sustainability of enrolment?


  • Are we able to accurately assess the most appropriate level of tuition fees and ancillary fees for the coming and successive school years in order to ensure the financial stability of the school whilst maintaining its affordability for parents?


In conclusion, schools that emerge from the current health crisis in a strong position will do so because of sound governance and strong and informed leadership. The attributes necessary to govern well during the risks and uncertainties of a crisis have been outlined above. It is now time for Boards to take the opportunity to reflect upon their response to the crisis and to develop governance action plans that not only enable them to strengthen the effectiveness of their governance responsibilities but enable them to become more proactive in successfully meeting the unknown challenges that lay ahead.

Please contact Ray Davis at for further information on governance support.


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Ray Davis is currently the Senior Consultant with The 5Rs Partnership (  and is based in Melbourne, Australia. He has been a Head of School in three international schools and a national school in the UK and is the former Director of School Evaluation with the Council of International Schools (CIS). The 5Rs Partnership is a global consultancy specifically for schools in strategy planning, marketing, and market research, reputation management, and governance, established in 2004.