At a glance
Two years after its opening, the initial confidence that was evident from the team behind the school is not only still strongly in place, but obviously supported by the parents of the 645 students who now attend the school. The majority of students are still in the Primary Years Programme, but a cohort of 92 students now make up grades 6-9 of the Middle Years Programme and this number is expected to increase to 200 by September 2017 when the school will grow to include Grade 10.
Not only has the student cohort grown, but the buildings and facilities of the school have also been enlarged significantly. A new Sports Facility with an integrated multi-sports hall that can be divided into two full size courts, an indoor running track around the hall, aerobics and weight training rooms, an Olympic swimming pool, outdoor soccer fields and more running tracks, mean that all the essential facilities are now in place.
But this is not where the expansion ends. A new Middle/High school building is under construction which will accommodate 8-900 students allowing for a total whole school capacity of 2,000- 2,200 students.
In addition, Scholarships of Excellence will be awarded to students in the Middle and High School and the opening of the Middle/High School building will also enable the number of classes in KG and Primary to expand to 7 per grade.
The final phase of development, which is also under construction and will be ready for September 2017, is the Boarding House. SISD is the second school in Dubai that will have shared or single en-suite rooms with catering through the school kitchen situated in the Middle and High School building. Boarding will be offered on a weekly or full time basis to include full pastoral care and a programme of activities to support students during their time after school.
Currently students of 57 different nationalities attend the school, the majority from European countries followed by US and Canadian passport holders, Indian and Pakistani children. Like many schools in the UAE, SISD is a truly international environment.
Head of School Beat Sommer, who has over 30 years’ experience in education, can count on a highly qualified and experienced team: Head of Middle School Luke Osborne, with a Master’s Degree in Education, has extensive experience in IB teaching and a background in boarding, Head of Primary Sabah Rashid, with a Master in Education from UCLA, has worked in the UAE for 13 years and is a qualified IB educator and Dr. Christine Jacob, Head of Languages and herself a proficient trilinguist, coordinates the language support, which is an essential component of a successful bilingual programme.
Student numbers have doubled since the opening. Families have been attracted, according to Beat, by the Swiss reputation for quality, reliability, and for “walking the talk”. Growth has also been driven by an "open approach towards the IB programmes, one that matches a 21st Century teaching and learning environment".
It is the school's strong, for the UAE unique, bi-lingual programme that is the major draw of the school however. SISD is a truly international multi-lingual environment. Although all communication with parents is in English, parents are encouraged to learn the additional language(s) that their children are studying. Beat hopes that the language options will continue to grow with the possibility of the school piloting the IB Middle Years and Diploma programmes in German, a goal he is working directly with the IBO to achieve. The school also plans on adding a stronger Arabic component at some point as well.
Recruitment of suitable staff as having been the most challenging issue to date for the school - as it has been for all schools in the UAE competing for internationally minded, and qualified teachers. SISD says it has faced the problem more acutely than many of its peers however, a corollary of its focus on languages. "European staff are the most suited from the language perspective, but also more difficult to attract to Dubai," Beat told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
SISD and languages
In order to deliver fluency in more than one language SISD starts at Pre-KG with play-based learning. At this phase there is an English speaking teacher and a native French or German speaking assistant.
Starting from KG1 children receive one additional daily lesson of French or German as well as exposure to the new language in classroom activities. From KG2, a native German or French speaking teacher joins the native English speaking teacher sharing classroom time on a daily basis. Arabic lessons are introduced at this level on a weekly basis.
From Grade 1 onwards, the parents have a choice of either the bilingual English/French or English/German programme with immersive language learning, or the English+ programme, that teaches French or German as another language.
In the bilingual streams, the children are taught one week in English, one week in French or German, with all core subjects being taught in both languages. Native English, French or German speaking teachers plan collaboratively and ensure continuity and a rolling teaching process.
In the English+ stream, all core subjects are taught in English and one lesson of French or German as an additional language is added every day. In both in the bilingual and the English+ streams, Arabic is taught 6 lessons a week.
The school will accept children who are not already speaking the second language up to Grade 1. From Grade 2 onwards, a gradually increasing competence of French or German is a requirement for the acceptance in the bilingual stream.
For those needing additional language support English, French or German as an Additional Language is provided by an experienced team of EAL, FAL and GAL teachers, counsellors and inclusion specialists.
If families wish to add yet another language on top of English, French or German, and Arabic taught within the bilingual and English+ streams or give them additional exposure to the languages, there is the option to enroll children in after school language clubs in English, German, French, Arabic, Mandarin or Spanish. At Middle School level, additional French or German can be studied in lunch time language classes and there is also Spanish and Mandarin on offer as after school activities.
Running in parallel to language development the SISD delivers the IB Primary Years Programme and the Middle Year Programme.
