x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Threat to 19 Dubai schools as new inspections near

With a second round of annual inspections due to start next month, 19 schools remain in danger of being shut down.

DUBAI // With a second round of annual inspections due to start next month, 19 schools remain in danger of being shut down. Inspections, started last year by Dubai's school regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, placed schools into four categories: outstanding, good, acceptable and unsatisfactory. The survey of 189 schools was the first effort by a government agency to measure the quality of education in the UAE.

The inspections have been the subject of heated debate among operators and owners, particularly since tuition-fee increases were capped in accordance with the rankings determined by inspectors. This year 24 Indian and Pakistani schools, which have not yet been evaluated, will be subject to inspections. Five Iranian schools may not be inspected because of difficulties finding Iranian inspectors. Two of Dubai's Indian and Pakistani schools will not be inspected, as one is new and the other is temporarily closed.

In the first wave of inspections, to be done between October and December, 46 private establishments, including 24 Indian and Pakistani schools, and 36 public schools will receive visits from inspectors. One in eight of the Dubai schools inspected last year was found to be offering an unacceptable level of education. Those have since received follow-up visits from KHDA inspectors. Just three - the Star International School-Al Twar, the Oxford School and the Jumeirah branch of Al Shorouq Private School - have made enough progress to be eligible for new inspections next year, which could mean they change categories.

The other 19 "unsatisfactory" schools will receive visits next month to determine whether they are eligible for a full inspection. "If we find that they really did a good job then we will send the full team to inspect them," said Jameela al Muhairi, the chief of the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, the department within the KHDA in charge of inspections. During yesterday's press briefing, Dr Abdulla al Karam, the director general of the KHDA, reiterated that the authority would not hesitate to close schools. He did not put a time frame on closures, and said the authority would not close schools if no alternative for pupils existed.

Most schools, Dr al Karam said, would be given a full year between inspections, but he added that scheduling was difficult. He said schools that failed to adopt KHDA recommendations would be penalised. A decision on fee increases has not yet been made by the KHDA, but Dr al Karam suggested yesterday that performance on inspections would continue to be linked to caps. "We will link everything in KHDA to the inspections," he said, adding that the agency was not looking at fee caps yet. He stressed that last year's came within the parameters of federal caps set by the Ministry of Education.

As for next year, he said his agency would urge the ministry to change its caps "given the economic situation out there," but said the KHDA would act within its decision. But fees remain a bone of contention for schools with the UAE's largest private operator, Global Education Management Systems. "GEMS does not agree with the policy of aligning fee increases with the inspection results," said Richard Forbes, its director of communications and marketing.

"Those schools that are rated 'outstanding' are able to increase fees by up to 15 per cent yet those schools rated 'not acceptable' can only increase fees by up to seven per cent. We believe this approach is counterproductive because lower-performing schools may need investment. If they disappear because they are not viable, who will take their place?" Schools that took full fee increases will be looked at closely to determine whether those resources were put into use, Dr al Karam said.

There were also complaints last year that there were too few Arab inspectors, while some schools questioned their regional expertise. "The biographical details provided by KHDA indicated that inspectors were experienced in a range of curricula," Mr Forbes said, but added that "the biographies did not always highlight experience outside home country, and in some cases there appeared to be no experience of the region which concerns us".

The KHDA, Dr Abdulla said, hoped to hire more Arabic-speaking inspectors, but he conceded that finding qualified people was difficult. Abu Dhabi will launch its own school inspections next year. klewis@thenational.ae