Mrs Fiona Cottam – Principal and Chief Academic Officer Hartland International School, writes about the recent changes to the National Curriculum of England and the new Inclusive Education Policy framework of KHDA. She explains why Hartland is open to embracing new ideas and innovative approaches to education.
The concept of change in education is not a new one: education systems and their components are subject to regular and cyclical review and revision. Intrinsically, we are driven to constantly improve so that our students can achieve the best that they possibly can. Recent shift in the National Curriculum for England saw the focus move from content delivery to a focus on skill development. In practise, large scale modifications to our norm can be driven by the research of experts and practitioners and by the innovations and successes of others in our field, both locally and internationally. In some cases, school transformation is driven by developmental and societal change or indeed by the strategic directives of government. The basis for the change in the NCfE for example, was a drive to emulate some of the world’s most successful school systems, such as Singapore and Finland, in international tests. As school leaders however, we know that the better change in significant policy or strategy comes from a combination of drivers but we also know that change can be a considerable challenge.
One such recent example of change can be seen in the new Inclusive Education Policy Framework. This most important and far reaching transformation for schools in Dubai was announced by KHDA in November 2017 and will undoubtedly lead to greater transparency in the rights of people of determination. Though this type of change is compulsory in law, its fundamentals are underpinned by the maturation of the Nation and the principled aspirations of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to build an inclusive society. None involved in education could argue with the timeliness and importance of such policy as Dubai embraces and celebrates the differing needs of its evolving community of students. As school leaders, we aspire to be fully inclusive, but implementation of this new policy will still require many to reconsider not only school admissions criteria, but also the very values and philosophies that underpin our schools. Government policy may be mandatory and each of us will find our own ways to ensure compliance. The DSIB inspection framework will also both challenge and support that process for schools in the Emirate. But is it enough just to dictate policy change? How can we ensure that we embed the change to become part of our DNA as a school organization? Walker and Soule in a recent article in Harvard Business Review point out that changing the culture of any organization will require a movement, not a mandate and the Inclusive Education Policy will in many cases, require that significant culture change from within. Walker states that “To harness people’s full, lasting commitment, they must feel a deep desire, and even responsibility, to change”.
It is unquestionably our responsibility as school leaders and teachers to put our full weight behind the success of this new policy. We must embrace the vision for 2020 that will lead to a fully inclusive Dubai society: a vision that guarantees the highest quality education for all regardless of learning or physical disability. In a 2014 report by Deloitte on cultural change, Linich and Bergstrom state that the “sponsorship and involvement “ of the leaders of the organization are crucial to the success of the implementation of any change in policy and practice. We know that we may need to shift some mindsets and perhaps even challenge some existing and deep rooted but unspoken of prejudices and misconceptions. But the work of the Executive Council of Dubai through its focus on ‘My community…a city for everyone ‘ initiative, empowers school leaders, owners and governors to celebrate and formally recognise diversity and differences. Indeed, it expects it of us.
If I were asked whether my school was fully inclusive, I would state with pride that I believe we are. However, to be fully adherent to new policy, I know that we will have to make further adjustments to our work and procedures and perhaps to our mindsets. The school improvement process and how this is managed will naturally impact on our success but such modification can only make us a better school, a more inclusive school that embraces our whole community and a school that truly celebrates the diversity that is synonymous with the future landscape of Dubai.