For some pupils at Our Own English High School in Dubai it was their first day of school education, while others were beginning a new term. Image Credit: Francois Nel/Gulf News

Dubai: Schools in Dubai will need to pull up their socks this year when it comes to inculcating healthy eating habits and physical exercise among students, as well as their commitment to inclusive education.

The third year of school inspections began on Sunday with Dubai School Inspection Bureau (DSIB) inspectors visiting institutions to evaluate their commitment towards offering equal opportunities to children with special needs.

Inspectors will also take a closer look at the arrangements that schools make to promote healthy choices. They will review lesson plans and opportunities given to pupils to take part in sports and active exercises while closely examining the meals and snacks offered to pupils.

Starting this month, a total of 216 public and private schools will be inspected this year by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA).

This year's agenda

Dr Abdullah Al Karam, chairman of the board of directors and director-general of the KHDA, said at a press conference yesterday that the framework of school inspection this year will focus on two much-talked about issues — supporting a healthy lifestyle and the inclusion of pupils with different needs. The teaching of Arabic is the third key issue that will determine the schools' quality rating.

"What we are going to do is to put these issues and examine their relevance within an educational framework. This will put a lot of pressure on the schools and open a public debate and encourage inter-government and inter-agency cooperation," Al Karam said.

He added that inspectors will look into arrangements for admission and evaluate the quality of support provided by schools to students who have special educational needs.

"We are going to look into accepted standards when it comes to inclusive education. There is no extreme approach. All we are asking for is to give equal educational opportunities to all," Al Karam added.

The KHDA started the quality framework linked to school inspections in 2008. A total of 189 private and public schools in Dubai were put under the scanner.

The findings were compiled and a comprehensive report card for every individual school was published in two batches on the KHDA website. Schools were rated as ‘outstanding', ‘good', ‘acceptable' and ‘unsatisfactory'.

Between October 2009 and March 2010, the DSIB completed a second year of school inspections and 209 schools — 78 public and 131 private — were inspected during the period.

There have also been 43 follow-through inspections, in which inspectors revisited those schools whose standards were found to be of inferior quality.

Jameela Al Muhairi, the DSIB chief, said that in the first semester of this academic year, between October and December, 104 private schools will be inspected. Between January and April, 112 schools will be inspected, including 80 public schools.

"Our inspectors have undergone training which is specific to Dubai and we are also supporting schools to begin self-evaluation," Jameela said.

How important are school ratings? What else should inspectors focus on?