The UAE education system has come a long way in just a few short decades. And as with any sector that witnesses rapid growth, there has been something of a catch-up game to play when it comes to ensuring standards.
However, the government is taking the issue very seriously as the emirate sets its sights on welcoming thousands of new expats in the run up to Expo 2020. Just recently, education leaders responded favourably to the news that both private schools and government schools will be the focus of a new regime aimed at improving performance levels. British and American schools, and others, will have to show they are up to scratch. Inspections will play a vital role in monitoring the progress made to improve standards.
In Dubai, every school is regularly inspected by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) on behalf of the Knowledge and Human Development Agency (KHDA). The DSIB is the Dubai equivalent of UK’s Ofsted whereby schools have a rigorous inspection where key performance is noted.
A twelve-month inspection cycle for schools in the emirate, means that schools move through a period of time where recommendations, provided by the school inspection, are implemented alongside the school’s own improvement plans.
About nine months in, they are looking at preparing and getting ready for the next inspection in the cycle. This provides them with the opportunity to show the impact they have made through school self-evaluation to improve achievement and the personal, physical, social and emotional development of children, pupils and students in their school.
These two key outcomes are reviewed alongside four other standards to measure school effectiveness. Areas for development are identified for schools through recommendations made at the end of each inspection in the cycle. It is important to help educational establishments in the long-term, rather than just focusing on immediate, superficial fixes. It is important to help schools improve standards by working in partnership with the school leadership and the whole school workforce. The inspection journey is one in which schools get an external validation of what is good, very good, and outstanding alongside recommendations for action. A key aspect is support at all levels for the leadership within the school. That’s support for governance, working closely with the principal, as well as support for senior and middle leadership, because these are the key change agents that actually improve education for children, pupils and students on the ground.
This holistic approach will be a key focus for TBI to help schools improve things moving forward. TBI customises school improvement support to meet the needs of an individual school by looking
carefully at the school’s own self-evaluation. Some argue that schools who fall short of the excellent standards achieved by other institutions feel an added pressure to perform as a result of annual inspections. They perceive that they are tying themselves in knots as month nine arrives and the inspectors’ visit looms. Although this sentiment may still exist, the emphasis these days is much more on travelling the improvement journey together rather than singling out schools for criticism. The front pages of the inspection report have a curve to provide an illustration about inspection visits over time. The ideal measure of a school’s journey is that you go from acceptable one year, to good the next year, very good the next, and then outstanding the year after that.
Obviously, some schools get there quicker than others, however, it is the capacity building of the leadership which allows their inspection journey to be smooth. So, the schools that are suffering from stress are the ones that have not implemented recommendations quickly enough, which then means they have made life tough for themselves. Schools are in control of their own improvement, and if they set off on the journey quickly, they should feel more confident, when the next inspection comes around. It’s all about momentum, when a school moves from good to very good then they should immediately start on the next journey for improvement. Sometimes, with a school that has moved from acceptable to good, we can see that they suddenly understand that the path to outstanding is not as far off or as unattainable as they thought — this is what the process should be all about.
— DESMOND DUNNE is Chief of School Improvement and Inspections at The Boston Initiative and has more than 25 years of school improvement and inspection experience, having held the post of National Director for Science at the Department of Education and Skills in the UK.