Whichschooladvisor met JESS Arabian Ranches'- Ian Thurston deputy head of Key stage 5 and Kosta Lekanides head of IB programmes, to find out more about the school’s innovative Sixth Form, expansion plans and why JESS remains the highest achieving IB school in the Middle East.
JESS Arabian Ranches, the five times Outstanding rated, not-for-profit school, simply refuses to ‘rest on its laurels.’
This September, saw the school add three unique BTEC programmes to its suite of post-16 options.
Priced at a flat fee of Dhs 89, 274 for both Grade 12 and 13, regardless of which study pathway students choose, the sixth form currently has around 200 students.
JESS makes no secret of its IB Diploma successes, publishing results right back to 2011. And with results like those achieved annually by students at the school, it’s easy to see why.
For the past 6 years JESS has consistently achieved approximately 20 percentile points more than the global average pass rate, (this year the school achieved 100 percent).
The school’s average point score has also risen consistently in that time, from an average of 33 in 2011 to 35.3 in 2016, while the global average remains around 30 points.
In 2016, over 88 percent of JESS students scored 30 points or more, while 57.6 percent scored 35 or higher.
“There’s always been a bit of a myth or misunderstanding with IB,” says Thurston, “people think that it’s just for the elite. What we’re trying to do is break it down and say, well no actually, loads of our students can do the IB Diploma and actually do very, very well here.”
“We’ve now got that track record where we can see that half of our students were getting 35 or above last year, which was great. 90 percent of our students are getting the world average of 30 points or above, now other people are starting to see those figures and think there’s actually nothing to fear.
However, as of 2016, the IB Diploma and courses are not the only options at JESS. This year the school introduced three BTEC programmes to offer its students more post-16 pathways.
Thurston and Lekanides both say the additions are in response to the student need for more diversity in post-16 options.
“Rather than those families who have been at JESS for ages having to go to other providers, we wanted to move into that,” says Thurston.
“All this has been over a year in the planning, back to September 2015, when the idea first started,” says Thurston, “we didn’t want to rush it; it was a case of if we’re going to do it were going to do it properly.”
“And over time hopefully we’ll expand,” he adds.
In addition to the JESS secondary facilities, the sixth form students also have their own dedicated sixth form block. The facility offers students both work and relaxation areas, an auditorium, kitchen/dining area as well as, seperate lockers and toilets.
Nine support staff also share the facility, however their offices are discretely placed to allow both the space and freedom expected in post-16 study.
“We use all of the secondary buildings, but they have their own common areas," says Thurston, “the students will then go to their maths department for their maths lessons… one of the things we wanted was it to be integrated.”
Lekanides adds, “the sixth form students are quite involved in the school… they run prefect session, they run maths clubs, societies, they go down to primary for reading… all the students know them… we ask them to be role models.”
The Transition to Sixth Form
What about the transition from UK curriculum GCSE (Grade 11) study to the IB/BTEC Sixth Form content?
Thurston and Lekanides are adamant, regardless of the curriculum students have studied previously, all can make the ‘leap.’
“To an extent, there is going to be a jump up,” Lekanides says, “there’s always a transitional jump, like the year sixes moving into seven, they do their own homework, more assessments etc.”
He continues, “there is a jump in terms of the content expectations, all of the systems offer enough of a foundation for the students to be able to make the transition.”
To assist students in the transition, staff at JESS initiate the courses with a six-week intensive study programme.
“We have dedicated slots where we cover the core skills, core aspects and bring them up to speed on where they need to be,” says Lekanides.
“Then, over the next two years, we have what we call ‘guerrilla sessions’ where we come back and revisit some things,” says Lekanides.
Thurston adds, “we track their progress at least every two months, so if someone starts to drop, we can identify the issue.”
The JESS Programmes: The IB Options
The JESS sixth form offers three distinct academic pathways for Years 12 and 13. Students can choose either the conventional IB Diploma, tailored IB Diploma Courses or one of three new BTEC programmes.
“At the moment we are the premier IB provider in the Middle East, and we have very much the IB philosophy at heart… with the courses and the Diploma programmes… we believe we can provide for a good 95 percent of our students,” says Thurston.
“We are aware we have lost a few (students) because those two programmes haven’t necessarily suited them, so we are expanding into the BTEC arena because there are students who want specialisms, those who just want to do art, or business or sport,” he says.
“We looked at A Levels a few years ago, but felt it wasn’t necessary for our community, for our families, for our students.”
“For us we believe in the breadth…I talk to students who really don’t know what they’re going to do, we say, keep yourself broad, and it gives you that flexibility that the A Level system doesn’t.”
The BTEC Pathways
BTEC courses are unique in that they offer both academic and practical knowledge and skills.
Developed over 30 years, the Extended Course BTEC programmes available at JESS are the equivalent to 3 A Levels and combine project work and practical activities, designed to enhance behavioural skills.
“We’re obviously looking at the local market, saying where’s the demand where’s our expertise, what can we offer. “
This year, JESS is offering advanced BTEC programmes in: Art and Design, business and sport. Each programme provides core academic knowledge and develops the specialised skills required for a career in each specialised field.
Each programme teaches to Extended Programme level giving the student a maximum of 35 points and is the equivalent to 3 A Levels.
The courses combine teaching with practical and project work and are graded on a combination of formal assessment and internal course work.
The Art and Design BTEC offers students: 3D design, print making, photography, textiles, graphic design, client management and various exhibitions, with an additional option of History of Art is also on offer.
The BTEC business covers marketing, international business, personal and business finance, decision making, merchandising, market research and corporate social responsibility.
Students on the sport BTEC programme will study anatomy and physiology, fitness training, health programming, sports performance, skill acquisition, business in sport and leisure, coaching, research methodologies in sport, injury management and outdoor adventure.
“We decided to start with three,” Lekanides says, “get them off the ground and then expand the programme over time. We don’t do anything until we’re confident we can do it well… the next programme (BTEC) to come on line will likely be IT."
“What we’re looking at is how are we going to provide for a growing market,” Thurston says, “there are always people wanting to get into JESS.”
“What we’re trying to do is say, “OK how can we provide more places?” A possible solution to that is opening a different site somewhere.”
However, he adds, “right now it’s literally conversations, nothing is set in concrete.”
For more information on the Sixth Form content and applications at JESS there will be a Sixth Form Open Morning on Tuesday 22 November, 8am to 10am.
Non JESS parents and students are very welcome to attend and may sign up by contacting us at [email protected]