In the Media

Here, you will find Carfax Education's recent features in the media

01 Apr 2022

Two UAE private schools named among top 100 in the world in new rankings

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi and Dubai College have been named among the best 100 private schools in the world in a new league table.

The inaugural Spear's Schools Index compiled the rankings based on academic results, preparation for university and how well pupils are prepared for life beyond academics.

The list was devised by Spear's, a luxury and wealth management magazine, in partnership with Carfax Education, a UAE-based international education consultancy.

Brummana High School in Lebanon, Doha College in Qatar and Kings Academy in Jordan, were included on the list of the top five schools in the Middle East.

The aim of the index is to help parents navigate school admissions and choose the school best suited to their child.

"We know that finding the right school can be a daunting experience and we hope that this comprehensive list will assist many families through what can be a confusing time," Fiona McKenzie, head of Education at Carfax Education UAE, said.

The authors of the index said Dubai College successfully focused on innovation, even though it was one of the oldest not-for-profit schools in the region.

They also hailed Cranleigh Abu Dhabi's focus on pupils' wellbeing, sustainability and community.

Both schools follow the British curriculum.

Michael Lambert, headmaster at Dubai College, was delighted that staff and pupils can share in the accolade following a challenging year disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Dubai College has strived for excellence in each of its 42 years and we never take our success for granted," he said.

“It is wonderful to hear this news after a six-month period in which we have moved from fully physical to fully digital to fully blended learning."

Michael Wilson, principal of Cranleigh Abu Dhabi, was also pleased that the school's achievements had been recognised.

“With so many excellent schools in the Middle East, we are delighted to be listed as one of the top 100 private schools in the world according to Spear’s Schools Index 2020," he said.

The index included schools in the UK, Switzerland, Europe, USA, Middle East, China and, Southeast Asia.

Among the top 20 senior schools in the UK were Eton College, Charterhouse and Cheltenham Ladies College.

The United States had 15 representatives, including The Brearley School in New York and Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.

Europe's entrants included The International School of Monaco and Letovo School in Moscow.

The list is divided into regions, with the 100 chosen schools not placed in a specific ranking.

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01 Apr 2022

UAE: New cryptocurrency course to help pupils understand its role in future economies

A new course in cryptocurrencies has been launched in the UAE, which aims to help pupils to understand the power of the market. Carfax Education, a global education group based in the UAE, has initiated an innovative course for pupils in the age group between 14 and 18 years to help them learn about the future of bitcoin, blockchain and crypto and the role they are set to play in future economies.

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01 Apr 2022

Are exams fit for purpose?

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all aspects of education and exams have borne the brunt. Uncertainty around assessment has meant that some education providers have started to give serious consideration to whether testing in the form we know it is fit for purpose at all.

It’s not the first time there’s been uncertainty around the point of exams. When GCSEs were first introduced back in 1988, students had the choice to stay at school until they were 16 or stay on for A-levels. Now they stay until they’re 18 anyway, many argue that GCSEs have needed a rethink for some time. The country’s skills crisis has further highlighted a need for something different.

Time for change

A report called The Future of Education, co-authored by Tory MPs Flick Drummond and Cherilyn Mackrory, advocates replacing GCSEs with academic, technical exams and apprenticeships at 18 and suggests the adoption of a similar system to the Baccalaureate at 18 “but our own British version”.

Others agree that Covid-19 has provided just the opportunity we’ve been waiting for for a complete reform. The TES reported that England’s major exam boards were asked if they could move GCSE and A-level exams online this summer, with sources suggesting that the Department for Education was more receptive to overhauling the idea of pen-and-paper GCSEs and A-levels.

Greg Brooks, emeritus professor of education at the University of Sheffield, told the Guardian last year he was in favour of no centralised assessment until the age of 18 and “a common curriculum for all children until they begin to know what sort of educational and work career would suit them”.

“I have been in favour of GCSE reform for a long time,” says David Ashton, deputy head, academic, at Framlingham College, a boarding and day school for boys and girls aged three to 18 in Sussex.

“Remote learning at GCSE has been a powerful reminder that pupils can be autonomous learners and less reliant on teachers than involved by traditional approaches to learning.”

Ashton also believes that remote learning has also shown us the advantages of continuous assessment, which is meaningfully embedded in day-to-day learning. This, he says, “is a more accurate assessment of a pupil’s learning as opposed to a series of terminal examinations which test stamina and memory, as much as anything.”

