When parents pick a school, often the first indicators they look for are location, curriculum, and other parents' recommendations. However, one of the key factors that can dictate the quality of a school is teaching. But how can parents know what makes a good teacher? And how can they know if their school is fostering teachers in ways that allows them to be their best?
What does good teaching look like?
Regardless of the curriculum of the price point, all schools are capable of fostering great teaching that drives student progress and achievement. As a parent, what you can look for at your school are opportunities for teacher development that are a part of the school calendar, as well as opportunities offered to teachers for advanced development. Furthermore, teachers should be open and engaged with the curriculum and know details about your child's learning styles and preferences.
When touring schools, ask about teacher qualifications and staff turnover. It's best to have a variety of teaching experience on staff so that you have the dynamism that younger teachers have tempered with the experience of older teachers who bring consistency and breadth of knowledge.
Also, with staff turnover, some is expected as Dubai is a transient place but too much turnover can indicate that staff are unmotivated and not feeling that their needs are met. Too low turnover, although on the surface can feel like a positive, actually can hinder innovation as staff may not be fluent in cutting-edge educational theories.
Happy teachers means happy students
Most important is do teachers seem happy; happy teachers are the ones who are passionate, driven, and feel that their school is a place that allows them to flourish in their vocation.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's team of teachers highlighted five schools they have been impressed with on visits this year, and reference the relevant findings of the latest, 2017 KHDA reports.
Name: Uptown School
Rating: Very Good
Fees: AED 57,001 to AED 87,374
Teacher turnover: 20%
What the KHDA says: Uptown School, was just ranked Very Good after three years at Good The school has seen improvement across all indicators and especially in Teaching for Effective Learning. The KHDA has ranked teaching at Uptown as Very Good across almost the entire school except for in the MYP, where it is ranked Good. The report notes:
- Teachers have a very secure knowledge of their subjects. They make very good use of their knowledge to provide students with stimulating and challenging work
- Lesson plans are carefully planned and include differentiated targets related to students’ attainment levels
- In most lessons, skilled questioning is used well to challenge students’ thinking and probe understanding
- Leaders are continually focussed on improving the quality of teaching and fully understand what constitutes good and better teaching
What WSA says: It’s clear that one of the reasons that Uptown School is making strides overall is because of the quality of teaching and the support of teacher development by leadership.
Reading the report, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com can gauge that teachers are engaged with students and are using questioning to raise the students’ levels of critical thinking.
Furthermore, differentiation is actively happening meaning that students of different abilities are having their needs simultaneously met through careful lesson preparing and personal knowledge of their learning strengths by their teachers.
Name: Horizon English School
Rating: Very Good
Fees: AED 28,249 to AED 39,564
Teacher turnover: 19%
What the KHDA says: The most recent report has found the quality of Teaching for Effective Learning at Horizon to be Very Good. The report highlights the close relationship between students and teachers and the ways that teachers meet their students,’ needs noting:
- All teachers have a good knowledge of their subjects. They support and develop students’ learning skills very effectively
- Student-teacher interactions are generally positive and promote learning
- Teachers successfully promote critical thinking and approaches to innovation
- The school is effective in modifying the curriculum to meet the needs of almost all students
- The school has developed a very strong inclusive ethos, underpinned by a positive admissions policy
What WSA says: Having toured Horizon English School, what is clear both from the report and from the school itself is the passion and drive of the teachers.
Through dynamic leadership led by head of school David Baldwin, teachers feel empowered and motivated to challenge students in ways that develop their critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Furthermore, there is an innovative mind-set throughout the campus which teachers harness to excite and motivate all students, regardless of skill level. The inclusion specialist at Horizon English School is one of the most passionate we’ve come across and overall what is clear is that this is a school where teachers shine.
