How schools compare: Dubai vs London, New York, Rio

Five-city study praises Dubai for approach to school reform

An international education charity CfBT Education Trust in its latest report looked at five cities across the world to learn about successful formulas in the education system.

In the report ‘Interesting Cities: Five approaches to urban reform’, a comparison of the approaches used to improve schools standards in five diverse global cities across the world – Dubai, London, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Ho Chi Minh City – were looked into.

The report was launched at Mohammed bin Rashid School of Government on Monday.

The study found key ways of improving education standards including - consistent government policy over many years, forging strong coalitions between parents, teachers and the government, increasing accountability and support for teachers and ensuring school-to-school collaboration

Steve Munby, Chief Executive at CfBT Education Trust urged city leaders and education experts in cities across the world to apply the lessons contained in this report. “Improving learning outcomes is a huge challenge – especially in big urban areas where the population is diverse and often transient.

“That’s why the positive findings from these five global cities are so exciting.”

KHDA’s Director General, Dr Abdulla Al Karam, explained how collaboration and good governance have contributed in the provision of good education for students in Dubai.

“In the past seven years, we’ve engaged with local schools, teachers, parents and partners to provide meaningful information which has helped improve the quality of teaching and learning significantly in Dubai.

“The report allows us to look outwards – to share the best of what we do and to learn the best of what others are doing.

“We are happy to be part of a global community and work with local and international partners to improve the quality of education for students not just in Dubai, but around the world.”

Munby added, “Schools benefit from competition but the study also shows how schools also need collaboration.

“I have been particularly impressed in Dubai by the 'What Works' movement through which the education community regularly comes together to learn from each other and share good practice.”

“Another theme that emerges powerfully from the case studies is the importance of leadership. In every city we found high level commitment to school reform often sustained over several years.

“People we interviewed in the cities consistently described the importance of ambitious, energetic and optimistic leadership at all levels, including leadership of the city-wide school system.

“The senior leaders, without exception, had a distinct reform philosophy and in each case went about implementation of this philosophy in a relentless, persistent way.”

Key improvements in education standards in the five cities


UAE is the highest-performing state in the Middle East in terms of Pisa performance and there was a marked improvement in PISA scores between 2009 and 2012.


The city went from being the worst region to the best region in England in 10 years.

Ho Chi Minh

Vietnam was the poorest country out of all 65 countries participating in the international Pisa 2012 comparative test, but the Vietnamese students achieved the 8th best science results in the outperforming students from most western countries.

New York

In 2002, the high school graduation rate in New York City was just 50 per cent. Today, the rate is 75 per cent.

Rio de Janeiro

Between 2003 and 2012 the increase in Brazil's Pisa scores represented the largest performance gains of any country worldwide, with particularly impressive gains in mathematics. In the city of Rio the functional illiteracy rate for 4th-6th grade students fell from 13.6 per cent in 2009 to 3.1 per cent in 2013.

Cross-cutting improvement themes

Although each city had a unique story, there were also key themes that connected several of the different narratives.

CfBT’s analysis identified seven key themes:

• Effective leadership at all levels. A consistent, committed pattern of education reform supported by committed political leadership. In several of the cities, inspirational educational leadership was provided by those in charge of the reform project at city level. At school level, principals and other school leaders played a pivotal role in the practical implementation of reform.

• Data-driven reform. The fuel for the engine of reform was, in several cases, reliable performance data. The existence of such data made it possible for the reformers to challenge underperformance and to identify the outlier schools where performance was exceptionally good.

• Building coalitions for change. Although some reformers were more successful than others, all recognised the importance of an effective communications strategy. By building coalitions of different stakeholders they sought to create momentum for change.

• Making teaching a career of choice for talented young people. The city reform projects often involved a new teacher recruitment strategy.

• Combining high accountability with high levels of professional support. Without exception the reformers sought to make professionals more accountable for their work. This was done in different ways, including school inspection, teacher performance management and the publication of student test results.

• New forms of government school provision. In several of the cities, new types of government school were established as part of the reform agenda. Although the impact of these measures is contested, there is some evidence that the new schools achieved better outcomes than conventional government schools.

• An emphasis on school-to-school collaboration. There was, in particular, a tendency to link together high-performing and low-performing schools in order to close the gap in learning outcomes.

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