x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

First inspection shows Abu Dhabi's private schools vary widely in quality

32 per cent are 'below satisfactory', 18 per cent are 'good'.

ABU DHABI // Partial results from Abu Dhabi's first school inspection suggest the quality of education in the emirate's private schools varies widely, according to education officials. Inspectors from the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec), which convened yesterday to discuss the results, visited 98 of Abu Dhabi's 184 private schools. Of the 56 schools ranked so far, more than half were satisfactory and 32 per cent were "below satisfactory"; a mere 18 per cent were deemed good.

But the picture may be incomplete: some 70 "villa" schools, which are widely acknowledged to be overcrowded and underfunded, were not included in the inspections. The council has been attempting to close such schools for two years, citing serious health and safety risks to children. Dr Mugheer al Khaili, the director general at Adec, noted that "the variation between schools is high", and Adec officials yesterday pledged to work to close the gap between the best and worst performing private schools.

Dr al Khaili said Abu Dhabi has a long way to go before all were at the level the education council was aiming for. "We hope to reduce the variance in our private schools by 20 per cent," said Dr Rafic Makki, the executive director of Adec's office for strategic affairs. "Our strategy is to challenge the schools through the inspection and the licensing and the accreditation process," said Paul Andrews, the manager of the private school division at Adec.

"In the process of doing that we are defining a minimum entitlement we would expect all students attending our private schools to receive as their education. "Challenge alone without support is unlikely to be a very effective reform strategy. So we also have support processes through the school improvement division, which is now being set up, with an emphasis particularly on support for the Arabic language, Islamic studies, social studies and those elements that are of greatest value for the culture."

The full results of the inspections will not be made public this year, contrary to the initial plans first announced last spring. The council says that full reports and grades for each inspected school will be available in the second year of the inspections scheme. The conference, which will cover issues such as the impact inspections have on schools, ends on Thursday. Officials from the council hope to spur quality institutions to open in the capital. In his opening remarks, Dr al Khaili encouraged further investment in the private sector, which he said is growing by 5 per cent a year.

Mr Andrews said 19 new licenses have been granted from 126 applications. These new schools will create capacity for 23,000 students. "This is an indication of the rigour of the process - and the changing landscape of expectations here in Abu Dhabi for the creation of new schools," Mr Andrews said. "We have to regard the private schools as playing a major role in the future. The expatriate workforce is growing and the number of UAE nationals attending private schools in growing."

With the closure of so-called villa schools fast approaching, tens of thousands of new school places may be necessary to account for institutions that are not able to relocate to suitable premises.