Strict measures for private schools needed

The findings of inspectors who surveyed Dubai's private schools this year are both frightening and worrying. Frightening because, of the 143 schools surveyed, only 10 had improved their rank from the previous year. And worrying for many parents because the ratings put 113,000 pupils in Dubai in under-performing schools ."Progress has stunted" was the observation of Jameela Al Muhairi, the head of the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau. According to the Bureau, which uses a four-tier rating system from "outstanding" to "unsatisfactory", most schools in the emirate ranked in the bottom half. That means fully 80 private schools were providing an education that did not meet the standards the private school regulator has laid down.

Specifically, inspectors found that in the core subjects of Arabic, English, maths and science, students showed slow to no gains in proficiency.

What is to be done? Some private schools will, no doubt, claim that they require more fees from parents in order to increase the quality of their teaching, to provide better services, build more advanced classrooms, and so on. It is certainly true that teachers, especially, are expensive. Yet claims that all the woes of the private schools can be solved with tuition hikes should be treated with scepticism.

Private schools, like other businesses, allocate resources where they are most needed, and it is noticeable that some high-performing schools, such as Kings Dubai, the only school to have retained its "Outstanding" status for the past five years since inspections began, is opening more schools. Custom will follow quality.

Which is precisely why the inspections of private schools are an essential function of the Dubai government. Parents spend considerable sums of money on educating their children and deserve to know what they are getting for their cash. When schools fail to deliver they must be held to account.

There is good reason to argue that schools that fail to meet satisfactory standards for a number of years in a row ought to be compelled to clean up their act. Is it worth considering fines for those that don't?

In extreme cases, the Dubai government could demand to inspect balance sheets, to be sure that requests for more money are not merely requests for greater profits.

Improving school quality is the objective of school inspections. But when year after year, performance remains stagnant, it's time to find ways to repair the broken links in the chain.

The National  UAE,  Edition May 1, 2013