Commentary

Using evaluation and accountability as tools for school improvement in the Middle East

Tarek Alami

Accountability, quality assurance and school inspections have long been at the centre of Education Development Trust’s work in the Middle East. Drawing on this experience, we explore the importance of accountability and the use of evaluation as a tool for improvement.

We have been working on school inspections and evaluations in the Middle East since 2007, when we supported the establishment of the region’s first inspectorate, the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) with the government of Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). After just five years, 51% of students in Dubai were in good or outstanding schools, compared with 30% previously.  The success of this initiative has led us to work to create inspectorates with the governments of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. From this wealth of experience, as well as our broader research, we have developed a distinct approach to accountability.

Evaluation as a meaningful tool for improvement

The most important aspect of our approach is that we see evaluation and accountability not just as blunt instrument for rating performance, but as a meaningful and effective tool for improvement. Evaluation is about more than just assessment or compliance: the dialogue and discussions that it creates make it a real development opportunity. It can provide clear indications to schools – and school systems – of their strengths and weaknesses, which can be used to plan and implement improvements and inform professional development for staff.  What is more, it can provide the education authority with reliable, evidence-based data, which it can use to review and develop policy and target resources and support. This is likely to be even more important as school systems recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, as support can be targeted to help students and educators to bounce back from the effects of school closures.

Creating effective, sustainable models for evaluation

There are several other key aspects to our approach to evaluations. First, a focus on student learning outcomes equips inspectors with the tools to make consistent, evaluative judgements about teaching quality and school leadership. This focus also includes students’ and parents’ voices, as research has shown that including their perspectives is key to understanding school effectiveness and making high-impact recommendations.

Critically, we believe in deploying highly skilled reviewers to ensure the impact and success of these accountability and evaluation mechanisms – and in building local capacity in to make this sustainable. In Bahrain, for example, following our work with the government to develop such capacity, national staff are fully trained and equipped with the skills they need to conduct inspections with no further need for external support, even where there had previously been no evaluations.

This is all underpinned by quality indicators or descriptors to help drive shared understanding of expectations across all stakeholders – from leaders to teachers to parents. We have developed such frameworks for quality criteria in partnership with the education authorities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They explain what ‘good’ looks like and set out the steps needed for schools to improve. Such frameworks can be helpful to school staff as the basis for professional learning and internal quality assurance – and indeed, smart schools will conduct self-evaluations using these frameworks to help ensure optimal teaching and learning outcomes.

Quality and inspection frameworks also support the rapid training and development of effective new inspector personnel. Such tools have proven particularly useful in the rapid pivot to remote learning. In response to Covid-19, we formed a new partnership with the government of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Education and Knowledge (ADEK) to quality assure and evaluate remote learning in over 200 schools. Quality frameworks meant we were able to mobilise and orientate a team of 24 skilled school evaluators and reviewers in just one week. There are of course further lessons to be learned from this accountability work for distance learning, which will have wider applications throughout the period of pandemic recovery. We are currently considering the best ways to help other organisations to undertake remote quality assurance, evaluation and accountability, to help ensure the best quality provision for children learning in a wide variety of contexts, both during the Covid crisis and beyond.

 

To find out more about our inspections and evaluations work, please click here, or contact the team at: MENA@educationdevelopmenttrust.com