How Good is ‘Good’?

Three GEMS Education schools achieved a ‘Good’ rating for their first DSIB inspection and we look at what that means for parents.

New schools have their first Knowledge & Human Development Authority’s (KHDA) Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) inspection after their first three years in operation, which is underpinned by a framework which has six performance standards: student achievements; student personal development, social development, and their innovation skills; teaching and assessment; curriculum; protection, care, guidance, and support; and leadership and management. Without having had a previous inspection nor any guidance of what the key recommendations would have been, it would be easy to assume that these schools would go into their first assessment blind.

However, GEMS Al Barsha National School for Girls (NGS), GEMS Founders School — Al Barsha (GFS), and GEMS Heritage Indian School (GHS) each received a ‘Good’ rating in their first inspection. Michelle Forbes, Principal of NSG, says, “As the minimum, we wanted to achieve ‘Good’, so to prepare for it, effectively the most important thing is to make sure we’re delivering a high-quality education where children are happy and safe.”

Janet Foley, Vice Principal of GFS, adds that schools have support from the GEMS School Support Centre, and GFS had gone through its own internal reviews. “In terms of looking towards the inspection, most of the senior leadership had been through the DSIB process, so we had a good idea of what the inspectors were coming to look for.”

For GFS, the priority was to ensure that the students were making progress because many of them had come from other schools where the style of teaching was quite different, and they had to adapt to a new way of working. Many of the school’s teachers are either newly qualified teachers coming from the UK, or qualified teachers coming from a non-UK background. “We must ensure that we have consistency in teaching, and in order to do that we have a teaching and learning team who go into lessons to monitor the standards of teaching, and make sure that the students are making progress in their lessons,” says Janet.

GFS Has a strong focus on quality-first teaching and making sure that teachers are trained, via internal and external training, and sharing best practice within the school. Bespoke training is offered within the building and teachers can sign up for what they are interested in and what they think they need to improve.

“We want our teachers to grow and flourish as well. In order to go on to greater success, they must put the time and the work in, and they must keep a log of how many hours of continuous professional development (CPD) they do. There is a minimum expectation, and that can be delivering training or participating in it. Rather than having to top-down and make them do it, it’s more driven by the teachers and we have their buy-in,” says Janet.

Darryl Bloud, Executive Principal of GHS adds that the leadership of the school had to build trust among the teachers and middle leaders, 50% of whom were new to the school. Team building and professional development, without the fear of being judged, made a huge difference to the morale of the teachers, who have remained committed ever since.

For the most part, school ratings help parents to standardise the schools. Whether or not they’re new to Dubai, they can compare schools based on their priorities. If parents want certain facilities, they can compare ‘Good’ schools based on what their child wants.

“Dr Abdulla Karim from KHDA has sent an email to all our parents to say that they’ve chosen well for their daughters because there’s obviously a commitment to ensure that Emirati students are not in a school that isn’t at least ‘Good’,” says Michelle.

Darryl adds that all parents, while seeking admission for their children, look for an exceptional school; a school which brings out the best in their children, in and beyond the classroom. “Parents who visit us almost always see our school’s unique infrastructure, designed to meet all their children’s holistic needs. All parents are now well informed about our knowledge of their children. Our periodic meetings are designed to share and make parents and students know how teachers use their children’s international and internal assessment scores, to learn more about their children’s learning styles. These scores go beyond just being academic in nature.”

Michelle adds that NSG will work towards what they need to do to work towards a rating of ‘Very Good.’ “But in order to do that, we need to continue to increase the consistency of the high-quality teaching in our school. Our focus is on continuing to provide at least ‘Good’ teaching and learning. We need to get as many teachers to be outstanding as we can. To move to the next level the most important things are the learning and the outcomes, so the quality of the teaching is the driver. As a new school, we’re on a leadership journey. We wanted to achieve ‘Good’ in our first inspection and then build towards ‘Outstanding’ year on year from that point.”

A progressive school goes beyond just preparing for inspections and the philosophy at GHS is simple. All teachers at GHS have a desire to prepare children for the world they will step into. “It is therefore our mission to develop our teachers, through regular and continuous professional development, keeping their wellbeing at the heart, in our drive for excellence,” says Darryl.