Examining The Impact of School Inspection On Teaching and Learning. Dubai Private Schools as a Case Study

Abstract in the Arabic Language

Acknowledgments I

List of tables

List of figures

List of abbreviations

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction
1.0 Introduction
1.1 Background to School Inspection
1.2 Why do we need school inspection?
1.3 Previous studies on the impact of school inspection
1.4 The Education System in the UAE
1.5 Purpose of the Study
1.6 Objectives of the Study
1.7 Research Questions
1.8 Significance, Scope and Structure of the Study

Chapter Two: Literature Review
2.0 Introduction
2.1 Accountability in education and Underlying Theories of School Inspection
2.1.1 Scientific Management theory
2.1.2 Human Relations Theory
2.1.3 Critical Theory
2.2 Forms of Accountability in Education
2.2.1 The Market Choice
2.2.2 School Voucher System
2.2.3 Decentralisation of Education
2.3 School Inspection in Other Countries
2.3.1 England and Wales
2.3.2 Finland
2.3.3 Sweden
2.4 School Inspection Conceptual Framework for this study
2.4.1 The System Thinking Approach
2.4.2 School Inspection Supporting Inputs
2.5 The Importance of School Inspection in Dubai
2.6 School Inspection in General
2.7 School Inspection Roles and Functions
2.8 The Main Features of School Inspection
2.9 School Inspection Processes and Observations
2.10 School Inspection Report
2.11 School Inspection Reactions and Effects

Chapter Three: Research Methodology
3. Introduction
3.1. Research methodology
3.2. Selection of Study Site, Sampling of Schools and Participants
3.3. Data Collection Methods and Instrumentations
3.4. Research Procedures
3.5. Ethical Considerations
3.6. Delimitation of the Study
3.7. Limitation and Implications of the Study

Chapter Four: Findings & Discussion
4. Introduction
4.1. Research Findings
4.2. The Importance and usefulness of School Inspection
4.2.1. School Inspection Feedback and Reports
4.2.2. Information before Visiting the School
4.2.3. Classroom Observation
4.2.4. Talking to Pupils
4.2.5. Frequency of School Inspection Visits
4.2.6. Communication Style
4.3. School Inspection Contribution on Teachers’ Work Performance
4.4. Negative Effects of School Inspection

Chapter Five: Conclusions, recommendations and further studies
5. Introduction
5.1. Main Findings
5.2. Recommendations
5.2.1 The quality of school inspectors
5.2.2 Enhancing good practice of School Self Evaluation SSE:
5.2.3 The frequency of school inspection:
5.2.4 School inspection independence:
5.3. Further studies



Abstract in English

School inspection is one of the most challenging aspects in education; it represents an approach of accountability in teaching and learning. Moreover, school inspection provides policy and decision makers with accurate information about the current state of education in their respective institutions. The main purpose of this study is to examine and determine the impact of school inspection on teaching and learning in Dubai-based private schools, and to give some recommendations into how to conduct effective school inspection that would positively influence teaching and learning. The methodology that used here is largely qualitative, with some elements of a quantitative approach. Questionnaires, interviews, a focus discussion group and documentaries are the main research instruments of this study. This research included 37 participants; 2 inspectors, 4 head-teachers and 31 teachers, from 4 private schools, who follow different types of curricula, from all grades of performance according to inspection reports conducted in the 2014/2015 academic year.

The findings show that school inspection has a significant role in school improvement, especially in teaching and learning. Teachers acknowledge the feedback that inspectors give to them. However, school inspection also has a negative impact on teaching and learning; for instance, it forces some schools to show activities they have never done before. Moreover, the school inspection reports and recommendations, in some cases, are superficial and are not related to the school context; moreover, they often do not show teachers how they can respond to criticism in the reality of their teaching practice. Nevertheless, the relationship between inspectors and teachers is not that positive, especially in some subjects, such as Arabic language and Islamic Studies.

This piece of research suggests some areas for the betterment in school inspection, such as giving more importance for SSE School-Self evaluations, shortening the notice period, visiting schools at different times throughout the academic year, making such visits every three years, as well as ensuring that school inspectors have a high degree in education and in the subject they inspect. Nevertheless, it recommends establishing an independent school inspection system. On the other hand, this study suggests further research on the accountability of teaching and learning in Dubai in specific subjects, such as Arabic and Islamic studies, because reality shows that the recent intervention and policy have not been as fruitful as expected.

Keywords: teaching and learning, accountability, report, feedback, school inspection; school self-evaluation.

Abstract in the Arabic Language

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I express my gratitude and appreciation to all my family members, friends and individuals who have provided me with their sincere prayers, help, support, cooperation, encouragement and wishes during my study period. I will mention some of them, with respect to others who will not be mentioned because of the long list or based on their requests not to be included here.

