x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Inspection system gets top marks

Expatriate parents throw their support behind the school inspection system, saying the rankings were a key tool for people deciding where to send their children.

Dubai // Expatriate parents yesterday threw their support behind the school inspection system, saying the rankings were a key tool for people deciding where to send their children. The results were often not the only factor guiding their decision, but they provided independent insight, particularly valuable for parents who had just arrived in the UAE.

The assessments were leading to improvements in schools, said Dr Abdulla al Karam, the director general of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, which carried out the inspections. Claire Fenner, the co-founder of Heels and Deals, a networking group for female entrepreneurs whose eldest child attends the Dubai British School, said the inspections were useful. "I definitely know that most of the parents, when the results came out last year, they were extremely happy about it because before there wasn't anything to go on other than the information that the education provider gave to them. It's great to have an unbiased opinion, and I think that parents really value that, especially when it's in a schooling system that is private and can be foreign to them."

Many parents, Mrs Fenner said, used the inspection results to make decisions. "Some have chosen to send or not to send their children to a particular school based on the results, so they are absolutely influential." Tracey Burrows, whose firm Executive Expatriate Relocations helps new families place their children in schools, said the results provided important guidance to parents, even if the rankings do not necessarily determine their choices.

"At the end of the day, ultimately the parent will make their decision on the child's needs; how the school feels, whether the curriculum is right," she said. The inspections, she added, are particularly valuable for parents new to the UAE. "The parents we're dealing with haven't reached the country yet so they don't have any prior knowledge. Before the KHDA started to rate the schools in this way we didn't have anything to use as a benchmark. It was just word of mouth, parents going on to expat websites and having a look at people's comments."

Ms Burrows said most parents would not consider looking at a school ranked "unsatisfactory" but would look at an "acceptable" school. She added: "People are not put off when they see 'acceptable' because they know there are so many different factors - maybe it's a new school that hasn't quite got all of their facilities open already; maybe that has affected their ranking but academically it might be absolutely fantastic. There are so many different things that affect the ratings. So I don't think that parents would just look at the rating without questioning why is it that they didn't get 'good'. It really isn't stopping people."

Sabine Haas, an American mother whose children attend one of Dubai's French schools, said she would think about moving her kids if the school got a low score. "If the education they receive here is mediocre we would change, because there are quite a few options here," she said, adding that inspection results were not everything. Lori Sieben-Kittel, another American mother whose children go to school in Dubai, agreed that inspection results would factor into her decision to send her child to a particular school. "There are plenty of openings. As the population of Dubai has decreased, it's not like you're fighting. We used to have to accept where we could get in first."

Another mother, who asked to remain anonymous and whose son is at the Delhi Private School, one of seven Indian schools to be ranked "good", agreed that inspection results made a difference. "At the end of the day, if a good education is provided, your life is taken care of. We would definitely not put him in a school that is unsatisfactory or acceptable," she said. "It should come under 'good'."

She agreed that rankings are a useful tool for parents new to Dubai. "We would think twice about whether to move out of this category and put him in a good school." "I guess whoever comes into the country they have a lot of choices to choose from and they go by these listings." @Email:klewis@thenational.ae