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Greek historian Thucydides gave birth to political realism, a theory of politics which advocates that the acquisition of power is the ultimate purpose of any action. In the absence of an agent (i.e. a state, a government, an institution, a person) who holds the power then there is a political vacuum.

In the absence of power a variety of agents will present themselves to fill the void. What they have to offer may be less than ideal or indeed less than real, but in the absence of any viable alternative they come to be the power.

The press in the UAE is in its infancy. As a consequence much of what is written with conviction elsewhere in the world, on account of decades of data and an appreciation of history, is being tried and tested for the first time out here.

Educational journalism is no exception and as a consequence much of what is asserted about schools in the UAE is at best useless and at worst misleading for parents. One recent league table based upon website hits is soon to be replaced by another equally divisive, pointlessly simplistic and disappointingly reductive analysis of schools.

Unfortunately, there is no independent agency out here who has taken it upon themselves to create a definite and unambiguous analysis of schools for the benefit of parents. This is unsurprising since the task is enormous and education is a broad, social and philosophical enterprise experienced very personally by individual students and their families.

Ultimately there is no way to compare schools other than to experience them in person. Written reviews filled with judgements but without comparison are the next best thing which in turn are far better than ill-informed alpha-numeric tables, the criteria for which are at best opaque and at worst misleading.

Any series of dehumanising metrics taken entirely out of context of everything else which is taking place in an institution and presented on an independent website will simply send any conscientious parent into a tail spin.

To pit parents against one another when their budgets, value systems and aspirations are entirely different seems like a deliberate attempt to stir the pot and yet there is no-one currently operating within the UAE who is embarking upon a more edifying and unifying educational project than one which deliberately seeks to foment disharmony.

Recently we have heard from many parents who have been made to feel disheartened, disenfranchised and inadequate on account of a recent ranking of schools. Given the broad range of socio-economic backgrounds from which Dubai parents come, suggesting to them that they are not sending their child to the best school which is (a) geographically impossible and (b) financially beyond their reach has been perceived as unhelpful and cruel.

As such I would suggest than any and all league tables are a misleading blight on the educational landscape of Dubai. Parents should be equipped to interrogate schools during their Open Days and Admissions cycles with regard to everything that schools have to offer. This may begin with, but should be limited to, the percentage participation of students in sport, music, arts and drama, onward destinations, working hours, academic outcomes and value added, peer group, finances, additional resources and opportunities which add value to the educational experience which are not simply "value-added" scores or exam grades. 

Traditional league tables, which rank the percentage of A*/A grades in the UK system, for example, can mislead parents about the quality of a school as will further suggested league tables which rank the value-added scores of schools.

Until parents can disentangle the amount of tutoring and parent support which students receive outside lessons in school in addition to parents’ income, level of education, nationality, neighbourhood, language, upbringing, peer group and a dozen other contributory factors then a value-added league table will be as misleading as a traditional league table when coming to rank school performance.

Dare I say it, therefore, the UAE Unified Inspection Framework is probably still the most objective mechanism by which parents can evaluate the quality of schools in the emirates. The 70 separate criteria against which schools are judged are probably the most holistic appreciation of a school’s outcomes which parents could hope to receive.

Whilst certain core subjects such as Arabic and Islamic Studies may not be the same core focus for all parents as they are for the government, the written reports are a pretty comprehensive guide to school performance if people only take the time to read them in detail.

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