Firstly, I would like to express my thanks to the Almighty Allah, for without his mercy, grace and protection nothing is possible. Second of all, my thanks and appreciation are extended to my family; my father and mother for their prayers, my brother Dr Jamal for his continuous support, my wife and my lovely children; Abdullah, Marwah and Abdul-Rahman for their support and willingness to allow me stay away for a couple of months during the study period. Thirdly, I would like to express my gratitude to all my friends who pushed me forward and for their support and encouragement during the preparation of this work. For without their encouragement I would not start this project.

My extended thanks go also to the British University in Dubai for the wonderful management, professors, staff and facilities. I am deeply grateful to my supervisor Dr. Abdulai Abukari who supported me with his constructive ideas, guidance and time. Moreover, I offer my deep thanks to all my master instructors; Prof Dr. John McKenny; Clifton Chadweck; Sofian Farawi and Solomon Arulraj David.

Finally, I am indebted to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority of Dubai (KHDA) and all those schools and individuals (teachers, leaders, principals and inspectors) who participated in this work, for allowing me to collect the data, especially through questionnaires and interviews.

List of tables

Table 4.1: Population of the study

Table 4.2: Age range

Table 4. 3: Education Level

Table 4.4: Teaching experience

Table 4.5: Participants’ experience with school inspection

List of figures

Figure 4.1: Gender information

Figure 4.2: Frequency of school inspection visits

Figure 4.3: School inspection for improvement in teaching and learning

Figure 4.4: Providing professional support

List of abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Chapter One: Introduction

1.0 Introduction

This chapter covers the background of school inspection in general and the experiences of UAE and Dubai in school inspection. Furthermore, this chapter provides the rationale of the study, the problem statement and purpose of the study. Moreover, it covers other areas, such as objectives of the study, research questions and significance of the study.

1.1 Background to School Inspection

The concept of accountability in education is not new. School inspection and supervision has been well-known since the early days of public education at the end of 18 century. School inspection was introduced in France by Napoleon’s regime (Grauwe, 2007). Ehren and Honingh (2011) state that in 1801 the Dutch Inspectorate of Education was launched, and remains one of the oldest Inspectorates in Europe. Then, in the United Kingdom (UK), in 1839, the first inspection was established by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) (Wilcox, 2000; Macbeath, 2006).

Accountability in education varies; in addition to school inspection as a means of accountability, market choice and the school voucher system also act as accountability mechanisms (Lee & Wong, 2002). The idea behind accountability in education is to enhance the teacher’s commitment to provide the pupils with better education (Neave, 1987), and to inform citizens and parents as taxpayers about the quality of education provided (Neave, 1987; Ehren & Visscher, 2006; Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007).

For this purpose, and to meet every student’s learning needs, the United States of America (USA) has ascertained the concept of accountability in education with the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) policy (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). In the Middle East, many countries carried out school inspection services following independence (Grauwe, 2007). However, in many African countries, such as Tanzania, school inspection services were started in 1903 when the country was under German colonial rule (Haule, 2012).

The system of inspection has witnessed continuous improvement and reforms at all levels, from the organization to the goals and purpose, as well as processes. Thus, in the UK, as one of the most developed educational systems and one of the first countries to run inspection services (since 1839 by HMI), the country has replaced the HMI with the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) in 1990. OFSTED has added more factors to the previous HMI system in order to improve the quality of educational inspection. These factors are school self-evaluation (SSE) and school action plans as a consequence of an inspection (Rosenthal, 2004).

1.2 Why do we need school inspection?

School inspection plays a significant role in ensuring the quality of education, as it is almost the sole method by which governments can ensure and evaluate the quality of education. Moreover, governments are unable to implement the national policies and goals without school inspection. Nevertheless, by running school inspection, governments can meet the challenges of globalization by creating a competitive workforce (Wilcox, 2000; Neave, 1987).

Ehren and Honingh (2012) summarized that the purpose of school inspection is to guarantee that schools meet the legal requirements of the state to ensure the legitimacy of the received financial support. Secondly, school inspection has to encourage schools to provide students with a satisfactory level of education, and to increase their capability for student achievement.

1.3 Previous studies on the impact of school inspection

Many studies have been conducted to measure the influence of school inspection on education and school improvement, particularly, teaching and learning. Most of these studies have been done in developed countries, such as the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. However, fewer studies have been carried out in other regions of the world, for instance, Turkey, Pakistan and Tanzania.

The literature does not show any academic studies on Dubai inspection, although local and international media has reported on Dubai inspection. Local websites and newspapers have published the rating of school inspection alongside articles and discussions about successful stories and experiences. Moreover, many international channels acknowledged the practice of Dubai inspection as a remarkable reform in the region (Cuadra &Thacker, 2014; Swan, 2014; Lewis, 2010; Sankar, 2009).

