What To Ask A Head Teacher

Finally, the question has popped up, which school are you going to send your child to?

After much consideration you have shortlisted a few choices, and are now looking forward to meeting the principals of those schools

It is not uncommon to be in a dilemma over how to maximise the opportunity of meeting the principal and what questions to ask, that would help you take the final decision.

We spoke with some of Dubai’s 

leading school heads to guide Connector’s readers of what questions should definitely be on their list. However, it should not be only these questions that should be asked, parents are advised to never shy from asking anything that crosses their mind, because if it matters to them, it is important. 

Discuss Among The Family First

Before you meet the school head, it is advisable to discuss among the family what the family expects from the formal education at a school for the child, and also involve the child in the conversation.

Darren Gale, Headmaster of Horizon International School says, “Parents are now in a very powerful position with regards to education in Dubai; they have a wide choice of schools and curriculums. Before launching into a school visit and recommendation from community members, I would firstly advise parents to sit down and think about what is important about education to them as a family. Firstly, as parents, secondly, in discussion wherever possible with their child. Once they have agreed with the top priorities for them as a family, then begin to do the research. Having that synergy and clarity will make the school selection slightly easier.” 

Go Through KHDA Reports

Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) rates performance of all schools in Dubai every year and rate them as Outstanding, Very Good and Good. Parents should take a look at well rounded research conducted by KHDA as their inspection reports give one lense of a school's performance.

Ask Questions On What You Think Is Your Priority

Get your priority list right, and when you visit a school, ask all the questions to get answers which can help you make the decision.

“Ensure that you ask the questions linked to the priorities that you have as a family and ask to be taken to parts of the school which are important to you. Ultimately, schools shape your child's thinking, feelings and actions. Questions based around these three areas will give you a good insight into whether it is the right school”, suggests Darren Gale of Horizon International School

Is The Curriculum Up To Date?

With today’s rapidly shifting technology and economic landscape, parents need assurance that the curriculum a school has is relevant and up to date.

Alison Lamb, Principal Of Dubai Heights Academy says, “This is an important question as the school curriculum needs to suit the values and ethos of the family/parents as well as the future direction for their child. Also it's important to ask if the curriculum has the right balance for their child, for example the balance between traditional learning and technology. This will ensure that every child's talents will be recognised and they can thrive in their school environment.”

It is utmost important to learn if the emphasis is given to real life learnings to broaden the perspective of students beyond text books.

Sophie Casben, Director MENA, Gabbitas says, “How is the school weaving the role of technology, and more vocational educational aspects, into the curriculum? The academic results are a pre-requisite, but what is the school doing to introduce students to more practical 21st century skills?”

Linda Winch, Head of Upper School At Dwight School Dubai says, “ At Dwight School Dubai and across all Dwight Schools we present to our students ‘Spark Tank’ which is an innovative and interactive program with the mission of ‘Igniting the Spark of Genius’ in every child at the school. Spark Tank features a think tank approach designed to nurture innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership in Dwight’s students. The Spark Tank space at Dwight School Dubai is a two-floor facility which helps students find their Spark of Genius. The creative hub is equipped with a range of machinery and tools including a laser cutter and 3D printers, allowing students to rapidly develop and prototype, offering ways in which they can bring their ideas to life.”

What Is The Qualification And Experience Of Teachers, Teaching Assistants And Staff?

Having teachers who are both qualified and committed to life-long learning ensure the best outcome for students in terms of academic progress and attainment.

“As a parent you need to know that your child is in the best care and is getting the best education so it's important to ask about the experience and qualifications of teachers, teaching assistants and support staff. What are their qualifications, have they worked in schools in Dubai before, are they continuously training etc? Care and welfare is also an important point so 
it's good to ask about class sizes, security measures and the staff to student ratio”, suggests Linda Winch 
of Dwight School Dubai.

What Is The Staff Turnover Ratio?

Schools who are able to retain a significant proportion of their staff each year are in a strong position to grow and develop and often have a more consistent understanding of where they are going as a school and how to get there.

Sophie Casben from Gabbitas says, “A school is only as good as the teachers within it, so the issue of staff retention would be high on my agenda. The transitory nature of teachers is one of the biggest challenges faced by UAE schools and I would want to know about staff turnover, and how the school works with its teachers to gain their commitment and build long-term loyalty."

What Does The School Do To Create An Inclusive Environment For Students From Different Backgrounds?

This question is quite apparent in Dubai as you primarily want your child to interact with children of all nationalities and not only with their own community,

“When your child enters school, your family is now part of that school community consisting of many families from different nationalities. It's important to know how you can become an integral part of that community and know what the school does in term of CSR, community events, PTA, tolerance and developing national identity so that you have the choice to be a part of all these brilliant initiatives”, says Linda Winch of Dwight School Dubai.

What Is Your School’s Policy On Phones?

This question for sure concerns a lot of parents.

Barry Cooper, Deputy Head Academic at Brighton College Dubai says, “I would also ask about what the school’s policy is on phones and other distractions. At Brighton College Dubai we forbid personal phones during school hours and also ban designer items.”

How Do You Measure Your School’s Success?

This question will help you understand if the school’s definition of success is limited to academic results and number of sports trophies it wins.

Mike Cipriano Principal at Nibras says, “We know that a successful school is not about the test scores, the KHDA Rating or some other outside measure. I know how successful my school is when I walk around and I see children working together with enthusiasm and joy, when I see the teachers sitting on the floor listening to children read, when I see the older students taking responsibility to make sure they are setting the example for and caring for the younger students, when the school is filled with hope and love, when we all understand that everything we do is for the children of the school.”

What Makes You Different From All the Other Schools In The Area?

Every school wishes to see itself as offering a distinct and unique experience. Parents should be wary of schools that place a particular emphasis on a publicised USP, as this will often be created as much for marketing purposes as educational.

While you keep these questions handy, always follow your instinct and ask question that you feel right as a parent. 

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