School inspections: Exercise in futility?

Given the claims that the advance notice schools get allows them to put on an act, Gulf News shadows inspectors on the job

Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/ © Gulf News
17 Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai schools get three weeks notice prior to being inspected by education authorities. This procedure has led to many people questioning the credibility of the inspection process itself — with some even calling it a sham.

“Even toilet paper is only available at our school while inspections are going on,” said a disgruntled high school student, when asked of her opinion about the annual school inspections by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). Schools are rated Outstanding, Good, Acceptable and Unsatisfactory.

“Everyone is really happy you all are here. We are actually being taught this week. Please don’t tell them I told you,” said a secret message passed on to a school inspector by a student.

From renting chairs to sending fake responses to KHDA’s questions addressed to teachers and students, to bringing teachers in temporarily to be at the school on the days of inspection, and putting up cultural shows to hold up the inspectors from doing their jobs, poorly performing schools bring out every dirty trick in the book to better their ratings. So does that mean they get rated better than what they are eligible for?

KHDA responds with an emphatic no. “Inspectors don’t inspect sets or well-rehearsed farces. They inspect the learning of children in schools. As in the case of a well-rehearsed farce, inspectors know a fiction when they see one,” says Jameela Al Muhairi, who heads the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau at KHDA.

To find out more, Gulf News shadowed school inspectors at an underperforming school (name withheld).

It’s 7am on a Sunday and I am with a team of eight inspectors, who have just entered the large school for a five-day inspection.

Together, the team has more than 200 years of experience in teaching, leading and improving schools around the world.

“I have personally inspected over 100 schools in Dubai, from the very best to the ones run by people who try to fool us for a week. The kids, they seem to forget, tell inspectors the truth sooner or later,” an inspector said.

The process started with the analysis of documents sent by the school. This includes the results of the KHDA surveys of parents, teachers and students and the school’s self-evaluation document.

The first issue flagged by inspectors was that the school sent two self-evaluation documents — one prepared on their own and another by a newly hired consultant firm — and the organisational chart in these documents are completely different. It was not clear who runs the show, the principal or the manager.

Also, the school said at first that they had no children with special needs, but over the day the inspectors identified several within classrooms.

“Over 1,000 parents responded this time and told us many important things, and every comment is noted,” the inspector said.

“For example, before visiting any classroom, we already know that parents are unhappy with the high costs, over-crowded classrooms and the long bus rides their children have to endure.”

“About 90 teachers have told us that some of what we will see only takes place for one week out of the school year, but this is not news to anyone on the inspection team.”

“Our survey of students tells us that they have been rehearsed to impress us in lessons, and that their answers to our questions have been scripted for them. However, it is difficult for schools and teachers to hide the boredom on the faces of students and their dis-interested responses in lesson after lesson that are rehearsed,” said the inspectors.

“Students tell us if the soap dispensers and hand towels are only in the school for the inspection week. Parents tell us if they feel their children are safe and happy. They tell us of their worries about transport or parking around the school. They tell us what they think about their child’s progress in subjects. They tell us about the teaching and learning in lessons and the after-school curriculum, and if it needs to improve. They tell us about the school leadership and if they feel involved in the school. They tell us what they like about the school they have chosen for their child. All this is not news to us. We’ve seen and heard it all before.”

As we entered the school, the inspectors took note of how the boys were showing their identity cards to the security guard. “It is obvious they are not in the habit of doing so,” remarked one. They also saw how teachers and administrators hurried children through the gates because they were late and did not want inspectors to notice.

“In one lesson I observed students working in groups, but it was obvious to me that they had never done so. They had no idea of where to move their desks and they exchanged puzzled looks as the task was set by the teacher. They could not complete these tasks that they did not understand even though they had already rehearsed them.”

“Clearly this ‘group work’ was put on for my benefit and was not regularly done,” the inspector concluded.

By the end of the day the team observed dozens of lessons and interviewed teachers and leaders. Most importantly, they spoke to boys and girls of all ages about what it is like to be in the school. Not just within classrooms but also in the hallway and on the playground.

“We do like the school to prepare for inspections, because it’s important for schools to understand that we are not there to catch them out. Our job is to guide and support them in providing high quality education. We want schools to show us their best because this also allows us to understand the best they could do. But that is just a starting point. We dig deeper.”

However, they avoid directly confronting those who put up a show. Instead inspectors record their concerns which are then taken up with the management of the school in private.

“We acknowledge there are schools that spend their time trying to fool inspectors; they do a dis-service to those schools that do a good job. We need to celebrate the good, ethical practices that do take place.”

The best schools see their own strengths and weaknesses and don’t pretend.


  • Anonymous

    Jan 27, 2013 4:11

    I'm a teacher and can honestly say in front of KHDA you can't put on a show.If u r doing something unusual the kids react in front of the inspectors and they know it is just a show.The inspectors also move from table to table in the class and ask kids all sorts of questions about their school and their knowledge,so if the teacher is not good and is just putting on a show kids won't give the right answers.

