The School of Research Science (SRS) has become the first school in the UAE to achieve the internationally recognised Quality Mark accreditation. It is a sign of their commitment to the continuous quality improvement of the provision of English and mathematics and an accolade that further cements their position as a leading school in the region.
Demonstrating a commitment to quality
The School of Research Science (SRS) in Dubai is a large school serving over 4,000 students, and by their own definition, are always on an improvement journey to achieve and maintain world-class provision and quality of education. It is clear, therefore, as it is with many schools in the region, SRS does not simply settle for their own high standard of provision – they’re always looking for areas they can improve upon to drive up the quality of education.
Emily Jamalizadeh, Head of Maths in Secondary, explains how Quality Mark has not only become a critical part of that ongoing quality improvement journey at the school, but also how it helps SRS set themselves apart from other schools in the region.
The Quality Mark accreditation for schools and their communities that demonstrates the school’s commitment to continually improving standards in English and maths. SRS first came across the Quality Mark when the Head Teacher, Ms Nan Billingham, identified the internationally acknowledged accreditation as something the school was in a good position to achieve. The Senior Leadership Team felt the school’s existing provision in English and maths aligned well with the requirements of the whole-school framework, and they could see how it would not only provide the scaffolding for ongoing staff professional development but also provide external recognition of the school’s approach to quality.
“Working towards these respected external quality marks was a key driver to our school and the teams. Completing the Quality Mark gave a focus to the English and maths teams, each using the framework as a tool for self-evaluation and to inform actions to support them continuing to improve and move forward on our journey to excellence.” – Nan Billingham, Governor/RSI Projects Lead
Informing improvement strategy
For Emily and the staff, the Quality Mark framework helped the school identify and focus on those areas where they could improve, but simultaneously recognized where they were doing really well. So, it instantly began to support improvement conversations, whilst also validating the good work being carried out by staff.
SRS was also aware that how they analysed data was an area where they could realise some improvements, their attention having been drawn to this aspect by their previous KHDA report. Their work with Quality Mark helped them revamp the way they analyse and use data to assess pupil performance, set targets for the improvement of English and maths, and review progress. This in itself has been a significant development for the school, but the framework then went on to also inform discussion around how teachers were providing feedback – was it effective? Were they recording it in the best possible manner? Is it impactful – are the students really getting as much benefit from the feedback process?
The policies that Emily and the team were able to put in place around analysing and using data clearly started to reap rewards. She explains,
“So, off the back of that decision to really improve the way we deal with data came a lot more improvements around the school, in both English and maths, but then ultimately in all subjects. We really tightened up on a lot of the policies around the school as well, which you can now see very, very clearly and evidently in every lesson.”
From Emily’s own perspective as the person leading SRS’s Quality Mark journey, the school’s enthusiasm was clear from the start. Reaching out to people in different departments and different areas of the school, there was an excitement that the school was working towards the accreditation – they recognised the value it would bring in terms of it being rewarding personally for staff, as well as for the school’s reputation.
An evidence-based improvement framework that flexes to each school’s context
Achievement of the Quality Mark requires schools to show that at the time of assessment it meets the appropriate criteria for its context in all 10 Quality Mark elements and that the whole school is committed to improving English and mathematics. But it is not a case of onerously compiling a portfolio for the sake of a portfolio; it’s not simply a box-ticking exercise. The framework is flexible enough to fit to the school’s context, and the portfolio forms the basis of an open conversation about the standard of evidence aligned to each Quality Mark element.
There is no prescribed amount of evidence required to substantiate each element. Participants may find that they have much of the evidence readily available, as it will have been gathered for other purposes. Each school makes a professional judgement in selecting the most appropriate evidence to illustrate how they meet the criteria in the context of their setting.
The Quality Mark assessment visit itself, involving discussions with teachers, parents, and students, was not in the least bit daunting for Emily. She had confidence in the evidence gathered and confidence in the staff’s ability to talk about and explain their approach to quality provision.
