International School Institutional Legitimacy and Accreditation
: A Case Study from the Federal Republic of Germany

  • Richard Eaton

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


International schooling’s proliferation has advanced studies of international school institutional legitimacy. While accreditation can substantiate an international school’s legitimacy, international accrediting bodies as legitimate institutions have remained unexamined. My project takes up the challenge. Framed as a retrospective case study, it asks how the Council of International Schools (CIS) has ‘built’ and ‘maintained’ institutional legitimacy to accredit international schools in Berlin- Brandenburg, an undertheorized region in the Federal Republic of Germany. The appropriateness of this region for study is examined, and the complex history of accreditation’s globalization is explored. Tensions and contradictions are revealed. Contextual understanding of institutional legitimacy is shaped, and a qualitative research design crafted that strives for rigor and considers the researcher’s insider- outsider relationship with CIS and international schools in Berlin-Brandenburg. This enables interviews with historical actors to shed light on CIS’ institutionalization as an accreditation provider in one context. An analytical framework used to theorize international school institutional legitimacy, and a process of constant comparison of data activates these insights revealing themes in CIS’ institutionalization as an accreditation provider that, in tandem with complementary slices of data, unlock understanding of how institutional legitimacy has been ‘built’ and ‘maintained.’ CIS accreditation is found to have well-embedded institutional legitimacy in Berlin-Brandenburg. Notwithstanding, as accreditation’s fundamental conventions assume levels of common cognition, alternative forms of school evaluative behavior may be difficult for stakeholders to comprehend. Hence, the practice is found to have a precarious taken-for-grantedness that prevents providers and practitioners from recognizing its marginalization of localized development solutions in favor of globalized alternatives, which may be deepening patterns of educational elitism in the case study context. As inquiry sub-questions are linked to primary findings and the project is critiqued, valuable insights are shared that could benefit future studies, and an action-driven accreditation research landscape surfaces to shape policy and practice.
Date of Award26 May 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMichael Fertig (Supervisor) & Tristan Bunnell (Supervisor)


  • Accreditation
  • Legitimacy
  • Germany
  • International Schools

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