The Who, What and Why of School Improvement for Sharjah Private Schools

A Conversation with Sharjah Private Education Authority’s Director of School Improvement, Mr. Ziad Shatat.

The Meriam Webster’s dictionary defines Improvement as “…something that enhances value or excellence.” All over the world many organizations devote their time and effort to such improvement of schools. Here in the Emirate of Sharjah, we are fortunate enough to have the organization Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA) who supports all the private schools in Sharjah their effort to improve.

Many of you may know that Sharjah Education Academy (SEA) is the sister organization of SPEA. As a matter of fact, our President H.E Dr. Muhadditha Al Hashimi, is also the Chairperson of SPEA. Recently SPEA has embarked on implementing school visits to evaluate many of the private schools in Sharjah in support of each school’s continuous improvement. Because SEA is the sister of SPEA and because we at SEA want to help everyone in the diverse learning community to understand more about school improvement, specifically here in Sharjah, I decided to have a conversation with Mr. Ziad Shatat, Director of Continuous Improvement for SPEA to learn more about School Improvement and how SPEA contributes to our local private schools. Below are some highlights from our conversation on October 15, 2022.

 

Your title is Director of Continuous Improvement for Sharjah Private Education Authority(SPEA). Tell us a little about SPEA and your role with the organization.

Thank you very much for speaking with me today. It’s a great honor to be with you today at Sharjah Education Academy; His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah gift to all teachers in Sharjah and beyond. It’s the teachers’ hub and the teachers’ home I would say. Now let me tell you about the SPEA. SPEA is a young entity, relatively new, only four years old. It was established in 2018 by the Amiri decree #45 of 2018, issued His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah. As per the Amir decree, SPEA is mandated as a local government entity in Sharjah to regulate and oversee the private education sector in Sharjah including schools, nurseries and training institutes.

 

We have three mandates as per the Amir Decree: #1 is to regulate the private education, #2 is to raise the quality of the education, which is in my point of view is the most important one, and #3 is attract investments in the private education sector.

 

SPEA serves 127 schools, 145 nurseries, and 66 training centers. To achieve these three mandates, there are there are several activities we do. For example, we license approved different curriculum and students’ admission and registration and ensure all educational institutions comply with our official regulations. For quality, which is one of the most important activities we do, we review school performance development improvement policies for technical personal development courses and lots more. And finally, for attracting investment, we ensure that we have the quality services. And up to date data and statistics.

As for my role as the Director of the Continuous Improvement. Department, I am privileged to be leading this department in SPEA. The establishment of this department was around the same year of SPEA’s establishment. Why? Because it is driven by SPEA’s philosophy that regulatory and continuous improvement support must proceed in a parallel manner to have a positive impact on educational institutions student outcomes. So SPEA is quite unique in that respect, as it has the improvement piece in its blood and in its structure, unlike other regulatory entities. For SPEA continuous improvement of educational institutions must come first and before subjecting them to compliance and inspection. We believe that compliance is a natural result of effective educational practices.

 

 

Now, in my role and capacity I oversee SPEA’s improvement services provided to educational institutions to achieve Mandate #2, which is raising the quality of private education, and I am privileged to be assisted by a highly qualified team of seven international education advisors and experts. Four of them are assigned to the private schools in Sharjah. In addition, we have one advisor for each of the following areas: Well-Being, Early Childhood Education, and the Arabic language. And of course, our aim is to improve the quality of education and student learning outcomes. We work closely and collaboratively with the school leadership teams by providing high level advice and support to all 127 private schools in Sharjah across the ten of the 11 school curricula. We work with the school leadership, senior leaders, middle leaders and teachers across areas including teaching and assessment, curriculum, strategic planning, use of data, educational resources, professional development, coaching and mentoring for teachers, leadership development, improvement policies, and preparing schools for reviews and accreditation.

 

I understand that currently many of the private schools here in Sharjah that are going through an evaluation. Please tell us exactly how this works. How long does it take, who at the school is involved, what will the results look like and when will they get them? 

Yes, you’re right. It’s the talk of town these days. SPEA is launching a school review program known as “ ITQAN”.  ITQAN it is an Arabic word, and this word in English means to perfect or perfectionism. ITQAN: the school performance review (SPR). At SPEA, we prefer to call it review; we don’t like to call it inspection; we don’t like to call it evaluation, we call it review. This time it is a full school review based on the UAE Unified Inspection Framework. This Framework consists of six standards ranging from the focus on students’ achievement to teaching and learning. and leadership management. The review this year is very critical since no comprehensive review has taken place since 2018-2019.

 

So, we see the school performance review as an improvement tool and a great opportunity for our schools to celebrate their successes and showcase their best educational practices and, of course, to monitor their progress and improvement.  