Some studies on school inspection have claimed that it has no direct impact on teaching and learning, other studies have argued that school inspection has a negative impact on students’ performance in exams (Rosenthal, 2004). Furthermore, other studies claimed that the impact of school inspection on teaching and learning is limited (Earley, 1998; Ehren & Visscher, 2006). Other studies demonstrated that inspection has no positive impact on classroom practice (Webb, Vulliamy, Hakkinen & Hamalainen, 1998). A study conducted in Turkey found that school inspection has no positive impact on teachers’ emotions. Furthermore, teachers presume that inspectors are fault-hunters, accusatory and coercive (Tunf, inandi & Gunduz, 2015).

On the other hand, some studies found that there is clear evidence about the impact of inspection on the quality of poorly-performing schools (Matthews and Sammons, 2004). Some studies contended that school inspections apply needless extra work on teachers, which affect their professional development (Webb, Vulliamy, Hakkinen & Hamalainen, 1998). Other studies claimed that school inspections do no more than bring about pressure and fear amongst teachers.

Moreover, inspections divert teachers’ focus from their core role of teaching, in order to collect and present superficial work to impress the inspector or their supervisors (Webb, Vulliamy, Hakkinen & Hamalainen, 1998).

Based on the above, this study addresses the gap of a lack of studies about school inspection in the Arab world, particularly in one of the leading Arab countries, namely the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Thus, this research intends to discover the impact of school inspection on teaching and learning in Dubai private schools; and it designed to give enlightenment for better inspection.

1.4 The Education System in the UAE

On the 2nd of December 1971, the world witnessed the birth of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), following the initiative of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, who became the UAE’s first President. The UAE comprises the federation of seven Emirates on the Arabian Gulf, namely: Abu Dhabi (the Capital City), Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah. In 2004, HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan succeeded his late father, HH Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, as the President of the UAE, and as the Ruler of Abu Dhabi. The UAE’s constitution grants power to the central government and to the local governments of each of the seven Emirates (UAE Year Book, 2013).

According to the World Bank, the population of the UAE was 9.086 million in 2014 (World Bank, 2015). In 2008 the total population of the country was estimated to be 4.7 million with 3.8 million being expatriates and 892,000 citizens (UAE Year Book, 2009). Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the most populated Emirates in the UAE; in Abu Dhabi, the population in 2013 was estimated to be 2.45 million (with citizens making up only 495,368 and expatriates 1,957,728) (UAE Year Book, 2009). Whereas in Dubai in 2013 the population was about 2,214,000 (https://www.dsc.gov.ae). In Dubai, today, the private schools include 88% of total students (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

Education is a priority for the Dubai government. The education sector in the UAE demonstrates an extreme tolerance towards the diversified population (UAE Year Book, 2009). The educational system in Dubai has witnessed a significant evolution since the declaration of the UAE in 1971. The Dubai education system aims to raise the quality of education provided to meet the international standards. Authority to oversee schools in Dubai has been devolved. The Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) was formed in 2007 by Law No. (30) of 2006, as a public authority with legal, financial and administrative independency. The KHDA is in charge of quality for private schools, and has the power to inspect schools (UAE Year Book, 2013; Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

According to the KHDA, the total number of private schools in Dubai has increased from 143 in 2008-2009 to 169 private schools in 2014-2015. During this period, the total number of students enrolled in Dubai’s private schools has grown 44%, from 177,587 to 255,208 (KHDA, 2015). Private schools in Dubai provide education to both Emiratis and non-Emiratis in 15 different curricula; these include, UK, US, UAE, Indian, International Baccalaureate and others (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014). In 2015, among the 169 private schools, 52 schools follow the British curriculum and 31 schools follow the American curriculum, followed by 25 schools that adopt the Indian curriculum (KHDA, 2015).

Dubai education has shown a significant outcome worldwide. For example, as a member of Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Dubai students learning, in 2011, was at the top of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) participating countries. Whereas, internationally, Dubai students’ learning is still below average, which was the same result for The Program for International Student Assessment PISA (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014). These results can be improved by focusing on the quality of education, filling the gap and the variations between public and private schools and across private schools who offer different curricula (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014)

In the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, KHDA is driven to improve quality of education by Ensuring that Dubai students have access to high quality schools and universities, which provide them with the knowledge and skills required for active contribution in the economy (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

The KHDA runs an annual external inspection to measure and evaluate the growth and quality of education in the private schools. The Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau (DSIB) was established in 2007 to monitor schools in Dubai under the shadow of the KHDA (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014). The main roles of DSIB are: to position education quality standards and to set indicators for measuring them; adopt a valuable system to inspect school performance using standards and published reports; adopt the needed measures and mechanisms to help improve low performing schools; carry out and enhance research and studies on education quality; and so on (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

The DSIB requests schools to undertake an internal self-evaluation as the starting point of the school inspection process. The scale of school performance during inspection comes in four grades: outstanding; good; acceptable and unsatisfactory (UAEYear Book, 2013; KHDA, 2015).

