x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Schools in Abu Dhabi to be graded

For the first time, schools in both the state and private sectors will be evaluated at the start of the academic year, with results made available to parents.

Inspectors will visit and grade every school in the capital, both state and private, from the start of the academic year in September.
Inspectors will visit and grade every school in the capital, both state and private, from the start of the academic year in September.

ABU DHABI // Parents in the capital will be able to choose schools for their children based on independently measured research results rather than word of mouth.

Inspectors will visit and grade every school in the capital, both state and private, from the start of the academic year in September, and the results of their evaluations will be made public.

"There is a gap between the quality of education offered at different schools," said Salem Al Sayari, executive director of support services at Abu Dhabi Education Authority (Adec).

"Some schools are progressing well and some are not. We want to align all their standards to an international level."

Under the new quality-control scheme, called Irtiqaa, schools will be judged on eight criteria: the academic progress of pupils, their personal development, the curriculum's role in meeting their needs, quality of teaching, quality of facilities, support of pupils through guidance and care, resources that facilitate learning, and the effectiveness of school leadership and management.

The schools will then be placed in one of eight categories, ranging from excellent to poor, and graded as either A (high performing), B (secure) or C (in need of significant improvement).

Schools that achieve the A grade will receive the Irqaa Award, and may be granted special privileges. Details are not yet available.

Adec has been working on the Irtiqaa programme since 2008 with Tribal, an international inspections organisation. Work included designing and developing the framework, aligning it to global standards and conducting preliminary inspections.

Twenty Emiratis have been selected for training to join the evaluation team, and the authority has begun testing the programme at 12 state schools.

Workshops will be held over the next few months to prepare schools, particularly in the state sector, for the inspections. Private schools have some idea of what to expect because Adec implemented an inspection programme for them in 2010.

Paul Andrews, manager of the private schools division at Adec, said inspections had exposed problems in schools such as poor leadership, a lack of qualified teachers and lacklustre teaching of Arabic, which he described as "the weakest link".

"The school improvement plan has brought about measurable improvement in some schools," he said.

Results of those inspections, however, were never made public. "We want parents to be able to make informed decisions but we had to sensitise schools to the process and expectations first," he said.

During the private schools inspection round, Sunrise Indian School was asked to make classes more interactive and promote independent thinking among children.

The school principal, C Inbanathan, said they were working to bring about those changes and he hoped the new Irtiqaa inspectors would not be too heavy handed.

"A bad grade may affect the operation in some areas," he said, "although many schools have built a really good reputation and parents may not necessarily agree with the report."

Mr Andrews said they would ensure that criticism was not conveyed harshly but in a way that fostered improvement and dialogue.

Abdul Kader, principal of The Model School, said they had already improved the infrastructure and provided first-aid training to all the teachers after recommendations made by Adec.

"We have had a talk with the authorities on the best way of putting this information out to the public," he said. "We are ready to have our grades known to parents."

Under the Irtiqaa programme, all grades will be made available to the public as a way to make schools more accountable for their education standards.

"The idea is to enable schools to judge the quality of their provision and services," said Mariam Saqer, the inspection programme manager at Adec. "These reports and classification will also facilitate better communication and cooperation between parents and schools."

Liante Payne, whose children attend a British school in the capital, welcomed news of the inspections and said there was a definite need for schools to have external evaluations.

"Parents need to be aware of how well the school is performing and progressing," she said. "Ranking them is a good move because with so few British schools to chose from, it will make it easier for parents to decide."

State schools said they were equally ready to welcome the inspection process. Samira Al Nuaimi, vice principal of Mubarak Bin Mohammed School, said: "It's a good step by Adec to have experts come in and see how well we are teaching the children. If our teachers are committed and adopt the best methods, then there is nothing to worry and we will get a good report.

"For schools that are not doing this, they should be held accountable."

aahmed@thenational.ae