 

For SPEA this serves as a data collection exercise in which we gather data about schools to identify the strengths, key areas of improvement, which definitely will enable us to identify the training needs, the interventions required, and the support services. The idea is we want to serve the students through educational institutions. This is how we get in touch with the students.

We are targeting, of course, all the private schools in Sharjah, 111 schools out of 127.  There are 16 schools that are exempted because they are new schools in their second year of operation. Can you imagine that?  In Sharjah, during the past two years, we have 16 new schools that started during COVID.  This is an indication that the Sharjah education sector is growing and the demand is quite high. The review which is scheduled to begin on October 17 through March 23, 2023.  Again, we use it as an improvement tool to collect information about schools for improvement practices only.  We don’t see it as a process to label the schools.

 

What we do when we go to the schools? I think this is something the parents and the students should know. When the review teams go to the schools they cover several aspects to come up with a comprehensive picture of where the school stands in regard to the inspection framework. We observe lessons, we interview the stakeholders, teachers, parents, governing boards, and students. We also survey the parents, we meet with parents, we review that students’ attainment data, we look at the school previous inspection reports, we look at the school’s self-evaluation forms, we look at the school improvement plan, we look at all the documents submitted by each school. By this. And of course, we really strive and are very much keen to see our schools improving and reaching the highest standards quality.

 

The duration of each visit is four consecutive days and at the end of the process each school will get a detailed report along with an overall judgment.  The report will contain rating information. I think the parents will appreciate this information very much because finally Sharjah parents would be able to know what type of school his or her son or daughter is in. 

 

We have many people visiting this blog post that are parents of the young adults and children attending these schools that are being evaluated. What is the number one thing that every parent should know about their child’s school evaluation?

Yeah, well, you know as a parent myself, I have four kids who go to one of our private school here in Sharjah, a boy and a girl who are 12 year old twins, a son who is seven and another son who is four. The number one thing that every parent needs to ask is:” Are my kids receiving good education that prepares them for the future, for success, for college and for a career readiness?  Are they learning at school?”  This is what I keep asking myself as a parent and this is what I do when I am at home with my kids. I keep asking them questions to make sure that they are learning. The bottom line to me is the quality of education that our children are receiving and deserving. We need an outstanding education for our children. We need to ensure that our kids are really receiving an outstanding education that is of high quality. The school review will help parents to learn more about what type of schools their kids go to.  The reports have rich data that will certainly help parents choose the right schools for their kids., my kids are the investment of my life and I need to learn more about the school they go to.  . By the end of March, all of the reports will be published and parents will be able to access them easily.

 

Who at the school should they go to if they have a question about the evaluation?

Parents and any stakeholders should directly reach out to the school principal and school staff to learn about the outcomes of these reviews or any other questions related to the review results. These reports will be published on SPEAs website definitely before the beginning of the new 2023-24 academic year and I think all schools will also publish it on their websites. We are doing this for the parents and for the students. It’s their right to know the level of education quality that schools are offering. 

 

Finally, tell us at least one thing every parent should know about what SPEA does for the private schools in Sharjah?

Thank you for this question. I think what every parent needs to know is that we exist to serve their children’s needs for quality education. This is what SPEA is for, we are translating the direction we have His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah ( May allah protect him) and HE. Dr. Muhadditha AlHashimi , the chairperson of SPEA. When His Highness established SPEA, the main purpose was to serve the students and the parents. We are the parents’ advocates to ensure the well-being of their children and continued progress and achievements. The kids come first. For us this is priority number one. Everything we do at SPEA is for students, which is and always will be priority number one.

 

Children’s education is a collective responsibility; everyone is responsible. As much as it is the parents responsibility, it is also the school’s responsibility, and it’s the community. Do you know the African proverb which says “It takes a whole village to educate the child”? I would like to rephrase it to say “It takes the whole of Sharjah to educate a child” We are all in this together!

 

We hope this has helped to answer some of your questions about school improvement specifically here in Sharjah. More information about SPEA and all they do can be found here on their website Sharjah Private Education Authority – Homepage (shj.ae).

Thank you, Ziad for all your insightful information.

Have a question about this post or anything else about education? Please submit your questions below.

Ziad Younes Shatat is an education expert with over 20 years of experience in the field of education. He is currently serving as the Director of the Continuous Improvement Department at Sharjah Private Education Authority (SPEA), the department that oversees performance and progress of Sharjah’s private educational institutions, and leads a team of international improvement advisors who provide leadership in high-level strategic support and educational development to improve the quality of students’ progress and outcomes.

Previously, Mr. Ziad, held various positions in, teaching, training, consulting, leading school reviews, program accreditation, including designing and organizing international study tours and professional development programs for students and school leaders according to their training needs in several countries such as UK, Australia and Canada. This gave Mr. Shatat the opportunity to explore different educational systems that contributed greatly to enriching and refining his international experiences to serve the needs of the local learning community in the United Arab Emirates.

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