At a glance
As of 2015-2016 the school received the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) inspection rating of Outstanding, the sixth year it has received the Dubai Inspection Bureau's highest grade.
The school does not offer secondary education, but its sister school, in Arabian Ranches, does - Jumeirah English Speaking School, Arabian Ranches - which is also ranked Outstanding by the KHDA. If your child is at Al Safa, he or she will be able to transfer to Arabian Ranches for secondary school.
The school employs 51 full-time teachers (down three from the previous academic year), including the principal and 40 teaching assistants to look after the school's 700 pupils. All teachers are said to be well-qualified. Teacher turnover is low by Dubai standards - currently running at 14%. There is also "a skilled administrative team" ensuring the smooth running of the school on a day-to-day basis.
Students with special educational needs (SEN) are said to be identified early on by a learning needs coordinator.
In total some 40 different nationalities are represented in the student body, although the single largest demographic is British. The school is also accredited by British Schools Middle East, which notes Britishness is not limited to the origin of its dominant student nationality. "Theme days, similar to UK schools are enjoyed by pupils. Red Nose Day, Sports Relief and ‘JESS J Has Talent’ are particular favourites. World Book Day and authors such as Ciaran Murtagh, Eoin Colfer and Niall Griffiths have visited the school. Her Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines has performed at the school twice in recent years providing a focus for the St. George’s Day Celebrations..."
The school has 23 students with special educational needs. Some students receive support in classes or in one-to-one sessions from the ‘Oasis’ learning support team. The overall teacher to student ratio is a very creditable 1:14.
The school does a lot well, including "exceptionally well-focused leadership provided by the head teacher and senior staff [who] continuously drive improvement forward," the KHDA notes. The school's latest inspection report notes the outstanding provision for early years which has "an excellent impact on children's learning and progress". In addition, students show exemplary behaviour and extremely positive attitudes. Teaching is said to be highly skilled, underpinned by an engaging curriculum.
The school's BSME report also notes attainment that is "well above the standard required".
Areas to improve on according to the KHDA's inspection team include Arabic - a perennial recommendation for JESS - and the majority of the UAE's private schools.
Elsewhere the school is consistently outstanding: The effectiveness of leadership, self-evaluation and improvement planning, Parents and the community,Governance, Management, staffing, facilities and resources...Tick, tick, tick and tick. It not a surprise this is on most Dubai parent's short list of schools.
Students at the school follow the British Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, probably the most widespread nursery and pre-school curriculum in the UAE which encourages children to learn through play and self led, but guided, discovery. Students from primary school onward follow the National Curriculum of England which aims to develop and apply a broad range of skills and knowledge in each student by means of creative and critical thinking as well as problem solving.
Core subjects include English, Mathematics, Science, Physical Education, ICT, Music, Arts, Humanities, Islamic Education and Arabic.
Parents are overwhelmingly positive about the school, singling out excellent communications about their children’s progress; English, mathematics and science teaching; and the level of enjoyment and participation of students themselves. Parents talk about the 'village' type atmosphere of the school, appreciated by pupils and parents alike. The school also has a strong parents association which organizes a well established 'Night Market' in December. Events such as these add a good additional stream of revenue for the school, and means the school is very well equipped - for example in its "state of the art" gymnasium.
JESS has a long waiting list to enter. It operates a "debenture" system - basically a zero interest loan you give to the school. To have any serious chance of getting a place for your child, you'll need to buy one - unless your company has taken out a corporate debenture you can take advantage of. (Corporate debentures take priority over personal ones on the waiting list).
The current cost of a debenture at JESS weighs in at a hefty 20,000 AED (up from 10,000 AED a few years ago). Even with the debenture you are likely to spend 2-3 years on the waiting list. As ridiculous as it may sound, as soon as your child is born, get them on the list.
If you're new to Dubai, and come with kids, clearly this is not an option. In your case, your only real chance presently, is if your company has a corporate debenture you can take advantage of.
For more information on JESS admissions, go here.
The school actively encourages pupils to enter at FS1, an age when many children would still be at nursery - although the recent ruling on school starting age by the MoE - an initiative that is meant to kick in in 2014 - may have changed this policy. School uniforms are required even at this age, and parents should feel comfortable that their child is ready for this environment.
KHDA approved fees for 2016/17 range from 37,893 AED to 46,829 AED per year, depending on the student's age level. This is looking surprisingly mid table - older schools, even those able to increase their fees at a maximum each year - are falling behind newer schools when it comes to tuition fees they can charge. Great for current parents, perhaps not so good for longer term investment or growth for the school itself.
What's it like to Just Walk In?
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JESS Jumeirah, as it has come to be called since the existence of it sister school in the Arabian Ranches, is unlike the newer schools housed in large multi-storey buildings. This school is quite traditionally laid out, established over 40 years ago, along the lines schools in hot climates were in those days. This adds to its considerable charm.
Located near Safa Park, JESS is within striking distance of the new creek development. As an established school, not just in terms of its achievements and status, but also in terms of its physical environment, JESS Jumeirah has extensive gardens and natural vegetation around it. There is still plenty of real greenery, as well as an attractive sensory garden towards the front of the school. The sound of trickling water and wind chimes can be enjoyed under natural shade provided by an unusual, old tree.
Security at the school is very active and hands on, with security staff acting as lollipop men to assist children and parents in crossing the roads. There is a strict sign-in policy for visitors.
The buildings are single-storey, with large French windows revealing the classrooms and adding natural light. Shaded outdoor corridors connect the different buildings, which are clustered in year groups. Outside the classrooms large tubs sprouting indeterminate seedlings nurtured by would-be gardeners or art projects testify to busy days at school. There is clearly a lot going on here.
Directly opposite the entrance, there is an administration block, with a large hall attached. The school has a well-stocked library, a music block, a foundation block with the nurse’s station and a PE studio attached, and two large, shaded pools with seating for spectators at one end. The pools is well fenced off and changing and shower facilities are available.
Each year group has four parallel classes all clustered around a central area. Reading books for the year group are displayed and chosen from here, adding to the schools considerable resources. Art and craft activities, as well as smaller groups sessions take place here. Several central areas have role-play activities set up which the children enjoy on a rotational basis.
The classrooms are not large, but adequate for the 22 children they have, a number which has remained unchanged for many years. Each classroom has its own toilets, with stable doors for the younger age groups, and an interactive whiteboard. Computers used by the children are visible in several central areas; in some year groups children are working on iPads.
Numerous, colourful displays adorn the walls. Everything is carefully mounted and labelled. There is a visible neatness about the school in every respect.
The children encountered around the school all seem busy, neat and polite.
During break time, a healthy level of noisy exudes from the playing fields directly behind the school. In place of the usual plastic play structures, the KS1 playground seems to have a hill and some wooden climbing equipment – a welcome change from all the plastic climbing frames. The two key stages go to different playgrounds, with the foundation stage children using a third, completely separate, well-stocked and attractive playground of their own.
A buddy system seems to be in operation, leading to some touching interaction between younger and older children. Children seem to greet each other politely.
Visiting JESS Jumeirah, one cannot ignore its reputation of excellence in the community. Its facilities are truly amongst the best – not showy, not glitzy, just functional and for a clear purpose. As a not for profit school, it up-dates and adds to its considerable resources on a regular basis, assisted by a very active parents group. Walking around the school and seeing it during the course of a day, one cannot help but feel that it deserves to have the reputation that it does.
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