  • Anonymous

    Jan 27, 2013 3:32

    I believe if school faculty, administration is good, have skills to do a schooling job, then the problem can be resolved easily. KHDA has to interview the standards of teachers, there way of teaching students and catagorizing there skills whether they are eligible enough to prepare a high educational environment or they are selected only because they are willing to get less pay/or they not getting job some where else and school is the last priority of getting job as it is easy to get a job in school even with low standards of education u have.

  • Anonymous

    Jan 27, 2013 3:14

    Check your current inspection process has played a vital part in the improved levels of achievement during inspections or seen over the last six years same as usual. Are this model has served the education, system well, or it seek improvements the inspection framework model. Bring New Methodology, schools are not based on weak or old curriculum, this will harm the quality education. -Recruiting more inspectors; conducting more frequent inspections; or twice a year empowering head teachers to inspect schools, It is not inspectors but teachers in classrooms, and school leaders, who improve the quality of teaching and learning and management in schools. Teachers are best option bring strengths and weaknesses to the schools, Or pick some Outstanding Student from the School or Universities. To improvement in the quality of education, let them school inspected by the Schools Teachers whose rating are Outstanding and Goods, take iniative with youth Inspection framework once in a year inspection should conduct by Schools Teachers and Outstanding Students which are from Outstanding are Goods school rating , Rather than observed directly by inspectors, who are not well trained. -In a Inspection. -Are there is no lack of poor relationship between inspectors and teachers, Facilitating collaboration among all stakeholders: teachers, head teachers, Spector’s, Parents, communities.

  • Rubina

    Jan 27, 2013 2:13

    I've written before but my comments weren't posted,i've also written to KHDA but no response from them either,anyone will present well if they are pre-warned,ask the teachers about the burden they have to carry on low pay,over worked, made to stay after school & on weekends & if they don't comply their salary is deducted


    Jan 27, 2013 1:57

    The corelation between rating and fee increase to be abolished. The visit to be a surprise visit. There should be an evaluation of teacher's quality and qualification.

  • Abdul Latheef

    Jan 27, 2013 1:10

    Its nice to see school preparing for inspection, teacher,student and the management will be prepared. it is wise giving 3 week time. The inspectors are at their best, advising school management about the changes. It does not look good children to be open up, while their teacher and principal are around. Happy environment arise when we trust our children's school and authority. Last week my little daughter was happy when an inspector made whole class happy when he said you are very good children and said study well.. Abu Dhabi- UAE

  • Anonymous

    Jan 27, 2013 1:10

    School inspection by the authorities is a must, but without a prior notice. We got the information on 1stofApril this year that KHDA people will come on 2nd week of September for this all the teacher prepared well, made a lot of chart, at the same time school management change their carpets, furniture, toilet napkins,etc., etc….After the inspection they will use the old one.The main benefit is that school authority will get a chance to raise fees. For the parent and students no benefit, at the same time for the teachers it is a very big headache.

  • Venkat.S.

    Jan 27, 2013 12:19

    I know for sure that such inspections are being conducted by MOE with the intention to ensure that the schools employ a proper methodology, system-based education, in running the school with slight margin of income over expenditure. Teachers, who play a predominant role in shaping the children and make them ready to face any challenges in life ahead, are really not being remunerated properly, which leads to situations like indifferent attitude, carelessness, lack of courtesy/attentiveness, casual replies, etc., Though I have been compiling the feedback form of the Ministry during the past 3 years, in which I had been regularly complaining regarding the unjsutified increase in school fees every year and the bus fares. There should be some sort of interaction by school management with a formed parents' association, where the moot points should be discussed, in bilateral interest. Such a healthy atmosphere will go a long way in developing a system based education, where the parents will have a feeling that they are not oppressed.

  • Anonymous

    Jan 27, 2013 12:09

    When I notice something different at the school, I know for a matter of fact that their is an inspection day. There are times when we recieve an email about cleanlines of uniforms, special security at the gates, head of the school at the gates greetings parents and I can go on with the list. I think the authorities should conduct the inspection without a notice and that's when we will get to see the clear indications / standards of the school and the education that is being provided. By giving the advance notification you are just giving time to the school to prepare or cover up!

  • Anonymous

    Jan 27, 2013 12:02

    Abu Dhabi school inspections, defenity contribute to develop the educational system, but I think some more improvement should be there in the spection methord. Schools facilities should be compared to the fees they are getting from the student, some schools are functioning here as no profit no loss way and they are providing good service to the society. But during inspection, Abu Dhabi school inspections are giving more importance to the beautification of the school and rating them poor. The inspection should be with out prior notice. It should be at any time during the accademic year and there should be one or more inspection in a year. This way they can guarantee the quality of education.

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I'm a teacher and can honestly say in front of KHDA you can't put on a show.If u r doing something unusual the kids react in front of the inspectors and they know it is just a show.The inspectors also move from table to table in the class and ask kids all sorts of questions about their school and their knowledge,so if the teacher is not good and is just putting on a show kids won't give the right answers.


27 January 2013 16:39 jump to comments