Jeff Evans, Director, Learning Key Education Consultancy, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Originally from Wales, UK, Jeff Evans brings to the table 26 years of teaching and professional leadership experience in the international education sector across Europe, the Far East, and the United Arab Emirates. Having massive experience working in collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders such as school owners, investors, regulatory bodies, local government agencies, inspection teams, parent and student councils, and, of course, principals and school leadership teams, he has his finger in every pie. For instance, he has direct involvement with many aspects of school licensing, policy and regulations, assessment and evaluation, business development and the UAE federal school inspection framework.

All schools wish to improve and deliver the best quality of education possible to students and parents. In private schools, which operate as a business, these are the customers. To achieve the world-class education systems to which it aspires, the United Arab Emirates developed a high-quality evaluation system to measure reliably the quality of school performance and to support school improvements and students’ outcomes, through rigorous and regular school inspections. The external UAE School Inspection Framework is based on comprehensive performance standards that define the essential aspects of quality education.

The federal school inspection framework was introduced in 2010 and ranks schools in six different areas (called “performance standards”) which are:

  1. Students’ achievement
  2. Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills
  3. Teaching and assessment
  4. Curriculum
  5. The protection, care, guidance, and support of students
  6. Leadership and management

Each school receives an “overall effectiveness” rating ranging from outstanding, very good, good, acceptable to weak or very weak. Due to ongoing pressure and a desire to improve, the majority of private schools have improved their rankings between 2009 and 2018 with most now being rated as acceptable or better. Only a very small number, however, are rated as “outstanding” (around 4% of the 200 private schools in the emirate of Abu Dhabi).

School inspection reports are available free online, which gives parents a clear mechanism with which to compare and contrast schools and therefore to make their own judgments over the best value for money. Education is an investment and competition among private schools has increased.

Most private school owners, investors, and governing boards have invested in a few key areas to secure improvement. Notably, teacher professional development to develop more student-centered learning and providing enhanced learning resources and facilities. Better teaching leads to better than expected progress, simple fact. School leaders must become skilful in accurately self-evaluating to identify their own schools’ strengths and weaknesses and have detailed development plans in place for the next two academic years.

My own work as an educational consultant involves a wide range of private schools, from affordable to premium fees. I have the pleasure to partner with British, Indian (CBSE), American and IB curriculum schools and help them improve – and respond to inspection recommendations. Some of my partner schools are older with limited fees and offer the CBSE curriculum. Working with them and seeing the pace of improvement brings me great fulfillment and pleasure; most are now at a “good” rating.

“What difference does this all make to my child’s education?”, you may well ask. The outcome of such a system of inspection and regulation has enabled and encouraged most private schools to improve the quality of provision which they offer.

Parents would be advised to check inspection reports, speak with current students/parents and to visit the school (as some schools see a high level of staff or leadership turnover – anything above 15% can be a cause for concern).

My further advice to parents is to consider all options and look way beyond the glossy brochure or website. You may have factors such as location, campus, curriculum, school size or range of facilities and clubs/activities offered. An effective school can share with you their approaches to teacher development, how they attract and retain the best teachers and what are their major school development goals for the next academic year.

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