Today I attended the 4th Expert Leaders Conference in Dubai as a panelist answering a question that weighs on the minds of many parents looking for the best education for their children within their budget: Are tuition fees the primary factor driving the quality of education?

My response included the following:

Fees are a factor in the quality of education as they are linked to inspection findings BUT not the primary factor. I believe a world class inspection system, together with better informed parents, are what drive quality. The inspection framework plays a big part because forces schools to focus on quality and the key drivers of educational excellence.

Parents are no longer taken in just by WOW facilities but look more closely at what an individual school offers their child. They can now choose between many mid and lower fee schools which provide good or better-quality education.

Back in 2008 it was common to hear outcry from the parent and education populations when a high fee structure school was evaluated as of mediocre quality. This is not the case now.

Within the current economic climate, in the most diverse educational landscape in the world under high levels of regulation, schools have to focus much more on what is happening in lessons rather than on whether or not they have a skateboard park on the roof or an auditorium able to attract a West End show.

The second question to the panel and directed to me personally was: How do low fee structure schools improve quality?

My response included:

The two main factors in ensuring great progress in schools are the quality of learning and the involvement of parents in student’s learning. 

Lower fee structure schools have a huge commitment to make to ensure this. They must focus on recruiting teachers with open minds and potential for growth, while implementing in-school professional development and clear career progression to motivate teachers. They need to be creative about rewarding best practice and ensuring staff feel valued. Teachers are not just motivated by salary, the chance to grow is often a big factor. By providing regular observations, mentoring, coaching, feedback, and recognition, schools can reward loyalty amongst staff; retaining staff is central to retaining students. Teacher turnover is a major worry for families – average turnover in many high fee schools is still 23-28%, showing salary is not the only way to keep teachers and grow learning.

At the same time, these schools have a responsibility to educate parents as to what they mean by quality learning. This is best done through a range of strategies, but parent workshops matching the professional development brings greatest success.

The panel discussion was well received and generated a great deal of post presentation dialogue. A key question from the audience to me was how schools compete with large educational groups who use 25-30% discounts to attract more students.