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Leaders and partnerships can lift ‘weak’ schools up

Struggling schools between rock and hard place as small fee hikes limit upgrades

Gulf News

Dubai: ‘Weak’ schools need strong leaders, perhaps more than resources, to improve, experts said on Wednesday.

Their comments follow the release of the annual school ratings on Tuesday, which found 10 weak-rated private schools in Dubai, out of the 159 inspected.

More than 15,500 students attend these weak schools — around six per cent of the student population of all inspected schools.

Weak schools are eligible for the smallest annual fee increase while ‘outstanding’ schools are allowed the biggest hike.

For the coming academic year (2017-18), weak schools can raise tuition fees by up to 2.4 per cent, while outstanding ones can increase fees by up to 4.8 per cent.

Weak schools typically have lower annual fees, less than Dh10,000 in some cases, while outstanding ones are usually the most expensive ones, costing up to ten times as much.

Faced with low fees and limited room to increase fees, weak schools have often said the situation makes it hard for them to attract talent or upgrade facilities.

An immediate comment from some of the weak schools was not available on Wednesday. Education specialists said the solution heavily rests on resolute school leadership — but getting there is not so straightforward.

Clive Pierrepont, director of communications at the Taaleem school group, said: “It is an irony that the lowest-performing schools, those that need the most help and investment, have the lowest fee increases, both percentage-wise and proportionally — 2.4 per cent of Dh10,000 is a lot different to 4.8 per cent of Dh100,000.

“A school will only improve its ratings by employing great leaders that inspire their staff and provide them with regular professional development opportunities. This requires investment … The majority of a school’s expenditure, around 70 per cent, is attributable to staffing costs. Without working capital and investment to help them rise above mere survival mode, many of these schools, which have long served the community, will ‘wither on the vine’.”

James Mullan, co-founder of, pointed out “schools can apply for exceptional fee increases where they need significant investments”.

Mullan added that schools should “make the most of their limited resources” by prioritising on the strongest leadership and teaching staff that they can afford, rather than on “a planetarium or the fancy bits [for instance]”.

He also underscored that there are schools in Dubai with limited resources that are nonetheless highly rated. Mullan explained schools have also improved by engaging parents and the community to chart a way forward, utilising their expertise in various fields. For example, he said, they could assist a school struggling with IT issues.

What’s more, the Abundance Group initiative of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority has been benefiting schools. It involves high-performing schools sharing best practices and guidance with struggling schools through partnerships.

Fatima Belrehif, executive director of Dubai School Inspection Bureau, said: “Governors, leaders and teachers all need to make improvements in their practice and work together to ensure that the quality of provision improves at all levels. This should help ensure that outcomes for students will improve. When outcomes improve, it is likely that the school’s overall inspection rating will improve.”