The first gathering of those who felt it prudent to pursue the formation of a group of linked international schools within Europe was held at a bar in Beirut in the autumn of 1962 during the International Schools Foundation conference, an annual gathering for heads of American and International schools.

That initial seed soon took root as the putative Council of European Schools Serving American Students (CESSAS), and there was talk of formalising the organisation. Later, just one year before it was to incorporate officially, there was a meeting in Brussels at which the earliest form of the Office of Overseas Schools—then called the Overseas Schools Policies Committee—was announced as having been established by the US Department of State, and so began an affiliation between the two organisations ab initio.

The historic meeting that resulted in the official formation of the association was held at the Collège du Léman in Switzerland in March 1965, and, since those earliest days, the organisation we now know as ECIS has grown from a core group of prescient schools to a worldwide organisation that spans myriad cultures, curricular models, and organisational designs.

ECIS owes its existence to a group of passionate and visionary educational leaders who exercised their resolve, and their names echo loudly in the halls of international education, from Mary Crist Fleming (The American School in Switzerland) to Arthur Denyer (International School of Brussels) to Francis Clivaz (Collège du Léman) to John Chapman (The American School of Paris), among others whose numbers grew rapidly in those early years.

Corporate Identity and Nomenclature

ECIS has had four corporate identities in its first fifty years.

The first incorporation was in 1966 as a Swiss non-profit, the second in 1974 as an American Foundation (Delaware), the third in 1983 as an American 501(c)(3) Delaware non-profit corporation, and the fourth (and current) in 2012 as a UK non-profit.

Alongside incorporation is the matter of nomenclature. When it was resolved to form the organisation in 1965, it was given the name European Council of International Schools, and its core membership was international schools within Europe, although the idea had had its genesis in Beirut. Over the years, as membership parameters were revisited and expanded to permit membership of non-European schools, the ECIS base grew to include members on six continents. When ECIS relocated its offices to London in 2011 and was granted UK charitable status the following year, the name of the organisation changed to ECI Schools, as the utilisation of ‘European Council’ was not permitted on account of EU regulations on that combination.

In January 2016, the ECIS Board of Trustees voted to change the name behind the acronym to the Educational Collaborative for International Schools, emphasising the organisation's collaborative nature and removing geographical limitations from its name. In many ways, this development was inevitable and perhaps somewhat overdue, given the association’s truly global membership. Yet the use of the acronym ‘ECIS’ will long remain a positive nod toward and suitable reminder of its nascent membership in Europe, which remains the organisation’s core market.

Related closely to corporate identity and nomenclature is the leadership provided to ECIS by its executive directors over the years. While every executive director has served the organisation loyally and with skill, it is fitting to highlight an extraordinary leadership period of 29 years provided by Gray Mattern and his successor, Michael Maybury, each of whom led the organisation during years of rapid growth, both in terms of schools served and programmes undertaken.

To Accredit or Not to Accredit?

ECIS began to accredit schools some seven years after its inception, even though the subject had been broached in 1965, as a way to acknowledge that international schools (not just American schools, but the growing number of different kinds of international schools) differed from the kinds of schools being accredited by Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools—the primary accrediting agency at that time. The first school to be accredited was Antwerp International School in 1971, and it marked the beginning of a long and fruitful period of accreditation by ECIS. Schools that soon followed were Copenhagen International School(1972), Stavanger American School(1974), and the International School of Hamburg (1975), with many more to come after these first ten years of existence.

The Collège du Léman became the first member school to undergo what we now term ‘dual accreditation’ in 1978, with the two agencies being ECIS and Middle States, although the processes were not as coordinated as they are now. In that same year, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) announced that they would begin offering accreditation services in Europe and would be prepared to conduct dual accreditation with ECIS. The International School of Belgrade and the Anglo-American School of Moscow were the first schools to complete this joint process in 1981.

Accreditation carried on in this fashion until the start of the new millennium, when a decision was reached to separate the accreditation portfolio from the rest of the business operations of ECIS. The legal separation occurred in 2003, with the birth of the Council of International Schools (CIS) as the entity to handle accreditation as well as recruitment services.

Professional Learning

The annual educator and leadership conferences that are now taken for granted grew from a combination of regular meetings and serendipity. From the inception of the idea in Beirut through the earliest days of ECIS, there were European springtime meetings. The spring of 1967 saw a more formalised structure offered, and what we now know as the leadership conference ensued. As for the traditional educators' conference, it developed from a serendipitous event that occurred in 1967. International School Services (ISS) had planned an autumn conference for schools in Europe and the Near East; however, at the last minute, funding fell through. Within three days ECIS proposed a conference in Zurich, and the rest is history.

It should be noted, though, that the first ten years of ECIS conferences were attended largely by directors and administrators, most notably college counsellors, even at the autumnal gathering. As the organisation began its second decade, however, it was recognised that the needs of teachers could be met by ECIS, specifically by means of offering a conference where ideas could be shared and networks created or expanded—and so the educators' conference became a mainstay event for teachers.

In 2017, based on a design sprint undertaken with delegates at the 2016 conference in Copenhagen, ECIS launched an entirely new professional learning experience, InspirED, which is more intimate in size, focuses on problems of practice at a school level rather than discrete classroom level, can be held in schools in various regions, and which combine our classic face-to-face experience with digital technologies, allowing us to extend learning for up to six months, rather than two days. It is rooted in evidence around effective professional learning, and shows our commitment to delivering professional learning that creates impact.

Programmes Offering

ECIS had run conferences for its early years, and, as schools grew and more staff had more need of professional development opportunities, it made sense to carve out an area within the organisation that would devote itself to discovery and implementation of programmes of action to enhance the performance of professional staff in member schools; thus was launched School Services. At the base of these services was a vibrant group of committees comprising teachers focused on specific subjects from English to school libraries. That structure exists to this very day, with over thirty special interest groups that produce ideas for conference strands and speakers, as well as promote research.

By the summer of 1982, ECIS was organising training workshops for teachers dealing with the International Baccalaureate programme, and a strong relationship with the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate – now known as CIE (Cambridge International Examinations)—soon blossomed as well.

The outgrowth of these workshops can be seen in today’s offering of ECIS programmes. In many ways, “school services” are very much alive and well, and they continue to evolve to meet the times and needs of members as well as non-members.

The Move to London

Although ECIS had moved from Switzerland in the 1970s to be housed in London at the newly-built American School of London, its growth soon required a move to larger office spaces, which the organisation found in Surrey, in the southern suburbs of London.

ECIS continued to grow in membership and in staff, and, just several years later, the offices were moved again, this time to more spacious accommodations in Petersfield, a market town just north of Portsmouth. Petersfield proved a beneficial location for some time, and, even when ECIS and CIS were distinctly separate beginning in 2003, it remained the home of both until 2011, when ECIS moved to its new headquarters to London on Buckingham Palace Road, where it still resides.