WSA Reviews - How to Use Them

WSA Reviews - How to Use Them
By David Westley
Do your children attend a UAE school? Take our survey and help other parents.
WhichSchoolAdvisor's annual school survey.

WSA strives to obtain the following information for each of its reviews:

EXAM RESULTS: Where possible we have extracted exam results because we know this is something parents use to evaluate a school - however much schools and educators themselves do not like external examinations being used as a benchmark. We strongly urge all schools to publish this information so that parents can access the data they want to make their decisions. Only a minority of UAE schools publish this information in a meaningful way.

FACILITIES: The better the facilities a school offers, the more chance natural talent can be developed. Genius of any kind is 90% perspiration, but if there is no 'gym', then there's little opportunity to do the training.

SCHOOL FEES: In an ideal world, fees would be an irrelevance. In the world we actually live in, school fees are a key determinant in choosing a school. The UAE has a wide range of fees - from 5,000 AED per year to 95,000 AED per year, and the level will determine whether you as a parent invest your time on research. If you can't afford it, there is no point in spending your hard on time on it - however good it may be. School fees do of course make a difference to the school itself. The resources a school has available to it, will determine facilities, staffing, and the greater the chance of a child-centered education. In this regard, schools are that are non-profit making, are most likely to channel resources more obviously back into the school itself.

KHDA RANKING: The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) reports are hugely ambitious and impressive, and a weighty source of information for Dubai parents. WSA itself has relied on elements of each report for our reviews. While we acknowledge the KHDA has criteria and a weighting that not every parent will be aligned with, its reports are open, detailed and transparent. Schools themselves may grumble about inspections and methodology, but few would argue that they have not raised the game of all schools in the emirate.

FEEL: The most intangible element of a school is undoubtedly one of its most important - the feel of a school. Where possible we have tried to include this in our write-ups. This is usually via feedback we have received from parents and students. Clearly, it cannot replace actually visiting a school on your short list.

THE FACTS: Where the school is, what demographics dominate - if any, the language of instruction, the total number of students, mixed or single sex... We have, as far as possible tried to keep data about each school uniform, so that parents and students can pull out those details they find most relevant.

USER RATINGS: Each review provides the opportunity for students, parents and educators of a school to have their say. This cannot be objective, but it does provide WSA members a guide as to what those most invested in a school, currently think of it.

At the moment information is hard to come by in the United Arab Emirates. The KHDA does an excellent job, but it serves just one of the emirates in the country, and even in Dubai you cannot compare the quantity or quality of information available with more developed parts of the world. This is changing slowly, and WSA hopes to play a part in the expansion of quality information available to parents. As more becomes available, as we discover more, so we will continue to add to and refine our reviews.

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It is often said that there is no such thing as a good or bad school, there is a school that is right for a particular child.

Children are as complex as the adults they become, and the conditions they require to excel hinge on many factors of the school's environment. Parents of those students are often just as complicated, and often they are making the decisions for their children based on their own ideas of what a school should be, and what their child should grow up to be. Hopefully there is alignment.

The definition of success is therefore multi-faceted. Is it academic? Can it be measured by how self-confident and purposeful the adults are that leave a school? Is it about discovering and developing each student's unique and natural gifts, or in building and equipping clones of future highly paid consultants, doctors and lawyers?

Any definitive measure of schools is mired in complexity. Academic results? Well, if a school is selective like Dubai College then that outcome is partially assured, with the school's success hinging each year on initial selection. Even if it's not selective, there is still a self fulfilling prophecy: Schools that do well academically will attract parents of children who want their children to do well in terms of results.

What about the sportsmen and women? The musicians, and the artists? Is it better to have uncovered and developed these talents, than to go against the grain, and ensure they get 9 GCSE's A* to C. Or do schools somehow have to do both?

These are very much questions for parents and the student themselves.

How schools get to academic success is also increasingly seen as important. Learning by rote is increasingly out of favour, with teaching students how to think seen as the key for the future of that child. Depending upon the exam, memorisation can play a big part in passing. Thinking is a skill that will endure a lifetime. Western oriented curricula embrace this thinking. Many 'Eastern' oriented schools have yet to do so, and maybe never will. In terms of academic success, both philosophies can produce the goods.

In vogue also is the concept of 'value added' when it comes to academic success. Students are assessed at various stages, and a potential grades are set for post 16 results. How much a student over achieves on that grade is the measure of the value that school has been able to add.

The concept has yet to filter through to the UAE - and certainly there is no way yet to objective measure value added in the region. In Dubai the KHDA, the education regulator, is pushing schools strongly for better assessment, but it's a long road.

This is of course a preamble to saying that a successful school for WSA cannot be pinned down to one simple measure like IB or GCSE results.

Choosing a school cannot be made easy for a parent - and no one can do it for you.

Our value, we hope, is that in a region where data is hard to come by, we have attempted to put the information that is available, that parents and students need, in one place to give you a head start.

Our reviews will continue to be refined over time as we continue our research - keep coming back to the site because there are no static documents on this Web site. All articles are ever evolving and our reviews will continue to gain depth over time. Only one truth will remain constant: However far we get, the choice of what really is a Good School will always be up to you.


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