The Dubai inspection system was developed after consulting with regional and international experts in school inspection systems, such as the UK, Scotland, the Netherlands and New Zealand (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014). Both school inspection and self-evaluation methods play significant roles to improve the outcomes for all pupils and shed light on seven key areas: 1) students’ attainment, progress and learning skills; 2) students’ personal and social development; 3) teaching and assessment; 4) the curriculum and the educational needs of students; 5) student protection and support; 6) the leadership and management of the school; 7) the school’s overall performance (KHDA, 2015)

The organization of school inspections in Dubai is undertaken by the DSIB, which is responsible for inspecting schools once every year by an experienced, expert inspection team put together by the DSIB from a regional and international pool (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

Inspection visits are done annually in Dubai. The reason for this is that the KHDA wants to track progress in all private schools (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014). The KHDA informs schools about visits three weeks in advance and to return a self-evaluation report provided by the DSIB. This self-evaluation is done alongside information gathered by surveys from teachers and parents. During the visit to schools, inspectors interview teachers and leaders and listen to students, and they conduct classroom observation and evaluate pupils’ work. Then, data to be collected from the sources mentioned above is triangulated and analysed by the inspection team (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

As one of the main inspection instruments, reports play a core role by informing schools about the expectations of parents and school communities, and policy and decision makers. These reports are very important for parents in choosing quality education for their children. Furthermore, they play a significant role in improving and monitoring school performance (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

Educational decision and policy makers conceive that school inspection is one of the most significant instruments used to ensure that schools are accountable for the services provided through many elements. For instance, accessible data would promote better competition between schools; drive schools to improve service delivery and provision; and improve educational outcomes. In addition, linking school fee increases to performance, and promoting the opportunity for parents to respond to surveys conducted by the KHDA as part of the inspection process would advance student performance and school effectiveness (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

In order to achieve its goals, and to improve the inspection system, the KHDA and the DSIB in association with a group of school principals established the What Works platform in September 2012. The What Works framework contains a series of events where educators and professionals from private schools are invited to share their best practices. What Works is fully sponsored by the KHDA and run by schools themselves as they shift from competition to collaboration (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014).

What Works discusses themes proposed by the inspection process as significant topics and subjects. This event starts with a generic event then a discussion about leadership takes place, which is followed by a one-day event about different important themes, such as school governance, special needs education, teaching science, mathematics, Arabic and Islamic education, etc. In these events, teachers and principals from each participant school are invited to present their excellent performance in a specific area (Cuadra & Thacker, 2014)

The positive contribution of education on society and economic outcomes encourages many countries to provide adequate education for each student, and many other countries, such as the USA and UK, to focus on school improvement and education quality. This also encouraged UNESCO to announce that Education For All (EFA) is an imperative (UNESCO, 2004; Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). Due to this fact, the need for an external evaluation can improve teacher accountability for monitoring and providing quality education to the students. Therefore, school inspection has been seen as the main tool to serve this purpose (MacBeath, 2006). Moreover, school inspection aids the government in knowing how financial resources can best improve education productivity (Levin, 1989). Furthermore, school inspection provides information and data that make parents, taxpayers, policy and decision-makers see the money invested in education (Neave, 1987; Levin 1991).

1.5 Purpose of the Study

Teaching and learning is one of the core roles of schools. Teachers and school leaders are the main players providing students with adequate levels of education, and school inspection is a device to ensure the quality of education provided in schools. Thus, this study aims to discover the impact of school inspection on teaching and learning in Dubai’s private schools. Furthermore, it seeks to identify how teachers and school leaders perceive school inspection in order to provide recommendations on improving school inspection for a positive impact on teaching and learning.

1.6 Objectives of the Study

The objectives of this study are to:

– Examine the impact of school inspections on teaching and learning in Dubai private schools.
– Investigate the views of school teachers and head-teachers on school inspection process.
– Explore and recommend how school inspection should be carried out in order to have a positive impact on teaching and learning in Dubai’s private schools.

1.7 Research Questions

This study is conducted to provide answers to three primary questions and a number of sub­questions.

1- What impact does school inspection have on teaching and learning in Dubai’s private schools?

