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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Abu Dhabi schools to have less warning ahead of Adek inspections

The Department of Education and Knowledge will also no longer group schools within "bands"

Dr Karima Almazroui, Adek P-12 Acting Executive Director and chairman adviser, speaks at the Private Schools Annual Forum in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Vidhyaa for The National
Dr Karima Almazroui, Adek P-12 Acting Executive Director and chairman adviser, speaks at the Private Schools Annual Forum in Abu Dhabi on Monday. Vidhyaa for The National

Private schools in the capital will be given five days’ advanced notice of an impending inspection, down from 10 days, principals and vice principals heard on Monday.

When the Department of Education and Knowledge first started inspecting private schools in 2009, it offered principals 15 working days of advance notice that government inspectors would be entering their premises for an audit.

The 15-day notice period was cut down to 10 days for the fourth round of inspections, from 2015 to 2017. Now, starting this year, schools will have five working days to prepare for the inspection team’s arrival.

“This is a gradual change because schools should be always ready for inspections and for self-evaluation,” said Dr Osama Obeidat, manager of Adek’s inspection and monitoring division. “Hopefully, in the future, there will be unannounced visits once we are sure that the schools, and we as well, are ready to do that.”

Dr Obeidat said he didn’t know when Adek would start conducting surprise inspections, but it wouldn’t begin during this fifth round of audits, which starts next month and continues through the 2018-2019 academic year.

“It involves a lot of logistics and I don’t think we are ready for that,” said Dr Obeidat.

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Dr Obeidat was one of a handful of officials from Adek, which was previously known as the Abu Dhabi Education Council, to address an audience of about 400 principals and vice-principals at the Private Schools Annual Forum in Abu Dhabi.

The meeting was meant to review past accomplishments and discuss future challenges in the private education sector. He announced a number of changes to the private schools inspection and subsequent reports.

Schools will no longer be rated within “bands,” for example, because some had exploited the designation for improper marketing. Before, schools that were rated good, very good or outstanding were grouped together within the “Band A, High Performing” designation.

Those ranked as acceptable fell into the “Band B: Satisfactory” group, while those that earned a “weak” or “very weak” rating were classified as “Band C: In need of significant improvement.” A number of schools marketed themselves as being a “Band A” school, potentially misleading parents into believing the school was “outstanding,” when it was, in fact, just “good.”

“There is a difference between outstanding and good schools, and putting them all together in the same classification is not fair,” said Dr Obeidat. “Parents didn’t know that this is good and this is outstanding.”

He said the purpose of the inspections is not to rank schools from best to worst, rather to help them improve.

In August, Adek entered into an exclusive contract with Tribal to inspect public and private schools in the emirate. The Dh42 million contract will expire in 2019.

“Starting in September, the latest contract will require an expansion of the inspection team,” Tribal wrote on its website. “As well as delivering high-quality inspections, the team will evaluate educational initiatives and continue to develop and train local Emirati inspectors to enable a sustainable model of school improvement, empowering the future of education in this region.”

Dr Obeidat said 82 local inspectors have been trained so far, but the number of Emirati inspectors working in schools remain low. Only 15 inspectors were Emirati last year, he said.

“All of them work in the government schools as principals or vice principals, so they can’t work with us full-time,” he said. “Each one will do one inspection.”

While private schools in Abu Dhabi have made tremendous progress since the inspections were first rolled out eight years ago, he said there is still room for improvement.

“We are still not happy about the quality of Arabic in many of the schools,” said Dr Obeidat. “Students’ critical thinking and learning skills, this is another area for improvement that we want schools to work on.

“What differentiates outstanding schools from acceptable schools is the consistency and the quality of teaching, which is one of the key areas for improvement in many of the schools,” he said.

Nilay Ozral, chief executive of private schools operator Aldar Academies, said she welcomed the changes to the school inspections.

“I think schools should be prepared to have inspections at any time,” said Ms Ozral. “Before I took over the schools, they spent days and weeks to prepare for inspection, we moved away from that. Our schools are ready to be inspected at any time. It shouldn’t be a burden on schools, anyone should be able to walk in and see how you are doing and you should have your data, you should have your analysis, your strengths, your gaps, your focus areas that you’re working on, that’s how you should work. I’m not sure everyone is working like that.”

Mark Leppard, headmaster of the British School Al Khubairat, which has consistently ranked among the emirate’s best schools, said the shorter notice period may pose a challenge for some.

“But if schools are focused on continual improvement, it should not matter about the notice period,” said Mr Leppard. “In fact, I believe the shorter notice period will enable inspectors to see the school in its natural form, rather than over prepared just for an inspection. This will enable the inspectors to get a more realistic picture and therefore the inspection feedback is more useful for the school and its path of self-improvement. I also feel the shorter notice period means far less disruption to teaching and learning.”

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