Schools are largely failing to raise learning outcomes of pupils with special educational needs (SEN), which is “the really big one” among criteria that will impact the next round of government inspections, a former Dubai schools inspector warned on Wednesday.
Dr Bogusia Matusiak Varley speaking at the Journey To Excellence conference.
Both students with SEN and highly capable children are the two most notable groups of pupils who are making too little progress because of a lack of “effective” support, said Dr Bogusia Matusiak-Varley.
The UK expert has a 30-year track record of leading school inspections internationally, including in Dubai with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).
On Wednesday, Dr Matusiak-Varley, speaking at the ‘Journey to Excellence Conference on School Improvement and Innovation’ in Dubai, said: “There are still two groups of pupils who are not making as much progress as they need to: they are our ‘high attainers’, because they’re still not being stretched sufficiently, and they are our pupils with [SEN]. And, with the launch of the framework for inclusivity, that is really something we need to address.”
She was referring to the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework, launched last November by the Inclusive Education taskforce headed by the KHDA. The framework aims to transform all Dubai schools to be fully inclusive — where pupils with SEN have no barriers to entry and enjoy full support in mainstream schools — by 2020.
At the conference, organised by Yardstick Educational Initiatives, India in association with Gulf Educational Services, Dubai, Dr Matusiak-Varley told school principals and teachers that a key reason why pupils with SEN are lagging behind is because educators often “water down” their expectations.
She said: “My experience as an inspector always is that pupils with [SEN] are given a watered-down version of the curriculum and that’s why they’re not making progress. I defy anybody here [at the conference] to tell me that they know how these children learn and what these children know. Can we please let these students surprise us. Give them the opportunity to surprise us and stop constantly limiting the kind of objectives that you give them.”
Dr Matusiak-Varley, a director of Gulf Education Services, Dubai, also stressed that the next KHDA school inspections will hinge on outcomes, especially with regards to pupils with SEN.
“The focus of inspections for next year is about outcomes, and it is not necessarily about progress. Progress will be taken into consideration but you will be asked, as principals and leaders of schools, ‘how are you raising the outcomes of different groups of pupils?’ And there is only one way to do it — high expectations.”
She added that stereotypes towards pupils with SEN still exist, such as “they are SEN, they will never get it”.
Dr Matusiak-Varley said it was educators’ job to “find a way and remove the barriers to learning” for pupils with SEN. The responsibilities have been laid out in the inclusion framework and will now be looked at closer than ever before in official school inspections, she added.
“One of the solutions is, please do not water down the curriculum for your pupils with [SEN]. Make sure they are working on age-related expectations or expectations of your curriculum in international benchmarks, and support them through it,” Dr Matusiak-Varley said.