2- What are the views of teachers and head-teachers on school inspection in improving teaching and learning in Dubai’s private schools?
a. Do school teachers and head-teachers accept inspection standards and criteria as fair and realistic?
b. Do school teachers and head-teachers see reports and recommendations realistic to school contexts?
c. Do school teachers and head-teachers see inspectors gather the right information?
d. How do school teachers and head-teachers react to school inspections?
e. Are there school inspections effects as perceived by school teachers and leaders?
f. Do school teachers and head-teachers accept the consequences of inspectors’ judgment?
g. Do school teachers and head-teachers consider school inspections as a tool for improving teaching practice?

3- How should school inspection be organized in order to have a positive impact on teaching and learning?
a. Do school teachers and head-teachers believe inspections should take place once a year?
b. Do school teachers and head-teachers see the DSIB as an independent organization?

1.8 Significance, Scope and Structure of the Study

The study will provide empirical evidence on the impact of school inspections on teaching and learning in Dubai’s private schools, and how teachers and school leaders perceive school inspections. This is expected to be the first academic research exploring school inspections in Dubai, and to be a main source informing policy and decision makers on what improvement is needed for inspections to have a positive impact on teaching and learning. Moreover, this study contributes to the literature as a reference on accountability in education, teaching and learning in Dubai.

This piece of research focuses on private schools in Dubai. The primary data collection was conducted within Dubai’s private school sector. The secondary data was collected from different sources. The key subjects of this study are teachers and school leaders as well as school inspectors.

This study is structured in five chapters. The first acts as the introduction of this research to give a background on school inspection, the rationale for the study and the purpose of the study. The objectives of the study and research questions are discussed. Moreover, in this chapter the experience of Dubai’s school inspection and scope of the study are provided. The second chapter is devoted to present the literature review and the conceptual framework for school inspection.

Chapter three is focused on research methodology, sampling, instruments, school selection and participants. The methods engaged in this study are: questionnaires, semi-structured interview guide, focus discussion group and documentary review. Moreover, ethical issues, reliability and validity are provided alongside data analysis and delimitations and limitations. Chapter four is focused on research findings and results. Whereas, in chapter five a summary of findings, recommendations, further studies, and conclusions are provided.

Chapter Two: Literature Review

2.0 Introduction

This chapter presents a general idea of accountability in education, and illustrates school inspection in general by shedding light on theories underlying school inspection. Moreover, other types of accountability in education would be presented in this chapter; namely: the market choice, voucher system and decentralization in education. Nevertheless, this chapter demonstrates the experience of school inspection in other countries, including the UK, Sweden and Finland. Furthermore, this chapter explains why Dubai needs a school inspection system. Finally, this chapter shows the role of inspection for school improvement and teaching and learning betterment.

2.1 Accountability in education and Underlying Theories of School Inspection

The term of phrase ‘public accountability for quality education services’ is well-known in the literature, with early studies conducted thirty years ago (Kogan, 1986).

There are three known theories and theoretical frameworks that are underlying school inspection are: Scientific Management theory, Human Relations theory and Critical theory. Shedding light on these theories is so significant and would be useful in helping to understand how school inspection would have a positively influences teaching and learning.


The scientific management theory was created by Fredrick Winston Taylor in the 1880s. The main idea of this theory is how to organize the work professionally and to design a mechanism that improves labour productivity and saves time and monetary resources (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007; Hoyle & Wallace, 2005). However, the scientific theory is criticized for treating workers as machines and killing their creativity (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). Taylor claims that workers need to feel compliance and need to follow the instructions of their superiors (Welsh & McGinn, 1999; Hoyle & Wallace, 2005).

Taylor proposes four approaches to advance worker productivity: breaking down the requiredjob into standardized units; selecting employees carefully and enhance their professional training; using incentives to motivate workers according to their adherence to the work; controlling the work process and linking the wages to the performance. In the USA, this theory was implemented in education in the 1920s, and it was linked with school inspections in the 1980s (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007; Hoyce & Wallace, 2005).

In the UK, the theory was made clear in education, and it has led the government to focus on developing the science of job. Thus, more research on expansion of leadership and management took place in Her Majesty’s Inspection (HMI) and then in OFSTED (Hoyle & Wallace, 2005; Ehren & Visscher, 2006; Ehren & Visscher, 2008).


The theory of Human Relations emerged in the 1930s by Elton Mayo, who claims that meeting the social needs of the employees will increase their productivity (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). Thus, employees should be active members in decision-making formula (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). Human Relations theory depicts that individuals will be self-directed and more committed to work, if their social needs are met. Furthermore, they can be creative when they are motivated (Druker, 1991). Hence, workers’ needs for recognition are more important in determining their productivity (Druker, 1991; Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007).

Druker (1991) assumes that leaders can improve an employee’s productivity and quality by considering the employee’s knowledge and experience of the work as the starting point.