“I didn’t prep anyone. I just said, “Be honest. You’re already doing everything, so simply talk about it.” And I think that was really nice for teachers – to have that validation they were doing things right; that we’re doing so much and we’re doing it to such a high standard. It was good to reflect on just how knowledgeable our staff are.”
Valuable Professional Development
Emily also acknowledges how Quality Mark has acted as a valuable Professional Development tool for SRS. Teachers and leaders alike have benefited from a framework founded on educational research and internationally shared views of effective teaching and learning.
“It’s amazing CPD for the staff involved, both leaders and teachers – phenomenal CPD.”
Emily found it impacted her own role as a middle leader.
“In terms of my leadership, it definitely gave me more confidence in what I’m doing and what my team is doing. So, it was for me personally, quite a nice confidence boost. And it was good to discuss so much because it made me realize how confident I am in what we are doing as a school. It made me realize that I’m really happy with it and want things to push forward and help make sure that we keep going on the improvement cycle that we’re going on.”
The Quality Mark journey has helped Emily also reflect upon how to efficiently share department improvement plans – to communicate these in the most effective way, and to feedback on progress against those plans, because of the value of teachers receiving praise when they are doing such a fantastic job.
A badge of honour
As is expected, the parents and governors at SRS are very involved, and how the school’s accreditation is received is not lost on Emily.
“To be the first school in the UAE to achieve the Quality Mark award is like a badge of honour. The parents and governors will be really, really happy with it, definitely.”
That acknowledgement goes further too – other Assistant Heads and Heads that Emily has spoken with since gaining the award in October 2021 have been really impressed and intrigued by the school’s achievement, so she only sees the reach of Quality Mark growing across the region. This may be in part due to the competitive nature of schools in the Middle East, but schools still help one another. Being part of a Quality Mark schools network, such as the one in the United Kingdom, where the best practice continues to be shared amongst participating schools and Early years settings, is likely to be embraced by the region’s schools and leaders.
For Dr Nasim Butt, Principal at SRS, the achievement is just the beginning of a new quality journey:
“This achievement is a matter of great pride for the SRS community. It is a testament to the hard work and commitment of our teachers and subject leaders, focused as they are on planning and delivering the curriculum to a high quality. Achievement of the Quality Mark means that we have met a comprehensive set of well-defined and well-researched standards. However, for us this external validation is the beginning, as we are determined to continue to push the boundaries to achieve and sustain curriculum quality and provision that is simply world-class. Hence, this journey has a clear beginning but no pre-defined end.”
Support for continuity of leadership
The nature of working in Dubai means changes of leadership are quite commonplace, so consistency between leadership when there are changes is a key thing for schools to be mindful of. This particular point was highlighted by SRS’s Quality Mark assessor and subsequently reflected upon by the school. Emily explains,
“And so now we’re going to try and make sure that when there is inevitably a change of leadership, that there’s some way of keeping the consistency. Almost like a mediator between the leaders that are leaving and the leaders that are even stepping up or joining. So, it definitely made us realize that even if it’s the norm, we still need to make sure that continuity is still there. The Quality Mark framework and audit tool itself are valuable in this respect. You can almost use it as the basis for handovers, because of the way it’s set out and written up with the evidence hyperlinked. It basically explains how we are doing everything.“
Preparing for inspection
This approach to evidence gathering also helps with preparation for external school inspections as all the evidence is in one place, and it also ensures rigorous self-evaluation has taken place that identifies strengths, prioritises key areas for development and identifies the impact of practice. So, it’s building confidence and saving time because of how well-aligned Quality Mark is with the national agenda, the cross-over with the inspection framework, and the type of evidence it prompts.
Thanks to the School of Research Science’s central mission to provide their students with the best possible foundation, and a whole-school commitment to continuous quality improvement, their achievement of the Quality Mark is a real landmark for Middle East education. It’s also a testament to the teaching staff and leadership who will no doubt ensure that the Quality Mark framework keeps the school on that impressive trajectory.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to work closely with the staff of The School of Research Science. Their collective focus on improvement and growth and development of their people using the Quality Mark framework has allowed them to continue to drive forward to aspire to be the Global Leaders in Education.” – Nicola Morris, Quality Mark National Director
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