Opinion: Should Schools be Judged on Exam Results?

Should parents consider top grades as the ultimate goal of their child's schooling, or simply one aim among many? WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asked some of the UAE's most influential leaders in education this important question: should parents judge a school by exam results?
Opinion: Should Schools be Judged on Exam Results?
By Susan Roberts
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Exam results; an important deciding factor for future success, or a relic of an outdated education system? Should parents consider top grades as the ultimate goal of their child's schooling, or simply one factor among many?

As students, educators and parents await the release of exam results this summer, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asked some of the UAE's most influential leaders in education this important question: should parents judge a school by exam results?

Dr Saima Rana

Chief Education Officer, GEMS Education and CEO/Principal, GEMS World Academy Dubai 

Known as a 'change-maker' in education leadership, and with a background in school improvement in inner-city, state, and private sector schools, Dr Saima Rana took the reins as Principal of GEMS World Academy Dubai in 2020. As Chief Education Officer of GEMS Education, Dr Rana now looks after education provision across all GEMS schools globally. 


"I think a short answer to the titular question, of whether schools should be judged by exam results, is no.

"Not every important educational task done by a school is examined. By now we surely all know that schools play a pivotal role in shaping students’ overall development, going well beyond examined achievements. Schools provide opportunities for personal growth, character-building, social interactions, and the development of essential life skills. 
"Focusing solely on exam results overlooks these essential aspects that schools can provide. And without factoring these in, it’s clear that any predictions of future success will be working with a deficit of relevant data. Success in life extends beyond the ability to excel in exam conditions. Factors such as critical thinking, problem-solving skills, adaptability, creativity, and emotional intelligence are equally important for long-term success. 

The ability to have friends, fall in love, be resilient, lose gracefully, be honest and empathic, are all incredibly important to a person’s life, and yet these are qualities and abilities that are not and should not be captured in exam formats.

"Having said that, I do think it’s important that schools take exam results very seriously. To that end, they should ensure they choose exam systems that are rigorous and fairly assessed, and which actually test what they say they’re testing.

"This is why at GEMS Education we offer a variety of curricula and, in turn, exam systems. Our curricula provide students with a comprehensive and challenging education that promotes critical thinking, inquiry-based learning, and a global perspective. It goes beyond traditional exams by incorporating a range of assessment components, such as coursework, extended essays, and projects.
“This multifaceted approach allows students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and understanding in various formats, fostering a deep and comprehensive evaluation of their abilities. It places a strong emphasis on the development of skills including research, communication, collaboration, and independent thinking. Its emphasis on international mindedness promotes cultural understanding, empathy, and a global outlook, encouraging students to explore diverse cultures, languages, and perspectives, alongside fostering a sense of open-mindedness and appreciation for different viewpoints.
“In educational parlance, this means that the tests we offer in our schools test a broad ‘construct’ of the subjects, which makes them more educationally valid. This is important even though we know exam success isn’t the last word when judging schools or indeed our students.”

Michael Lambert

Headmaster, Dubai College

As Headmaster of Dubai College, Dubai's most academically successful secondary school, continuously topping exam league tables by considerably more than a margin, we listened to his views on this topic with interest. 


"A school's success should never be judged solely by exam results. The purposes of education are legion but broadly speaking we educate children for four reasons.
"Firstly, we want children to know where they are situated within the narrative arc of history which is why they study the arts, humanities, and sciences. Secondly, we want children to develop as human beings by supporting them to experience a broad range of opportunities such a sport, music, drama, and local and international travel. Thirdly, we educate for social justice. Schools should be civilising institutions which seek to impart collective ethics, values, and traditions so that children learn how to interact as part of a collective and achieve more together.

Finally, however, we do need to recognise that mass education was established at the time of the industrial revolution to educate children to become productive economic units. Parents also wish their dependents to become independents at some point in time which generally requires them to get a job. This is where exam results come in.

"It is broadly understood that general mental ability combined with work sample tests have the greatest predictive validity for overall job performance. As such, part of a school's success should be judged by their exam results since the ability to support students through examinations indicates whether a school has enabled children to acquire a standardised corpus of knowledge and skills in a passportable format.
"These exam results then serve as a proxy for children's mental ability and enable them to enter the workforce or higher education at a certain rung on the ladder.

"So, no, a school's success should never be judged solely by exam results. However, to disregard the importance of exam results entirely would be an abrogation of a school’s responsibilities."

Poonam Bhojani

Chief Executive Officer, Innoventures Education

Recently ranking in Forbes Top 100 Powerful Businesswomen, Poonam Bhojani is a highly respected figure in the UAE's private education sector.  She is responsible for leading some of Dubai's best known schools, including Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills and Al Barsha, as well as Raffles International School, Raffles World Academy, Collegiate International School and Raffles Early Childhood Centres. 


"Exam results can be a significant predictor of future success – students who do well on exams are more likely to go on to have successful careers.

"For example, PISA results have shown that students who score higher on the exam are more likely to graduate and earn more as adults. SAT scores have been shown to be a strong predictor of college GPA and graduation rates in the US. 

"However, exam results should not be the only factor to be considered when making decisions about a student’s future. Many other factors influence success, including work ethic and ability to learn, as well as external factors such as the home environment, parental involvement, and access to high-quality learning resources.

"With the right opportunities, support and guidance, students can still be successful – even if their exam performance is less than stellar. 

Education teaches our students the value of persistence, kindness, courage and resilience. These qualities, we believe, are the best markers of future success. Outstanding exam results are a happy by-product of this approach. 

"While exams help measure student learning, they do not capture important aspects such as creative problem solving, goal setting, time management, emotional intelligence, solving real-world challenges, being a team player or even a good friend –vital life skills in an ever-changing world. 

"As a parent and educator, I would advise parents to consider all these factors when choosing a school – rather than just exam results. Choose a curriculum that goes beyond literacy and numeracy, emphasizing creativity and critical thinking, international mindedness as well as the holistic education of children.

"Choose a school that values each child’s unique learning journey, and where your child feels safe and supported, and can reach their potential. The best school for your child is the one that will provide them with the opportunity to learn and grow."

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