In education, teachers are the best placed to know their strengths and weaknesses. Thus, they should be treated as humans rather than as packages of energy. Therefore, school inspectors are expected to support teachers as facilitators and improve their job satisfaction (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007). Sergiovanni and Starratt (2007) illustrate that school inspection policy-making for better education quality needs to involve teachers in the evaluation process and create a feeling that teachers are significant and useful in improving schools.


The father of Critical Theory was Habermas and his friends who were socio-political analysts in Frankfurt school (Tripp, 1992; Maclsaac, 1996). This theory is derived from the philosophical approach that endeavours to identify and challenge the idea of the established knowledge (Syque, 2007). Bryman conceives that this established knowledge has a philosophical background based on epistemological and ontological orientations. The former can be argued as the way of building the adequate knowledge (2004).

The epistemological approach that is used to study the social phenomena is positivism, which considers people to be value-free (Bryman, 2004). However, Critical Theory opposes positivism and accepts utilizing different interpretative categories for different social phenomenon, and it gives different theoretical views to illustrate how to solve problems (Carr & Kemmis, 1986).

Whereas, the ontological approach shows whether truth is external (objectivism) or internal (constructivism) to human beings (Bryman, 2004). Since objectivism considers an organization as a solid object with parameters and regulation and sets mechanisms to get work done, Critical Theory encourages social scientists to look at human beings as unique with unique feelings and control of their lives (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Bryman, 2004; Cohen, 2007). Therefore, Critical Theory influences human beings’ self-awareness, recognition of problems and consciousness (Tripp, 1992; Maclsaac, 1992).

In education and in school inspection, teachers are humans with total freedom and awareness of their strengths and weaknesses, thus the role of inspectors is to ease the process of teaching and learning, to encourage the teachers to reflect on their performance, and to provide teachers with solutions when facing any difficulty in teaching and learning (Maclsaac, 1996; Tripp, 1992; Druker, 1991).

This relationship between teachers and inspectors creates a common ground for betterment of the students and developing their achievements (Maclsaac, 1996; Leew, 2002). Critical Theory in school inspection context aims at respecting teachers’ values, and not to impose solutions. In doing so, the creativity of teachers and student achievement will be enhanced (Carr & Kemmis, 1986).

2.2 Forms of Accountability in Education

In addition to school inspections, there are different forms of accountability. This piece of research sheds light on three approaches of accountability in education: market choice, the voucher system and decentralization.


This approach of accountability is well-known in the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand. Market Choice expects schools to be responsible for their customers, and it aims to give parents and students greater attention regarding their own choice of the quality of education (Levin, 1991; Friedman, 2005). In the UK, school inspection reports are published and parents have an access to understand and choose the education of their kids (Lee, 1997; Ehren & Visscher, 2008). These published reports create a market choice for parents and students and encourage schools to provide better academic progress in order to attract students, otherwise, schools will be closed (Contreras, 2001; Friedman, 2005; Sammons, 2006).

The advantages of the Market Choice approach vary. First of all, it is expected to lead to a competition between schools, which is proposed to improve students’ academic outcomes. Second of all, parents who are satisfied with the education provided are likely to support the school. Thirdly, students in their favourite schools are likely to be more effective. Nevertheless, teachers in the appropriate work setting will be committed to their work effectively (Leithwood, 2001). Whereas, the Market Choice approach has a negative impact on poor students, because they cannot choose the type of education unlike affluent students (Leithwood, 2001; Ball, 2004).


The School Voucher approach involves an amount of money paid to parents by the government as a financial aid to support their children’s educations. The School Voucher approach is similar to the Market Choice approach, wherein parents can choose the education type for their children (i.e., either public or private). However, in the School Voucher system, the same amount of money to every student is offered by the government (Learmonth, 2000, Friedman, 2005).

The profounder of this approach was the American economist Friedman Milton. The School Voucher System is well-known in the USA, UK, Sweden, Chile and Colombia (Contreras, 2002; Lee & Wong, 2002; Gustafsson, 2014). The idea of the School Voucher system is to improve the quality of education by creating competition between schools (Learmonth, 2000, Friedman, 2005). As a consequence, good schools attract more students while low quality schools have to reform or close (Contreras, 2002; Friedman, 2005; Sammons, 2006).

However, the Voucher System affects poor students and families when this amount of money does not cover the school fees; in this case, these students are forced to stay or choose schools at the same range of cost rather than choosing quality of education (Lee & Wong, 2002).


Decentralization is the process of distributing the role and responsibilities of the central authority to the local communities (Bush, 2003:12; Lauglo, 1995:5). In the education context, in order to implement decentralization, school inspection as an external evaluation is complemented by internal evaluation, which is School Self-Evaluation (SSE) (MacBeath, 2006). This decentralization is well-known in many countries, such as Finland and Sweden (Gustafsson, 2014).

