Nurseries (for children age up to 4) in Dubai are licensed by the Ministry of Education (MOE), who conduct an extensive programme of inspections against a detailed and rigorous framework. At present, however, the results of these inspections are not published, nor are nurseries issued with a rating (schools are rated Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Acceptable or Weak).
Whilst Nursery Managers report satisfaction with the format and supportive nature of MOE inspections, many would welcome the transparency and parity brought about by publishing reports.
Lisa Sherrington Boyd of Kangaroo Kids Nursery in Al Safa feels that parents would benefit from reports;
“I think transparency would be useful to give parents a choice that’s well informed. Not only that, but I think it celebrates the hard work and achievements of settings”.
Other Nursery Managers also expressed concern on this subject, with many stating that a lack of independent government reporting causes the industry to rely on awards and certifications that are less well scrutinised and open to bias. Gemma Mullins of Little Treasures told us;
“I would love to see this [published inspection reports] being implemented. With such a movement of expat families we find it difficult to survive on recommendation and reputation. Also, with many awards being offered for sale, some of our “Award Winning” Competitors have an advantage due to lack of regulation with these awards.
There is no official grading for nurseries and sometimes we feel like we don’t reap the rewards of our hard work and dedication and need to start afresh year and year”.
Awards ceremonies are commonplace in the UAE Early Years industry and can offer a valuable way for nurseries to celebrate their strengths and achievements. However, Lyn Farrell of Kids Kare, cautions parents to scrutinise how meaningful these awards really are, saying;
“I've noticed a surge in nurseries stating awarded this and that, and I've never heard of said awards or bodies! The problem is parents don't know what to look for and see these awards and think...oh they've got an award - that's great. They don't look at whether they are registered and inspected by all of the appropriate government bodies - which is what really counts”.
Building a solid, long lasting reputation is vital for an industry that can only ever enrol students for a maximum of four years and is subject to the typical comings and goings of expat families. Establishing a pedigree of independent government inspections should enable nurseries to demonstrate not only the strength of their current offering but also a guarantee that they provide sustainable quality and progress.
Many nurseries and schools now compete for children to enter FS1 (or Pre K in International Schools). When delivered in schools, this first year of schooling will form part of the KHDA inspection and reporting process. However, parents who choose to keep their children in nursery for this formative year are currently unable to scrutinise the teaching and environment their child experiences in the same way. Again, this is a concern to Lyn at Kids Kare, who told our team:
“It's worrying to me that FS1 provision in schools is publically reported upon by government bodies yet I have two FS1 classes at our nursery that don't have the same assessment and inspection. I’d really welcome a change in this area”.
Government inspection reports are also welcomed by Laura Henry, Managing Director of Kidz Inc, who worked as an Early Years inspector for The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (OFTSED) in the UK, prior to her move to the UAE. She told us:
‘Published inspection reports are vital. They offer transparency and fairness and give parents important information. When the framework is right, the reporting procedures rigorous and the Inspectors unbiased, government scrutiny supports the industry as a whole and should, therefore, be welcomed by all’.
Nicola Moorhead, of Latifa School for Girls, believes that such reports not only aid the industry, but the country as a whole. Nicola told us:
“This is a great question. It will bring things more in line with other countries and contributes to the effectiveness of the National Agenda and reflects in quality... This is vitally important’.
In the absence of government reports, how then should parents choose a nursery and assess quality? Our Early Years Editor, Jenny Mollon has some great advice for parents:
“Key indicators of quality should be seen in every nursery at every price point. Staff should be qualified to deliver the given curriculum and offered regular training opportunities to keep their skills up to date, ratios must be in line with (or better than) government guidelines and the facilities should be both safe and stimulating”.
It’s clear that the nursery industry in the UAE is full of confidence and ready for published reports. Last word then to Susan Foot of the international nursery group, MindChamps:
“We feel prepared and confident of our ability to meet and exceed the high standards set by the Education Authorities of the UAE. As part of an international group that prides itself on delivering superb early years education and care, with a curriculum that supersedes international best practice, we relish the opportunity to celebrate all that our team, and more importantly, our little Champs, achieve every day."