Schools in the United Arab Emirates will have their online provision inspected, as the ongoing pandemic has forced schools in the Gulf and elsewhere to remain shut.

This is in contrast to schools in the UK, which under current guidance will not have their online provision – implemented after the Covid-19 crisis forced most schools to close – inspected by Ofsted, the country’s education watchdog.

Inspectors in the UAE will be able to join virtual classes to observe teachers and pupils, and principals will be interviewed by regulatory officials, according to The National.

Schools in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah will be assessed this month, with inspections lasting around five hours.

The regulator of Dubai’s private schools, which comprise more than three-quarters of the market, said in a post on its website: “The Distance Learning Evaluation has been developed to create shared expectations of distance learning for schools, parents and students and to provide schools with feedback in order to help them improve key aspects of their provision.

“It will include online meetings with the principal and senior leadership team, as well as remote observation of lessons. Schools will be given prior notice of an evaluation.”

Inspections will gauge the efficacy of remote learning, as well as students’ overall well-being, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) continued.

Earlier this year, schools across the UAE were told that the rest of the academic year’s classes would be held online, requiring pupils to learn from home as part of efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.

But parents, thousands of whom have signed petitions calling for refunds, have already cast major doubts on the ability of online education to supplement classroom provision.

As parents continue to complain that online channels offer a subpar experience and require them to monitor children’s learning, inspections could penalise schools at a time of crisis and limit their ability to increase tuition fees in future. In the UAE, only schools that obtain a certain grade on their inspections are permitted to raise fees in excess of inflation.

Alan Williamson, chief executive of private equity-backed school operator Taaleem, which has 13 schools, reportedly told The National: “I am certain the regulators will be aware of the pressure teachers and leaders, pupils and parents are under at this point of time.
“And while we fully understand and support the need for the Distance Learning Evaluation to ensure high standards, I am confident from our experience in the pilot that this will be approached empathetically by all involved, given the challenges that some families are currently facing.”