2.3 School Inspection in Other Countries

School inspection is a well-known instrument for evaluating quality of education in schools worldwide. This external evaluation system has attracted education policy and decision-makers in education in many countries, including the UK, USA, France, Scotland, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, Pakistan, Nigeria, Tanzania, the UAE and many others. Each of these countries has its own experience and version of how to inspect schools. So, due to a lack of time and resources, it is hard for this study to cover the experience of all countries in school inspection. Thus, this research will cover only three countries: England and Wales, Finland and Sweden. These three countries have been chosen as they are amongst the leading countries in education in the developed world, and have a lot of research in the literature, particularly in the English language. Exploring the experiences of other countries is very relevant when comparing their inspection systems to that of Dubai. Furthermore, it sheds light on the versions of school inspection worldwide, allows learning from their experiences, and to identify best practices, which can be applied in otherjurisdictions.


School inspection services were introduced in education in England and Wales when OFSTED was established by the Act of 1992 (Learmonth, 2000; Webb & Vulliamy, 1996). However, OFSTED is not the starting point of school inspection in the country. School inspection in the UK actually started in 1839, which was known as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) (Wilcox, 2000; Macbeath, 2006). OFSTED is an independent non-ministerial organization, it functions under the direction of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector (HMCI), which has a significant role in controlling school inspection services (Lee, 1997).

In 1991, the Parents’ Charter acknowledged the role of OFSTED and the importance of school inspection published reports. Using these up-to-date reports, parents can choose the quality of education for their children (Learmonth, 2000; Webb & Vulliamy, 1996).

The main features of the school inspection system in the UK are many. These include, inspection team visits schools once every four years (Lee, 1997); scheduled classroom observations; the findings of visits are published and publicly accessible via the Internet (Lee, 1997; Ehren & Visscher, 2008). Published reports of school inspection findings give a precise description of schools, and helps in identifying poorly-performing schools, failing schools, that require special measures and those with serious weaknesses, which leads to a plan for improvement (Sammons, 2006).

Schools are obliged to set an action plan according to the previous inspection findings and recommendations that were made to improve teaching and learning (Ehren & Visscher, 2008). OFSTED prepares an action plan for inspected schools to address the main points recommended in the inspection report. However, weak and poor schools would face close follow-up visits and post-inspection intervention. As a result of this special intervention, if the school does not show the required improvement within a particular period of time, it has to be closed (Ehren, et al., 2005; Sammons, 2006).

To achieve the best improvement for schools, OFSTED has distributed the school inspection manual among schools to be the main guide for school self-evaluation (Wilcox, 2000). The OFSTED school inspection system contributed positively to education quality and school performance. Such contributions are very obvious in English language and mathematics performance (Wilcox, 2000; Tymms, Coe & Merrell, 2005; Sammons, 2006). Moreover, OFSTED has a positive impact in improving students’ achievements, provision of teaching and learning resources and staff development (Sammons, 2006). However, OFSTED has failed to make underperforming schools high achievers (Thrupp, 1998; Hargreaves, 1995; Wilcox, 2000; Earley, 1998).


The Finnish method of school quality insurance is different from that of England and Wales. Unlike lots of countries who are attracted by school inspection services, Finland recently implemented its own approach. However, Finland has introduced its school inspection system, and transferred its annual school inspection system to a province-based system. This system was discontinued in 1991 and replaced by the new teacher system (Webb, et al., 1998). As a result of the high level of the Finnish teacher education system teachers’ aptitudes and capabilities are trusted by the educational authorities.

Nevertheless, the Finnish educational system has abandoned school visits and there is no more inspection guidance (Webb, et al., 1998; Wilcox, 2000). This has resulted in creating trusted powerful teachers and more support has been given to regional and local leaders and authorities (Gaynor, 1998; Richardson, 2013). The Finnish experience relies on leaders and policy makers who have established a consistent educational system that ensures public trust (Richardson, 2013).

The most remarkable issue in the Finnish experience is the thin curriculum, which offers guidance to teachers to build upon it (Richardson, 2013). According to Richardson (2013), Finland aims to deliver responsibility from the top down to the school and classroom level. Moreover, there is no official programme for novice teachers, which means that teachers will engage with no supervisors, inspectors, tutors or mentors (Richardson, 2013). To be a teacher in Finland is not an easy task, as it is in other countries. Richardson claims that “To teach in Finland now requires a five-year master’s degree in education. Admission to a teacher preparation program includes a national entrance exam and a personal interview” (2013).

However, the Finnish National Board of Education (NBE) is facing difficulties in introducing accountability in school monitoring processes. Moreover, there is a need in the country to assure that the provided financial resources to schools are spent as planned (Webb, et al., 1998; MacBeath, 2006; Learmonth, 2000). The Finnish NBE, however, has been looking for ways to run external evaluation methods to assess the impact of the reforms (Gaynor, 1998; Webb, et al., 1998). The main purpose of this required external evaluation is to provide schools with a benchmark to compare and evaluate their own performance against (Webb, et al., 1998).

