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Insight 20/05/2024

Accountability mechanisms and the improvement of private schools in Dubai

By Tony McAleavy

Dubai’s school system – which is made up predominantly of private schools – has improved dramatically over the past decade, according to robust global test data, with the private schools of Dubai now operating at a high level compared to most other education systems. EDT has been the strategic partner of the Dubai government’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) since 2006, providing support relating to the improvement of private schools through inspection. In this insight piece, our Education Director, Tony McAleavy, analyses the extent to which the KHDA inspection system has contributed to the measurable improvement in learning outcomes in Dubai private schools.

The Dubai system is unusual in international terms, because most students attend private schools, so the performance of the private school sector is immensely important to the overall wellbeing and future of Dubai. With technical support from EDT, regular transparent inspection has been one of the main mechanisms whereby KHDA set out to drive improvement in the private school system. The story of Dubai’s private schools over the last 15 years has been one of demonstrable success. Results from different international comparative assessment exercises document the trend towards better academic outcomes for the Dubai private schools that are regulated and supported by KHDA. 

Since 2009, the Dubai private schools have regularly taken part in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and have steadily risen up the global PISA ‘league table’ in terms of performance in mathematics, science, and reading literacy. While the performance of most school systems declined worldwide according to PISA 2018-2022, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency, Dubai private schools sustained previous performance levels and rose significantly when compared to other education systems. This achievement built on steady progress over the previous decade. 


Key insights 

  • It is interesting to note that the judgements of the KHDA inspections on the schools that participated in PISA 2022 are closely aligned to the differential performance of the same schools in the PISA tests. This confirms the accuracy of the inspection judgements. 
  • The pattern of steady improvement over many years apparent in the PISA results is also consistent with results from other comparative assessments of student performance organised by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), which is responsible for the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). 
  • IEA also conducts the PIRLS assessment of Grade 4 reading literacy. During the ten-year period 2011-2021, the Dubai schools went from performing below average (set at 500 points) to achieving results well above average. The Covid-19 pandemic disruptions of 2020-2021 did not derail this upward trend. 
  • As with the PISA results, the PIRLS tests confirm the consistency and accuracy of the inspection judgements. The 2021 reading literacy results for the Dubai schools corresponded closely to the categorisation of quality provided by KHDA inspection judgements, and schools designated by KHDA as ‘outstanding’ performed dramatically better than schools deemed to be ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’. 


Read the full insight piece here, and find out more about our work in accountability and school inspections