British schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, currently reviewing stringent changes to new British curriculum, do not have to follow it to the letter.
British schools in UAE will cherry pick new curriculum
The controversial new curriculum being introduced by the UK education secretary Michael Gove has divided teaching professionals there.
It is considered far more stringent than its predecessor, with greater emphasis on skills such as essay writing, problem solving, mathematical modelling and computer programming.
But British schools overseas will not be forced to follow it to the letter, said Mark Ford, principal of Dubai British School.
"As a British school abroad, we have the luxury of being able to cherry pick the best practices from around the world," he said.
"Just as the newly formed academies in the UK will not be forced into following the new national curriculum, schools abroad will be in the same position," Mr Ford said.
The new curriculum has been adapted from those used in Singapore and other Far East countries - models that many schools here have already been following, said Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at Taaleem education group.
"Many schools in the region are already ahead of the game and achieve the goals proposed by the changes," he said. "There will be a pragmatic and sensible approach to adopting any new elements of the proposed curriculum to suit local demands and student needs. Context really matters here."
Fifty-two schools in Dubai and 28 in Abu Dhabi say they follow the curriculum.
Margaret Atack, group senior director of education at Gems school group, which runs 10 schools following the curriculum in Dubai and three in Abu Dhabi, said these schools would review and adapt the curriculum.
"Gems has already begun to review the curriculum, identify changes required and evaluate professional development needs to ensure teachers are prepared for 2014," she said.
Ms Atack said she was concerned about some of the changes "The question that many educationalists and parents ask is: will it deliver the expected outcomes? Exposing children to concepts earlier will not in itself make them more intelligent.
"Countries such as Singapore and Korea are cited as successful because they introduce 'harder' material earlier. What is not pointed out is that both of these countries committed themselves decades ago to educational reform - then set out a programme of change and stuck to it, allowing those changes to be embedded and success to be evaluated in a timely manner.
"This new curriculum was developed over a hectic two-year period, with ministers expecting a dramatic change in standards to follow."
While schools in Dubai will also be left to implement the new curriculum as they see fit, they will be expected by the emirate's education watchdog the Knowledge and Human Development Authority to conform to a certain standard.
"KHDA expects the schools themselves to implement changes in line with those specified by the UK government," the authority said. However, it said all British schools would have to complete the British Schools Overseas inspection to be recognised as "offering an equivalent education to a British independent school in the UK".
Of the 52 schools in Dubai that say they teach the curriculum, only three have been accredited by BSO.
"Other schools who describe themselves as British may be using standards or adapted standards from the National Curriculum of England and Wales, or may just be using end of school examination such as IGCSE, GCSEs and A levels," the KHDA said.
"But more schools are currently in the process of seeking accreditation from BSO."
The leeway granted to schools abroad to implement the changes as they see fit could benefit pupils. Teachers and principals in the UK have said their government's expectation that all schools implement the new curriculum by 2014 is too rushed.
"Changes of this nature and magnitude require time to be designed and implemented," said Mr Ford of Dubai British School. "To redesign a complete curriculum takes more than 12 months. Such changes should also be led by the people best qualified to make them - teachers and head teachers, not the politicians."