x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

High prices but only middling grades

Results from the first full year of school inspections paint a challenging picture of educational standards in Dubai.

The Repton School in Dubai, one of the expensive institutions, was rated as
The Repton School in Dubai, one of the expensive institutions, was rated as "good" by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority.

The complete results from the first full year of school inspections were released yesterday, painting a challenging picture of educational standards in Dubai. The report, compiled by Dubai's Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), which oversees Dubai schools, shows both private and public schools at all tuition levels underperforming.

Neither of Dubai's most expensive schools, Gems World Academy and the Repton School, were given outstanding marks. Repton, which charges Dh85,000 (US$23,000) per year for Grade 12, received a "good" mark and the Gems World Academy, which charges Dh92,000 for Grade 12, was given an "acceptable" score. Natasha Ridge, a researcher at the Dubai School of Government, who did not take part in the inspections, said: "We still have a lot of work to do in improving the level of education in Dubai."

"Education accrues benefits both to society and to individuals and therefore governments have a responsibility to ensure that the schools in their states are turning out the type of citizens that they need." The inspectors assigned schools one of four marks: outstanding, good, acceptable, or unsatisfactory. Just over one third of the 189 schools inspected were rated "good" or better. One in eight schools was found to be "unsatisfactory", while more than half scored "acceptable" or lower. Just four schools were considered outstanding - all of them private British-curriculum schools.

The announcement in March that the KHDA would link fee increases at private schools to inspection grades was controversial with school operators. Sunny Varkey, the chairman of Gems, the largest private school operator in the country, said last week that fee caps should be abolished completely. "Linking school fees to inspections is having a particularly damaging effect on mid-market schools," added Richard Forbes, communications and marketing manager at Gems.

"Where you can't increase fees, you therefore can't increase in areas like teacher salaries in order to improve overall performance." The inspection results show that cost does not necessarily correlate with quality. Inspectors at Repton School noted their concerns about requirements in the Islamic Studies and Arabic programmes, and ordered that the school ensure child protection procedures were "robust" and that health and safety measures were more rigorously implemented.

School administrators from Repton could not be reached yesterday for comment. Despite a wide range of facilities, Gems World Academy was rated "acceptable". The KHDA recommended that it further develop students' understanding of Islam, improve Arabic instruction and develop a systematic assessment and review process to track student progress, among other things. "We respect the philosophy of the inspections," Mr Forbes said. "We are happy to have areas for improvement identified, and we are very happy with the ratings we have achieved in areas like leadership and quality of teaching and learning."

He said Gems was aware it needed to improve Islamic and Arabic instruction and was working with specialists in those areas. Of 12 Gems schools rated by the KHDA, seven were rated acceptable, four good and one outstanding. Gems, which owns 26 schools in the emirates, educates approximately 75,000 children here. The report summaries, posted on the KHDA's website yesterday, contain numerous troubling revelations. The worst pertain to those schools at the low-cost end of the spectrum.

"In light of the fact that 85 per cent of people are in private schools, it makes sense that we look really closely at private education and how the KHDA can help to ensure that parents with low-to-medium income levels have access to reasonable quality education in Dubai," Ms Ridge said. Reports have shown that Dubai's worst-performing schools have problems with corporal punishment, underqualified teachers, poor attendance records, and discipline.

The American Scientific School, which has been open for 27 years, was classified as unsatisfactory. It was ordered to ensure that daily attendance records were accurate and to improve teaching and learning. The quality of its Arabic and Islamic studies instruction also was criticised. But even schools ranked acceptable have serious issues. Dubai Scholars, a British-curriculum school that has been open for 32 years, was asked to improve the quality of its teachers. Learning resources were also listed as being out of date.

The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau will publish its annual report today on the state of schools in Dubai, giving parents a comprehensive picture of them for the first time. Parents speaking yesterday had mixed views about the relevance of the inspections. Tom Stray, whose son goes to Wellington Primary School, said the teachers were more important than the schools. "I pay more for my five-year-old to go to school than my seven-year-old daughter because I know I have to pay that for a good teacher in a good school," Mr Stray said. "But the one he has is excellent."

klewis@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Eugene Harnan

KHDA's school inspection reports