Recent developments in Kenya suggest that the stability of private high cost schools is not a given. Parents would be forgiven for wondering how to differentiate between stable schools and those that might falter. Luckily, there are organisations that do the investigative work for parents by assessing every aspect of the management and delivery of quality education in such private schools. Such organisations as the Council of International Schools and the IAPS are accreditation bodies that have been assessing schools world-wide for decades.
Within Kenya Brookhouse has full accreditation status through both CIS and IAPS. Brookhouse is a British curriculum co-educational day and boarding school offering pre-school, preparatory and secondary schooling, attracting students from forty countries to form an international student body.
The majority of private high cost schools in Kenya offer the British curriculum and this reflects historical links with the UK as well as the Kenyan perception that the traditional focus of a British secondary education is a respected ticket to university study overseas. Schools like Brookhouse may have sent almost all of their graduates off to university in the UK ten years ago, but recent trends indicate students are choosing universities around the world, where British system A-levels are a much sought after indication of academic strength at the finest universities in the USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa.
So, what exactly does CIS and IAPS accreditation tell parents who want to opt for this kind of pathway to overseas university study? "Accreditation is always a demanding process to go through" says Brookhouse Director Mr John O'Connor, "but CIS and IAPS accreditation means that parents have the security of knowing they are safely investing in quality education provided by a secure and stable institution". Indeed, schools can only gain such accreditations if they meet the highest standards academically and can demonstrate good governance and effective fiscal management.
Since many high cost schools in Kenya are privately owned, it is becoming more and more important to parents to know that their fees are being reinvested within the school. For example at Brookhouse one can see the signs of constant reinvestment to meet the academic and extra-curricular demands of a 21st century education: state of the art iMac computers, all fully networked with e-mail and internet access in the five computer laboratories; a gymnasium and indoor sports centre; well equipped science laboratories with specialist facilities for Physics, Chemistry, and Biology; quality Music and Art & Design studios; a world class performance drama theatre; and a boarding facility that is quite outstanding and caters for nearly 200 students from all over Africa.
A school that has been fully accredited by CIS and IAPS has to demonstrate the "value added" qualities that parents have come to expect as a part of high cost education: recently Brookhouse students have undertaken tours to France, Thailand and South Africa; the students can join the school choir or play an instrument in the school orchestra; they can debate world issues at the Model United Nations or climb Mount Kenya as part of their Gold Award for the President's Award Scheme. Such activities are an integral part of what makes for a full and rounded education for any child, and the range of clubs and activities at a school like Brookhouse means that every child's interest is catered for. Brookhouse is also a proud member of the Round Square international organisation of schools committed to the holistic education of children with a focus on leadership through service to others. Many parents are impressed by such activities on offer, but want two more questions answered: how rigorous are the academic standards of the school, and how strict is the discipline?
Academically, a school like Brookhouse caters for varying levels of ability, and it is a core aspect of the school philosophy that the school caters for the growth of each child to achieve their full potential. It is not surprising therefore to find that the most able students gain places at Ivy League universities in the USA, and top ten universities in Britain, Australia and Canada. Just as impressive though is the care and attention given to students who are not academic high flyers, with the school providing a Special Needs Unit and specialist teachers to assist students with learning difficulties.
And the discipline? These days schools often refer to discipline as part of their 'pastoral care' program, but parents are really much more concerned with issues like drugs, alcohol and smoking, which are perceived to be problem areas in high cost schools as much as anywhere else. At Brookhouse the discipline policy is firm and traditional: if you step outside the clearly defined behavioural expectations of the school then you forfeit your place as part of the school community. It is that simple. And it works. And it is pleasing to see that schools like Brookhouse still place emphasis on manners, courtesy and respect as part of the core values system of the school.
International schools like Brookhouse work diligently to recruit only the most highly qualified and committed staff, all of whom must have extensive British curriculum experience, and this does make a difference; whether it is an extra subject clinic after school in preparation for examinations, or the confidence of advice from a boarding mentor, Brookhouse staff embody the school's ethos of helping each child to grow in a nurturing and supportive environment. As in any good international school, the staff are recruited from all over the world, and the wealth of experience they bring to the classroom is paramount to the success of the school.
So then, for parents choosing the high cost private sector to educate their children in an international school environment there is some relief and security in knowing that despite a somewhat unsteady market place, you can rely on the professional evaluation of CIS and IAPS as a guide. The assurance offered by CIS and IAPS accreditation is reflected in the standards set by schools like Brookhouse, and although there is no denying that it is a major financial undertaking for parents, at least it is possible to make that investment in full knowledge of the exacting criteria established by such organisations as CIS and IAPS.