Dubai: How schools are rated Outstanding, Good, Acceptable or Weak

According to the KHDA, over three-quarters (77 per cent) of students in the emirate study in ‘Good’ or better schools


Sahim Salim

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Published: Tue 11 Apr 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 11 Apr 2023, 9:41 AM

More than 70 per cent of schools in Dubai have been rated ‘Good’ or better in the latest inspection results released by education regulator Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). The authority said over three-quarters (77 per cent) of students in Dubai study in ‘Good’ or better schools.

Twenty schools were rated ‘Outstanding’, 39 ‘Very Good’; and 84 ‘Good’. About 55 schools were rated ‘Acceptable’, while only one was ‘Weak’.

How KHDA rates schools

In an exclusive interview, Fatma Belrehif, chief executive officer of Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, told Khaleej Times that the authority uses the 2015/16 Unified School Inspection Framework, which sets the standards for each quality level. “A team of inspectors spends four days at a school, working closely with school leaders, teachers, students, and parents, gathering evidence to evaluate the quality of education being offered,” she said.

Fatma Belrehif
Fatma Belrehif

When asked how the KHDA helps schools rated 'Acceptable' and 'Weak' to improve their ratings, she said this is done in various ways. “During the inspection, the inspectors spend extensive time with school leaders and teachers, giving them feedback about their strengths and weakness and priorities for improvement.”

Getting an ‘Outstanding’ rating

Of the 199 schools that were assessed, 20 — a little over 10 per cent — were rated ‘Outstanding’. This is the highest possible rating for schools in Dubai.

So, what goes into becoming an ‘Outstanding’ school?

Robert Kesterton, acting principal, Jumeirah College — which has received the rating for 10 years in a row — explained to Khaleej Times: “Schools need to meet a range of performance standards that link to the National Agenda parameters. These include obvious educational ones such as progress and attainment, inclusivity, wellbeing and safeguarding, the quality of provision, student outcomes and university destinations.

There is also a focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, governance, international testing standards and, crucially, school leadership and self-evaluation. Unless a school leadership can accurately identify its own strengths and weaknesses, and evidence how it is addressing these areas, the whole grade unravels.”

Robert Kesterton
Robert Kesterton

DBS Emirates Hills has achieved an ‘Outstanding’ rating since 2017. The school’s principal, Sarah Reynolds, said a school must meet a total of 85 sets of criteria. “In essence, over 61 per cent of the indicators need to be rated as ‘Outstanding’ with all the limiting judgements also rated the same.

Within this proportion, specific judgements such as Leadership and Teaching and Learning must secure an ‘Outstanding’ rating for a school to be judged as such.”

Sarah Reynolds
Sarah Reynolds

How schools prepare for inspections

Reynolds said the visit of inspection teams to schools is “much like welcoming important visitors into our home, to ensure that we are presenting ourselves in the best possible light.”

“We tend not to do anything too differently during the inspection; we want inspectors to see an accurate reflection of who we are on a day to day basis.”

Kesterton found the inspection the school underwent in January to be a very supportive process. “We were given hugely insightful feedback on a range of topics. The inspection team acted as a critical friend and provided confidence in many of our processes, as well as providing a fresh viewpoint on others.”

Do ratings influence parents’ decision in selecting schools?

The release of inspection results 2022-23 coincides with school re-enrolment deadlines for the next academic year.

KHDA’s Fatma Belrehif said the inspection reports inform parents about the strengths and weaknesses of the schools they are considering and helps them make their decisions.

“Parents have a range of considerations when selecting a school for their children, such as location, curriculum, fees, and the inspection rating,” she added.

According to Sara Reynolds, being rated as ‘Outstanding’ in the “highly competitive Dubai education market is not only a significant achievement but also a crucial factor for many parents when selecting a school for their children.”

“It is also attractive to high-quality teachers and leaders, enabling us to continue to improve and strengthen our school,” she added.

Dubai International Academy, Emirates Hills, has been assessed ‘Outstanding’ for the first time since the ratings were expanded. Principal Hitesh Bhagat said inspection ratings have a “varying influence” in line with the cultural importance that families place on them.

“They may serve to narrow down certain choices, though ultimately the ‘feel’ of the school during a visit, positive word of mouth and logistical requirements are significant driving forces.”

Hitesh Bhagat
Hitesh Bhagat

Kesterton explained that there are a host of factors in parents’ decision-making. “Parents who tour our school are most interested in our academic outcomes and university destinations, but perhaps they are only touring our school in the first place due to the ‘Outstanding’ grading.

For Poonam Bhojani, CEO, Innoventures Education, the high rating is an “objective validation of a school’s pathway”.

Poonam Bhojnani
Poonam Bhojnani

“Schools are continually on a journey and hence this result is a fantastic milestone in DIA Emirates Hills' history. Our staff are highly invested in the success of our school and if managed carefully, high ratings are a source of motivation,” she said.


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