One report advocates replacing GCSEs with academic, technical exams and apprenticeships at 18

Guide Education founder Leon Hady is resolute: “Exams are no longer fit for purpose,” he says, adamantly, “They were always about short-term retrieval rather than skills.”

Hady believes skills have changed and exams no longer reflect this. “They were a system which did for many years work for colleges or universities. Asking for answers on a piece of paper allowed them to scale. However, now with technology applicability, teamwork and communal skills are far better than being able to remember something short term.”

Another clear problem with exams is that teaching can inevitably become too exam-focused, says Carl Morris, principal of Oxford independent school Carfax College. “There are plenty of arguments both for and against exams, but what’s clear is that they’re not the only metric by which to measure academic ability.”

Morris believes the prescriptive nature of exams lends itself to reciting and regurgitating learned information rather than developing other key skills such as curiosity and independent learning and research.

What the introduction of a teacher-assessed grading system has shown us is that we are not ready for the alternative

“However,” he says, “what the introduction of a teacher-assessed grading system has shown us is that we are not yet ready for the alternative.

“Many schools put together robust systems in order to compile portfolios of evidence for their students and yet many students still suffered. Exam boards tried to resolve the issues of inflating grades and teacher bias by implementing an algorithm but that didn’t work either, and ultimately had to be dropped.”

However, until there’s an alternative, says Morris, “I believe that exams are currently the best assessment tool we currently have and do work for the majority of students. While there will never be a one-size-fits-all solution that will benefit every student, perhaps teacher-assessed grades could be integrated as an alternative for students who struggle with exams, to replace access arrangements such as extra time or using a laptop.”

Some say paper-based exams are now impractical

So, what is the alternative?

It’s clear that old-school, content-laden, rigid instruments don’t have the flexibility necessary to manage the uncertainties in today’s fast-paced digital world, says Robert Harrison, education strategy director at ACS International Schools.

“Paper-based, syllabus-driven exams stand out as impractical and increasingly irrelevant. The stress they add for students and teachers when they’re given – not to mention when they’re not – compromises confidence in the system and creates unhealthy pressures on wellbeing.”

Instead, Harrison suggests, schools need to adopt a more holistic approach. ACS International Schools offers the International Baccalaureate’s (IB) Middle Years Programme (MYP) at two of its schools in the group.

Paper-based, syllabus-driven exams stand out as impractical and increasingly irrelevant

In the MYP, courses that are less amenable to assessment by examination use externally moderated or examined coursework. On-screen examinations offer multiple ways for students to show what they’ve learned across a range of assessment formats.

MYP eAssessment focuses on the application and transfer of conceptual understanding across unfamiliar contexts, “the gold standard of education”.

Harrison adds: “Web-based examinations make secure, non-school-based administration possible and the digital literacies that teachers develop as they prepare their students for assessment are a key washback effect.

“There are still good arguments for rigorous assessment before students leave school. There’s nothing wrong with ‘teaching to the test,’ so long as it’s the right test.”

Could online exams be commonplace in the future?

Another way

“Our world is in crisis and it needs the problem solvers, creative thinkers, innovators, collaborators and those with the courage to think outside of the box,” says Johanna Urquhart, principal at Lomond School in Scotland.

“Within examination models that are based on learning key words, memorising passages and following an exam ‘formula’, pupils are not rewarded for creative, critical or original thinking.”

Pupils in England choose which areas to specialise in from a young age and typically only study three A-levels in the last two years of school.

Although the curriculum stays broader for longer in Scotland, pupils sit external exams every year for the last three years of their school career, so the focus becomes more on the assessment rather than the learning. Urquhart believes this means “less focus on some of the valuable skills that are so important”.

A combination of different curriculum models is what is required to ensure that the skills and strengths of each young person are supported

Any teacher knows that no two pupils are the same, “therefore a combination of different curriculum models is what is required to ensure that the skills and strengths of each young person are supported rather than undermined – whether traditionally academic or not”, says Urquhart.

Lomond School have recently been given authorisation to deliver two IB programmes in addition to an HNC in Business, alongside its existing SQA provision. This makes it the first school in the world to offer this combination of curriculum choice, offering the flexibility and choice Urquhart, and many of her peers, believe is essential.

The IB career-related programme with an HNC in Business will be unique to Scotland and comprises a mix of academic courses from the IB Diploma Programme alongside a career-related study and work placements.

“We now feel that we have a curriculum for everyone,” says Urquhart, “that will prepare our pupils with the skills, qualities and world-renowned qualifications needed for the future.”