Name: Kings’ Nad Al Sheba
Fees: AED 50,200 to AED 63,700
Teacher turnover: 9%
What the KHDA says: For the first inspection, Teaching for Effective Learning at Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba was rated Good. Because of the smaller class size at the school, teachers are able to create bespoke lessons for their classes, meeting the needs and learning styles in ways that teachers at larger schools are not able to. The recent report found that:
- Almost all teachers have a good knowledge of their subjects and most know how their students learn in different ways
- Teachers plan their lessons carefully, keeping in mind the different levels of learners, including those with SEND, to ensure that they are all challenged in their learning
- Most teachers ask open-ended questions to elicit and deepen students’ understanding, challenge their thinking and develop their language
- The school has very strong systems for monitoring the well-being and personal development of students [and] the good relationships within the school give students the confidence to ask for support when necessary
What WSA says: Having toured the school and spent time with the head of school, parents, and students, what’s clear about the teaching at Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba is that it’s tailored to students’ needs whether or not they be SEND or gifted.
Parents spoke of the amazing progress their children have made at the school and it was clear from students that they not only felt challenged in their lessons but respected by their teachers as people.
The school has also renamed its support centre to be the “Achievement Centre,” and we were privy to progress, seeing students move from requiring additional support to actually going on to teach younger students. This is the kind of teaching that WSA finds drives student achievement and progress like no other.
Name: GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis
Rating: Very Good
Fees: AED 36,540 to AED 82,511
Teacher turnover: 11%
What the KHDA says: The most recent Wellington Academy report rated Teaching for Effective Learning to be Outstanding in the Foundation Stage and Very Good throughout the rest of the school. Teachers meet the needs of their students through differentiated instruction and careful planning and assessment. The report found that:
- Across all phases, teachers have secure subject knowledge and know how to adjust their teaching so that it is presented in a meaningful context for students
- Teachers’ thoughtful questioning inspires students’ curiosity, promotes critical thinking and deepens their understanding in most lessons, especially in FS
- The school provides outstanding support for almost all students with SEND. There are some with complex needs and the effective use of interventions by skilled staff results in strong progress by these students
- The school demonstrates commitment to preparing students for their future, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed for their next phase of education
What WSA says: Teaching at GEMS Wellington Academy is a strength of the school because of the care that the school takes with his students. Across all divisions, the care and support of the students is ranked Outstanding, the result of which is a learning environment where students can take risks and push their levels of critical thinking and development to the highest levels.
The additional support of SEND is also so important to the development of all children because WSA has seen that schools that have an inclusive ethos spearheaded by strong leadership graduate students who are 21st Century thinkers and doers. Overall, based on the strength of teaching at this school, WSA bets that it won’t be long until GEMS Wellington Academy is ranked as an Outstanding school.
Name: The Sheffield School
Fees: AED 21405 - AED 40365
Teacher turnover: 27%
What the KHDA says: The year has The Sheffield School moving into the Good rating after 8 years at Acceptable. This is due to sweeping changes that have been happening at the school which has improved students’ attainment and progress. The teaching at the school is now rated as Good throughout the school. Although there is still room for improvement, what is clear is that the foundation necessary for student success is solid. The most recent KHDA report found that:
- Teachers use assessment information to plan appropriate teaching and learning strategies and to set targets in English, mathematics and science in the primary and secondary phases. The information is also used to support students who have a difficulty with their learning
- Across the school, teachers have detailed knowledge of their students' strengths and weaknesses.
- Well-structured self and peer assessments are integral parts of most lessons. Many students have a good understanding of how well they are doing and how to improve
- There is a high level of mutual respect between staff and students. The management of behaviour, predominantly with a positive rewards-based approach, is effective in ensuring good staff-student relationships
What the WSA says: Sheffield School is on the up and up and with very reasonable fees, a dynamic head, and passionate teachers, this is a school that will continue to meet students’ needs. Having toured the school and spoken with students, teachers, and leadership, this is a school where teachers are empowered and feel comfortable in being innovative and students feel cared for and challenged.