2.3.3 SWEDEN

The Swedish National Agency for Education was recognized in 1989 at a time when the school system was centralized and regulated, and there was no need for school inspections as a regular external evaluation system. However, in 1990 the government distributed its educational responsibilities to the municipalities and the board of independent schools as a shift towards decentralization (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Gustafsson, 2014; Lindgren, 2014).

The main objective of the Swedish school inspection system is to guarantee school improvement by ensuring and enhancing some key elements, including school competitions; parents’ free choice over the education provided to their children; school self-evaluation (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Lindgren, 2014). In 1998, the National Agency for Education produced a board for quality control, which started its school inspection processes in 2003. In this system, schools were to be inspected over a six-year period (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Gustafsson, 2014; Lindgren, 2014).

In 2008, the government conducted educational reform, which included the establishment of the Schools Inspectorate in parallel with the National Agency for Education. This reform gave the National Agency for Education the responsibility for the national goals, curricula, data collection, schools support and national evaluation. While the School Inspectorate is in charge of school inspection, school approvals and complaints, this organization is a governmental body under the Ministry of Education and research (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Gustafsson, 2014; Lindgren, 2014).

The School Inspectorate has the right to withdraw approvals and public funding if the school does not meet rules and regulations. The latest reform in Sweden in 2011 gives the School Inspectorate the right to lift sanctions against municipal schools (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Gustafsson, 2014).

The Swedish Schools Inspectorate depends on: regular supervision for all schools; thematic quality evaluations in particular school subjects or any other functions; investigation of complaints from students or parents; and scrutiny of new school applications (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Gustafsson, 2014; Lindgren, 2014)

In 2010, the Swedish School Inspectorate conducted a regular inspection process according to a pre-arranged schedule over a four-and-a-half-year period. Two different inspections methods were recognized; the “basic inspection” focuses on schools with available knowledge; and the “widened inspection” is done for schools with uncertainties.

Within the regular supervision all schools of the municipality are inspected. Interviews with principals, leaders, teachers, students, nurses and politicians all take place. In addition, observation of school environments, classrooms and activities that students are involved in are also conducted. Moreover, how closely school activities are in accordance to the regulations is also observed (Gustafsson & Myrberg, 2011; Gustafsson, 2014).

2.4 School Inspection Conceptual Framework for this study

The school inspection tool is a purposeful process that includes different elements; these elements cooperate with each other to form the whole process. Thus, it is highly significant to focus on the role of each of these parts, and to know how they are related and affect each other.

In this section, an adequate identification will be given to the System Thinking Approach, as it is the appropriate method to obtaining a framework that helps to identify the factors that may lead to a school inspection that results in a positive impact on teaching and learning. Then, the main features of the conceptual framework of school inspections will be presented; namely: the school inspection supporting inputs as the external and internal factors; school inspection enabling conditions; and the expected outcomes.


The System Thinking approach is a very important tool to provide this study with a framework of the factors that help school inspections in improving teaching and learning. The main idea of this approach is to identify the key elements that combine and work with each other to construct the whole process. If any of these elements is not functioning as required, then it will affect the process as a whole. Thus, an action taken effectively in this regard will enhance the performance of this element, and consequently will improve the whole system (Richmond, 1993: Cummings & Lunsford, 1996; Sweeney & Sterman, 2000; Masinde, 2006).

Education is a complex system that has lots of processes and players. These players have a crucial role as integral parts of the system, which produce soft processes for achieving educational goals and objectives (Leew, 2002; Maclsaac, 1996). The main players in education are many, including, government bodies, administrators, teachers, parents and students. So, teachers, as one category of these players, are not the sole players responsible for success or failure (Cummings & Lunsford, 1996:78). Nevertheless, the more understanding and interaction among these players and the best use of resources the more improvement in teachers’ performance and students’ achievements (Cummings & Lunsford, 1996).


The supporting inputs of school inspection regarding school visits can help inspectors to contribute towards positive teaching and learning. These supporting inputs are both external and internal factors.

External factors that aid school inspectors for the betterment of teaching and learning are varied. These may include transportation, accommodation, office equipment, financial support and salaries. When these factors are available they facilitate inspectors’ work and performance to inspect the type of education provided in schools. Perhaps most importantly, school inspection performance depends on the financial support devoted to the inspectorate (Earley, 1998). Moreover, availability of external factors improves the inspectors’ job satisfaction and enhance their confidence regarding the advice they provide to teachers (Earley, 1998; Ehren & Visscher, 2006).

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