Dubai's failing schools find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle

Low teacher retention, low fees and poor parents leave school leaders with few options

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , MAY 9 – 2018 :- Outside view of the Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistan School in Dubai.  ( Pawan Singh / The National )  For News. Story by Anam Rizvi

Failing private schools in Dubai say they are struggling to turn their fortunes around due to teacher retention problems and low fees.

This week, six schools attended by more than 10,000 pupils in total were named 'weak' in the education regulator's annual report. About 80,000 pupils attend schools rated 'acceptable'.

Those six are designated that due to ineffective teaching and weak leadership.

A school's rating is linked to the amount it can raise fees by every year - last year it was 2.4 per cent for the lowest ranked, which would be below the current inflation level.

The best schools could hike fees by up to 4.8 per cent last year. Regulator the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) is expected to set out possible fee increases in the coming weeks.

Dr S Reshma, principal of Gulf Model School in Dubai, said attracting the best staff is difficult when fees are as low as Dh6,350 per year for final year pupils in grade 12.

“The biggest challenge is to get well qualified and experienced staff," she said.

"Getting well qualified teachers is difficult as staff licensing requires them to have [English language certificate] IELTS and training as per the guidelines.”

Another challenge for the school is convincing and encouraging the staff, students and parents to change.

The school has been in the weak category for the last six years and that tag sticks, said Dr Reshma.


Read more on the Dubai schools report:

Mapped: Dubai's best and worst schools

Dubai private schools up their game after ten years of inspections


“We have reorganised our skilled leadership and we are focusing on training and development. Now, we are focusing on international benchmarks and tests,” she said.

The action plan developed by the school is focusing on the teaching-learning process.

Each department has made an individual strategy supporting the main action plan. A training and development team observes classes in different phases and teachers are mentored and encouraged to achieve national agenda targets. Teaching and learning in primary school and progress are weak areas at the school according to KHDA.

Parents have also been appointed as ambassadors so that they can provide support.

Schools that have been categorised as weak are failing to focus on experiential learning, which is important in making them creative thinkers.

Teachers at these schools are not adapting the curriculum across the schools and are failing to motivate students to conduct research and think critically.

Shaikh Rashid Al Maktoum Pakistani School in Dubai has also been declared as weak this year, for the seventh time in a row.

Imran Waheed, principal of the school, told The National that raising "funding is a major issue" when fees are as low as Dh6,250 per child per year.

“We need to mobilise the community and different organisations as implementing all the recommendations requires money. That is a challenge for us,” he said.

“We are strictly adhering to the KHDA report, recommendations and inspection framework. We will be trying to go for the UAE National Agenda for education,” said Mr Waheed.

“Our target is definitely the highest but at present we are focused on getting the acceptable category. In the coming years we will vie for the next level. We have made a specific action plan which speaks of the areas we will be focusing on."

Fatma Belrehif, executive director of the KHDA's Dubai School Inspection Bureau, said there are fewer failing schools than in the past.

She said: “The focus of inspections is to find out what a school is doing well in and what might be improved. When school inspections were introduced for the first time in 2008, 17 schools were rated ‘weak’ overall. Today, this number has come down to six schools,” she added.

Weak schools cannot enrol Emirati students in Dubai but are allowed to take on expat pupils.

The regulator sets out what schools can do to improve, but also expects headteachers to turn around failing schools, as many have done in the past.

“We have seen schools rely on inspection findings to support improvement plans and improve student outcomes which has resulted in remarkable progress overall for the education sector,” said Ms Belrehif. Inspection recommendations are aligned to individual schools based on their context, findings and specific needs."