Unlike the PYP, the Middle Years Programme is subject based. In the bilingual sections, Language & Literature, Sciences and/or Humanities are taught in French or German. Maths, Arts & Design, Physical & Health Education are taught in English. In the E+ section, all subjects are taught in English, with additional French or German language acquisition.
The Primary School delivers the PYP (Primary Years Programme), which is based on six “Units of Enquiry” that explore content from the six subject areas. The Head of Primary, Sabah, who has taught the PYP curriculum in the UAE for 13 years but is a US educated and trained teacher, believes that the strength of the programme lies in the fact that students are actively engaged in their own learning. The PYP progresses each child from where they are in their learning and measures their progress individually. The PYP balances the acquisition of knowledge, learning skills and capabilities for life beyond the classroom, and conceptual understanding. Children learn to translate concepts into action and thus develop the skills of self-management, research and thinking, as well as communication and social skills.
SISD intends to offer the Swiss bilingual Baccalaureate from Grade 9 from the 2018/19 academic year onwards, a programme mainly targeting Swiss students.
Some families who have been educated in other curricula - notably the UK which offers the GCSE or IGCSE public examination which take place at age 15/16 -have in the past been concerned at the lack of such measurement in the MYP programme. However, SISD carries out twice yearly CAT IV and GL testing of all students to ensure that they are meeting targets, set personal progress plans and to contribute to reports.
The hope is that the introduction of the MYP-E on-line examination in English, Maths and Science (for which students are obliged to complete a two year programme across grades 9 and 10) will now offer reassurance to families that a rigorous programme is not only being taught but independently tested.
On our visit students we spoke to talked about how much they enjoyed the structure, design and facilities of the school, the different clubs and activities that are available, the opportunities that are provided by the House System and Student Council, the sports facilities and additional language options.
Their highest praise, though, was for their teachers whom they described as “amazing, helpful and supportive, really focussed on ensuring that students really understand what they are learning and that they enjoy the subjects they take”.
There is no doubt that the Swiss School is ambitious, for itself and its students. The move into boarding is an interesting one, given that this has not been particularly popular in the UAE to-date. However, there is an air of real determination, focus and very Swiss reliability at the school.
We look forward to seeing the next stage in the school’s development.
Swiss International Scientific School - First Review, October 2015
There is something slightly bizarre about seeing a mural of the Swiss mountains on the outside wall at roof level on the school, but this serves only to reinforce the uniqueness of the building and surroundings. Across the road from the school is the extension to Dubai Creek and it is planned eventually to offer water sports from this spot.
If Switzerland is known for its efficiency and punctuality, this is more than reflected in the completion and opening of the school which occurred on time in 2015, as planned. A second phase of building has been opening during Q4 2016 including a purpose-built gymnasium, hall and full size pool. Outdoor space includes a grassed football pitch and plenty of open areas. From 2016/17 SISD also offers an Olympic sized 50m swimming pool, basketball/volleyball/handball courts, tennis and paddle courts, a full sized football/rugby pitch, an indoor and an outdoor running track, a climbing wall, a gymnasium, dance studios and a gym.
SISD will eventually have the capacity for 2442 children, including 350 boarders from 2018, but presently is home to almost 640 pupils (up around 300 from last year) within its phased opening to Grade 9. The school continues to enrol new students "almost every day", and its current numbers are a mere 35 off its stated target of 675 - the kind of narrow miss most new schools in the UAE would envy. Some of this growth has clearly come from newly offered grades 7, 8 and 9. SISD launched the IB Middle Years Programme this academic year.
If this year proved something of a milestone for SISD, next year promises to be an even bigger one for the school. Not only will Grade 10 open in September 2017, but so too will its Boarding School.
The school is open to boys and girls and classrooms are mixed. Students currently come from 57 different nationalities (up 7 on last year) with the dominant ones being French, Swiss, German, British, Canadian and American.
On entering the school, the first impression is one of space and light.
The stunning entry features a three storey oval atrium which is reached by a double height curving bridge to the first floor. To the right of the entry is the “pencil wall” with 3m high coloured pencils bringing some striking decoration to the muted white and grey walls and floors. Other splashes of colour are added by the green and grey pouffe seating and carpets and the natural moss wall behind the reception area, which is kept moist by the humidity in the building. The building has been designed to be environmentally efficient and this can be seen in the drinking water fountains, where children are encouraged to refill their bottles, with an electronic tally being kept to show the bottles saved.
From the main reception area, the KG classrooms are organised in small groups, with pre-KG to the left, KG1 set behind the Reception area and the KG2 classes located to the right. All of the classroom groups are set around an open air quadrangle, each with suitable play equipment and fully shaded for the younger children. There is also an indoor soft play area for use in warmer weather. Classrooms are light and bright, with soft seating areas, appropriate size light wood tables and chairs, plentiful play and study resources and cubbies for shoes and bags in the corridor. There are 8 pre-KG classrooms (each 90m2 in size) of which two are currently in use. Class sizes are between 12 and 16 with a maximum at capacity of 22. Each class has a teacher and a teaching assistant.
