Its that time of the year when schools are inspected by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
Many schools go into overdrive when it comes to inspections, and parents, looking in from the outside, often wonder what actually goes on in an inspection week. Many are skeptical of temporary fixes being made, and shows put on specifically for the inspectors. A good school however will not play games, and rise above this says Alan Williamson, Director of Education at Kings School Dubai.
Kings' Dubai should know: It is the ONLY school to have been rated Outstanding by the KHDA since inspections began. Here Williamson details what the KHDA is really looking for and what schools should and should not be doing before and during an inspection. He also suggests how parents should be using the KHDA rating when choosing a school, and suggests other, perhaps 'more important' factors - not least student happiness...
What is KHDA looking for?
The KHDA are rigorous with inspections. It’s an evaluation of English, Maths, Science, progress of students, quality of teachers and leadership. More recently, Arabic learning is assessed. The inspection is also looking at how the schools are self-evaluating themselves.
How should schools prepare for inspections?
Well, most schools should be ready for an inspection whether notice has been given or not. But the KHDA usually gives a 2-3 week notice period.
Schools need to be ready with a detailed self-evaluation of the school, which can be 20 to 30 pages long. They also need a school improvement plan taking the last inspection action points into consideration and how they have been working to make the school better. They need to [be working with] data and to ensure and be able to show students are making progress.
Schools also need to be aware of special education needs and disabilities (SEND), and how the needs of children with specific SEND requirements are doing. Generally schools [should be] ready with all of this all year round, but everything sharpens during that 2-3 week notice period.
What happens in school during an inspection?
Inspectors come on a Sunday afternoon, look at the paperwork, meet the principal and heads of subjects.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday they will be in classes, across the school. They will sit in lessons for 20 minutes and interview groups of students and teachers. They will also have focus groups with heads of English, Maths, Arabic and Science.
Each night they will meet the principal and give an indication of the day and how it went. By Wednesday they may provide an overview of where they are in their evaluation, and be able to show schools what they have missed - and obviously where they are performing.
During this time the schools have the chance to show inspectors any department that the school feels they have made improvements in. By Thursday morning the inspectors will meet the leadership, owners, board and give their feedback. It is an intensive inspection programme.
What should schools do and not do during inspection week?
Different leaders and schools do different things while preparing for inspection and when the KHDA inspection is actually happening. In my opinion, there are a few dos and don’ts that should be uniform across schools:
- Students, teachers, parents should be natural and it shouldn’t be an act.
- Try and not schedule a lot of exams or assessments during the inspection period as the KHDA wants to see teachers teach and students learn. We would look at our curriculum plan and make sure that the inspectors don’t come to watch 20 students in a maths test.
- Be honest as the inspectors want to see weaknesses, which will show strong self-evaluation.
- I wouldn’t make it a big deal with the students, as inspectors will speak to the students, and children are honest. An act will be caught easily.
- Don’t change the routine. Schools need to go on and operate the way it is, don’t change parents meeting or a football match.
What are the lessons that Kings has learnt in its journey through multiple inspections?
Our main aim has always been to see our children happy and the key lessons in our journey have been:
- Invest in inspired & passionate teachers because the teachers are the ones who will make children outstanding. Fundamentally teaching has to be outstanding; the focus has to be on the classroom.
- Be aware of what the KHDA is looking for, work with skilled and experienced people who have been through the journey. However, don’t make it the focus of everything you are doing.
- Don’t focus on attainment and exam results, focus on personal happiness of children, right ethos and culture of the school.
How should parents be looking at the KHDA ratings of a school?
I think parents when they are looking at some of the newer schools in Dubai have to be aware that becoming outstanding is a journey.
Don’t be too harsh on new schools as you cant get everything right to begin with. Premium schools took a while to become outstanding.
KHDA ratings in terms of criteria in choosing a school should be 'in the middle'. Being a parent, I would look at happiness, teaching quality, curriculum, facilities, KHDA ratings and then the other points of consideration such as fees, extra-curricular activities etc. It is important, but only one part, of the equation.