However they are (or aren’t) restructured, ultimately, what’s most important, says Morris, “is that we do not hold exams up as the ultimate purpose of education, and the only framework from which to teach, but rather a tool to measure progress.

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01 Apr 2022 7 min read

UAE schools face teacher shortage

Schools and recruitment agencies are opting for a new approach including local hiring to address the growing demand

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01 Apr 2022

Exam Results 2021: Carfax Education asks 'what if'

A Level exam results 2021 will be highly anticipated as it marks the culmination of an academic year of disruption and chaos, thanks to the ongoing challenges of the global Covid pandemic. We speak to Fiona McKenzie, head of education at Carfax Education to find out the students’ options

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01 Apr 2022

UAE's students keep university options open as pandemic rumbles on

School leavers who are looking to study at universities abroad face a difficult choice this summer, amid ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns, flight restrictions and myriad vaccine rules.

Education experts say far more prospective students put in applications to several countries, rather than choose one, as they weigh up options.

Border closures, the feasibility of having in-person lessons and lockdowns are deciding factors.

Many governments have yet to signal to universities whether normal teaching will resume after the summer, and are busy with vaccine drives and recurrent outbreaks of the coronavirus.

Last year, many students opted to study in the UAE's universities to avoid lockdowns or getting stranded abroad, or took a gap year.

“Students are hedging their bets and are accepting offers from different locations in order to choose which would be the best fit,” said Fiona McKenzie, head of the Dubai office of Carfax Education, which helps students to choose universities.

“Students are worried at the thought of a lockdown far away from home.

“This year, people are nervous about going abroad. They need further clarity, particularly from the UK, about where things are and how open things will be.”

Ms McKenzie said her consultancy helped more than 50 students in college applications this year and about 30 per cent played it safe by applying to universities outside the UK.

She said many colleges would continue to have online lessons next academic year for students who are anxious about travelling and attending in-person classes.

“We have definitely seen a rise in interest in European universities and have seen Spain and Netherlands emerge as options,” she said.

“There has been a drop in the number of European students applying to UK universities as it’s significantly cheaper to study at EU universities.”

She said some of her students applied this year but deferred admissions to 2022.

Soraya Beheshti, the regional director for Crimson Education, said her consultancy has assisted more students in applying to universities in several countries, an increasing trend during the pandemic.

“This year, we will place more than 1,000 students in universities around the world, of which 40 to 50 per cent have applied to universities in more than one country,” she said.

“This year, we are seeing the interest in the US is picking up again as a result of the confidence that people have after Joe Biden’s victory.

“The uncertainty of the political situation and the protests were the main concerns of families. That has been alleviated.”

Under Donald Trump’s administration, the number of students from the UAE going to the US declined because of unfavourable immigration policies and difficulties in securing visas.

A 2018 report showed the number of UAE students choosing to study in the US dropped for the first time in a decade.

Ms Beheshti said more students are applying to universities in Canada and New Zealand.

She said some have shown an interest in studying in Asian countries, especially Malaysia.

But universities in the US and the UK remain the preferred choice.

Ms McKenzie said this year's top choices in the UK include the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, Imperial College London, London School of Economics, the University of Manchester and Scotland's University of St Andrews.

In the US, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Stanford University are the most desirable.

List of most preferred international universities in 2021 by Times Higher Education World

1 University of Hong Kong

2 ETH Zurich

3 Chinese University of Hong Kong

4 University of Oxford

5 Imperial College London

Abdul-hafiz Merhi, 17, a Lebanese-Canadian final-year pupil in Dubai, applied to universities in Britain, France and Canada.

The pupil at Lycee Francais International de l’Aflec speaks French, making France and Canada obvious choices.

He has offers from the London School of Economics, University College London, Sorbonne University in Paris and McGill University in Montreal.

“I chose to play it extremely safe and have as many backups a possible, so there could be no risk,” he said.

“I had a reason to apply to Canada because it's home. In case anything were to fail, I have family there, so it was an option.

“Given the pandemic, I would have to think about which of these options would work.

“I am not going to have any control over the situation and would just see how it would go.”

He has decided to study law at the London School of Economics and will pay about £20,000 per year in tuition fees. He hopes to work in the US.

Top five destination countries for higher education in 2018-19 based on data from ISC Research, a UK-based educational organisation 

1 US

2 UK

3 Canada

4 Netherlands

5 Australia

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