Not only is SISD an IB curriculum school, but the main focus of the school will be on the provision of a bi-lingual curriculum to children from KG onwards. Pre-KG children receive one informal lesson per day in either French or German (depending on which language stream has been chosen). In KG1 and KG2, the 3 classes in each grade are split into language groups of French/English, German/English or English/ELL with a formal language lesson per day and a native-speaking teaching assistant per class.
The school operates a curriculum based around weekly language blocks – where children are taught in English for week one and then in the second language of choice for week 2. All lessons aside from Art, Music (and other specialist lessons) and Physical Education are taught as part of the bi-lingual programme. This requires close coordination between the teaching staff, since the programme is a progressive one, with each week’s lessons building on the previous one. English is the main language of the school, and for non-native English speakers, there is additional English Language Learner support which forms the second language stream. KG children are also offered Arabic as an after-school activity. In fact, the school also offers a number of language clubs as after-school activities to boost students’ language skills. These are provided free of charge.
SISD’s English with foreign languages programme gives core lessons in English with 5 lessons/week of French or German as well as 6 lessons/week of Arabic. This gives students the opportunity to gain a strong proficiency in 3 languages.
Grades 1 to 6 are housed on the first floor of the building with classrooms based around the exterior of the building. All are light, bright and well equipped with white boards and specialist Art, Music, ICT and Science facilities are on the second floor of the building. A central courtyard area on the first floor overlooks the KG play areas below and offers shaded, outdoor multi-courts. From grade 1, in addition to the bi-lingual programme, students all receive 6 lessons per week of Arabic (A or B) and Islamic or Social Studies. From grade 4, there is an option to take a further Modern Foreign language. Currently, there are 2 classes each in grades 1, 2, 4 and 6 and 1 each in grades 3 and 5 and because of the language split actual numbers being taught are in much smaller groups.
Once the Secondary School is fully operational, SISD will add the Diploma programme. Students will be given the option of whether they follow a full bi-lingual programme with Language and Literature taught in both languages, or whether they follow the English language programme with the second language as a Modern Foreign Language option. This is unique in Dubai.
SISD is in many ways three separate schools in one and the focus on language means English Language Learner support as well as After School activities are included within the school fees. These are inevitably on the high side, given the additional specialist staff required to meet the language requirements of the school. The school is also strongly committed to supporting children with additional learning needs, provided that they are able to access the curriculum and can be adequately supported by staff and there is no additional fee for this support.
The school has attracted a diverse range of families with 39 nationalities, and over 50 signed up so far for 2016/17. The majority of children are French, German or Swiss with the French stream ratio approximately 3:1 compared with German stream students. SISD certainly seems to have a very clear view of its identity and direction and children seem settled, happy and productive in a very attractive and thoughtful environment.
SISD says it has an inclusive policy, "and aims to support the needs of all of its registered students". It currently has one Special Needs teacher who works with all types of learning abilities. It says its aim is to adapt and modify its curriculum to ensure students with learning disabilities are supported and are inclusive in mainstream classrooms. With regard to gifted and talented students its aim is to support higher achieving student needs by using the same modifications and adaptions to curriculum.
Swiss International Scientific School Dubai works closely with external services to support students that need Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language Therapy and implement recommendations from external learning centers in the classroom.
The school currently employs 39 teachers with 57 teaching staff in total. That gives the school a teacher to student ratio of 1:7. The school told us it has a "rich mix of staff," adding that is is "important to employ recently-qualified teachers because they have cutting edge knowledge gained from up-to-date professional study. That said, more experienced colleagues are quick to absorb this expertise and provide excellent mentors."
Teachers are recruited from around the world, "as long as they are native speakers". English speaking teachers come from UK, Australia, USA, Canada, Ireland and S. Africa. French teachers from France and Switzerland. German teachers from Germany and Switzerland and Arabic teachers from Iraq, Syria and Egypt. More teachers have been recruited for the school's second year, from a slightly wider geographical range. Teaching staff will come from Switzerland, UK, US, France, Germany, Austria, Australia, Canada and Ireland.
School drop-off time starts at 8 am. For Early Years students (Pre-KG, KG1 and KG2), lessons start at 8.30 am and run until 2 pm. Early Years children have the option to remain at school until 3.30pm for after-school activities and a hot lunch option is served in class to keep children going until this time. Primary school hours are from 8.20 am until 3.35 pm with after-school activities until 4.45 pm. The school operates a number of buses to popular residential areas of Dubai.
SISD's list of after school activities is impressive, many of these are free, however activities provided by external providers each have a fee.
Tuition fees we have noted are premium, ranging from 65,000 to 110,000 AED. This is, however, an ambitious school, and there is no doubt those fees are going into creating something rather unique. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com will be keeping close tabs on SISD to see how the innovative plans unfold.
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