Dubai schools stuck at bottom of class for years are on the rise
Three schools improved from 'weak' to 'acceptable' in KHDA inspections after overcoming a variety of challenges
Private schools in Dubai languishing at the bottom of annual performance tables for years have told how they have finally managed to rise the ranks.
Crescent English High School and Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistan School were rated in the lowest 'weak' category of inspections carried out by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the emirate's private schools regulator, for six and seven years respectively.
Now the schools, along with Dubai American Private School, which was rated weak since 2015, have improved to 'acceptable' in the latest KHDA inspection results announced last week.
Staff at the trio of schools said they have had to overcome a number of challenges, such as working with tight budgets and facing difficulties in recruiting pupils, to begin their climb.
Poorly performing schools have previously stated they were caught in a vicious cycle as they were unable to attract good teachers after being rated weak year after year.
Dubai Arabian American Private School's student population is 75 per cent Emirati and the school struggled with low pupil recruitment as weak schools are not allowed to enrol Emirati pupils.
Tammy Tusek, principal at the school, said the school took a "big hit" from the pupil ban but are now on the road to recovery.
“Our predominant population is Emirati pupils and we were not allowed to accept any new registrations last year and this academic year," Ms Tusek said.
“This impacted families and we lost a lot of children for that reason because the youngest children went to neighbouring schools and the parents pulled the whole family out.
“We took a big hit financially for that reason and now we are just trying to build from that."
Weak schools can retain previously registered Emirati children but cannot have fresh enrolments.
Now, that the school is at the acceptable level, they are working to bring back the pupils who left.
The school made changes in the bid to break out of the weak category, which included shortening breaks, lengthening the school day and pushing to improve attendance levels.
Ms Tuek said working with a school mentor supplied by the KHDA has also been a boost.
“While on a very strict budget, we did a lot of teacher training and revamped all our assessment systems. We are still not where we would like to be in progress and attainment because the attainment gap is so large.
"KHDA has a school advancement programme where they assign a mentor to work with the school. If weak schools utilise the resource and really work with the officer, then it’s a really phenomenal programme."
Crescent English High School has one of the lowest fees in the country starting at Dh 2,538 per year in kindergarten, going up to Dh9,210 in grade 12.
Nigar Rashed, principal at Crescent English High School, said the biggest challenge was to attract skilled staff.
“No one was interested in joining a weak school. Salaries were a challenge for us as we couldn’t match the salaries people were getting. Because of this, we were getting teachers who were freshers and we needed to groom them a lot.
“Once the teacher was trained for a year or six months, they would leave for just a Dh100 difference. So, retaining teachers was our biggest challenge."
The school’s kindergarten was rated weak in many areas and that was the first point of focus. Now, just one area is rated weak in the section.
“We went in for the best resources and made teachers confident to face the inspectors and worked to groom teachers.
“We requested the management to bring in resources and activities and involved the children."
In the years the school was ranked weak, they were only allowed a very small fee increase which came to about Dh8 per month per child. Now, a 4.14 per cent fee increase has been approved this year, meaning child will be paying Dh200 to D300 more per year.
"We have bought LED smartboards and resources for English and Arabic."
Imran Waheed, principal at Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistan School, said resources remain the key to success.
“Everything revolves around finances. The classroom’s resources depend upon finances and so does teacher’s training," he said.
He said that KHDA’s school improvement plans help schools as they benefit from free training.
To improve standards, the school purchased high quality resources that are being used at an international level to teach mathematics and science.
“We prioritised and focused on the pupils and the facilities in the school as well as on the safety and security of pupils.
"We had assemblies and motivated pupils through trips, activities and encouraged them to participate in events."
The non-profit school relies completely on fees and sought community support to improve standards.
Philanthropists and businessmen responded to the call for help and donated smart boards and computers.
The school also improved through peer learning by partnering with a neighbouring school with a better rating.
Updated: April 21, 2019 02:16 PM