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The Self-Study Process

The Self-Study Process by Neil Bunting, Greenfield Community School, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

cross posted to CIS Perspectives Blog

Having just completed the self-study process for accreditation at Greenfield Community School (GCS), Dubai, I thought it would be useful to share some of the benefits of the process for our school, and also, from what I have seen from other schools that I have visited as part of the visiting team.

First, and foremost, the self-study process enabled all of our school community – all stakeholders – to contribute and give their opinion and thoughts on life at GCS. These contributions were invaluable in establishing a 360-degrees, holistic view of the school.


The schools that I have observed that have made the best use of the self-study had a clear vision in terms of how they wanted the self-study to drive school improvement. These schools – and the leaders who were responsible for leading, directing and shaping the self-study – were very purposeful and thorough in their approach. Most important of all they were transparent. They understood perfectly how the self-study process must accurately reflect the current state of the school. They had bold ambitions for the future – which had been shared and agreed through a collaborative process with the parents, staff, students and board – but those ambitions were based on an accurate reality check of the current state of play.

The spirit of the self-study encourages schools to work collaboratively and closely with the visiting team, and to understand from the outset that the visitors are there to support them, to prompt, to make suggestions and to encourage the growth of the school. The schools that make best use of the process buy into the developmental model and accurately understand and analyse their school’s strengths and areas for further development.


The self-study can take up to 18 months, which gives the school plenty of opportunity to analyse itself. At GCS, Gary Mallon, the Head of Primary, and myself, who led the process, found it a very rewarding and revealing process to look back through the institutional records of the school dating back over the last 10 years since it was founded. Gary led the process of creating the Preliminary Report*, and started the ‘journey’. Being new to the school, as I was when the self-study started, the Preliminary Report was a key starting point. It was illuminating to study the changes and development that had gone on, as the school grew from a primary school to a large thriving four programme IB continuum school, as it is today. We were very indebted to the institutional knowledge of teachers, parents and indeed students who had been there from the start.


The students play a key role in the self-study. Their perspectives and desires for school improvement are crucial to take into account. As are those parents who have stayed loyal, and those ‘elder statesmen’ and teachers who can reflect and share on all of that change.

When we were creating our self-study at GCS – and this is the second self-study I have been involved in – we were constantly asking for different contributors’ opinions, and we ensured in setting up the committees that we included a cross section of all areas of the school from KG to G12, PYP to MYP to DP and CP, the finance team, accounts, security, reception staff, nurses and many others. We looked for staff, for the key committee roles, who were planning to remain at GCS for the 18-month journey to prevent institutional amnesia. We also included new staff to get their fresh perspective on the school.

The self-study is a great deal of work and when it’s complete – after painstaking review and editing – it is always cut back to a leaner and more concise version at the end. Aided by the accreditation protocol structure, it presents a thorough analysis of a school and a document to be proud of. As a visiting team member, I enjoy immensely reading the self-study, but I am also itching to get in the school and see how it shapes up in reality. This correlation is crucial.

If your school is considering the CIS International Accreditation process I would thoroughly recommend it. I would also research what is involved and ensure you have the time and the resources to do justice to it, and to do it properly. It is important to look carefully at the scheduling of it in your school calendar. If you have some members of your team that have done it before that will certainly help. The visiting team is very helpful and is here to help your school. The visiting team are peers and professionals, giving up time in their own schools, to support the growth of your school. They care passionately about education, students and learning. You will certainly find them approachable and supportive. 

*The Preliminary Report is a part of the 8th Edition Protocol.

Neil Bunting is a vastly experienced international school learning leader from the UK, with expertise in setting up new school ventures and leading successful school change in Indonesia, Oman, Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates. Neil is now taking up a new position as Founding Principal in China. Neil is an informed leader, flexible enough to choose which style will bring the best results, in the cultural context in which he is working. Neil is very involved in current international educational debate and shaping the future of education. Neil is an IB workshop leader and is a passionate about the values of the IB programme. Neil presents at education conferences around the world. Neil is a CIS 8th Edition Team Visitor and has successfully taken schools through the process of CIS / NEASC accreditation.Gary has a wealth of international educational experience spanning the UK, Middle East and South America. After graduating from The University of Birmingham with a BA (Hons.) and a Postgraduate qualification in Education, he began his teaching career in 1998 at a Primary School in the UK. In 2001 Gary joined the HRH Sheikh Rashid School for Boys in Dubai, followed by a move to South America in 2005 to work at the British School of Caracas and later The Grange School in Santiago de Chile. In 2013 Gary returned to Dubai to join Greenfield Community School, initially as Deputy Head and later as Head of Primary. Gary is a CIS /NEASC Accredited School Evaluation Team Member as well as an NPQSL / NPQML Facilitator. Gary worked with Neil on leading the CIS accreditation process at GCS.


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