Half term Report! Dubai's Youngest Pupils

We are now in to the second half of term one of this academic year, and our Early Years team were keen to catch up with some of Dubai's youngest school pupils (and, frankly, our favourite ever interviewees!) Iris, Abbie and Ellie.
Half term Report! Dubai's Youngest Pupils
By Jenny Mollon
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In the first of this series of articles, we looked at how some of Dubai's youngest school pupils had fared during their first weeks in school. This time, we went along to Safa British School, Horizon International School and Horizon English School to see how our mini—students are enjoying their new environment. 

We also interviewed class teachers and school leaders to see what life for Dubai’s youngest pupils is really like.


Iris, FS1 at Safa British School

Under the leadership of Zara Harrington, the new Principal of Safa British School, the Safa Foundation Stage has seen something of a renaissance.  A vibrant indoor free flow area has been created with a huge variety of exciting, child initiated activities and it is clear that Zara herself has a passion for getting Early Years right. 

Zara, how has the first half term been for Iris?

Iris is really something of a star and although the start of term was a little bumpy, with a fair few tears, she is now a happy and confident member of her year group.

What about the other two year olds who started in September?  How are they getting along?

Typically, we have seen that the children who have settled in with ease are those that have had an experience of nursery and have a good understanding of English. 

For children who haven’t been to nursery, or who have English as a second language settling in has been something more of a challenge – although we are all just about there now!

Iris, all smiles!

Do you see any challenges ahead for the younger children?

I do have some concern that some of these children might find the transition to life in Year 1 [typically children in Year 1 in the British curriculum are age 5-6] more challenging.

Of course, it will come down to each child as an individual, but Year 1 can be a big change for many children.  The curriculum becomes more formal, things like reading and handwriting really come into play.  We are always looking to adapt and improve our practice here at Safa, and have therefore extended things like free flow and self-initiated learning to Year 1, I really think this will help - for all the children. 

As teachers, we will have to keep learning and adapting to the needs of the youngest children.


Sharon Wallace, Iris’s Teacher, FS1 at Safa British School

Iris has been brilliant.  In my opinion, the children are either ready to be here or they are not.  It’s as simple as that.  We still have some older children coming in with occasional tears…but Iris has settled and is so happy now.  Other than in the first couple of weeks – she hasn’t needed any additional support at all.

Iris has made friends, she communicates well and is able to choose her own activities.  We do have some younger children in here with do not have much English, and as yet they are joining in but not really talking to me.  I know they will get there!


Abbie, FS1 at Horizon English School

Foundation Stage 1 at Horizon English School is led by Sarah Hill.  Sarah and her team have created a warmly welcoming environment with a cosy, ‘small school’ feel – ideal for little ones!

Sarah, how have your 2 year olds adapted to life at school?

We have six children who were 2 when they started in September. 

Looking back at the last few weeks, they haven’t really stood out too much.  I think the biggest thing for us as teachers is that there is now a much wider span of ages in each class.  We need to make sure we always take this into account when we are doing our assessments and planning the children’s learning.

Confidence is the biggest thing and often that just comes with age.  The youngest child in my class doesn’t turn 3 until December – so there really is a big difference between him and some of the older ones.  It’s taken him a while to start playing and joining in, but he is getting there now.

Do you see any challenges ahead for the younger children?

In Foundation Stage, we are lucky that the EYFS curriculum gives us a lot of freedom and flexibility but Year 1 can be a big change for all children.  Things become more formal, the demands are greater.  For the younger ones – will they be socially and developmentally ready for it? 

I will be relying on my excellent team to adapt to each child to make school work for them as individuals.  When we think about our age expected assessments, we need to look at the child’s real age, not the typical age for the year group. 

I think some schools could be tempted to put the younger children into specialist intervention groups [usually for areas of learning such as literacy and language], but then that would be taking time out of the child’s freedom to initiate their own learning!  Is that fair?  Well probably not, because if they had started school next year, they may well have been fine without the extra help! 

We as teachers need to reflect on our ways of working with the youngest children and build new strategies for their success.


Emma Carter – Abbie’s Teacher, FS1 Horizon English School

Abbie settled in super easily – no tears!  At first she was quite quiet, taking it all in and just being observant, but now she is a very forthcoming member of our class.  Honestly, she has probably settled in better than some of the older children.  I think it all comes down to personality and confidence. 

Abbie had been to nursery previously which I do think helps.  She has lots of friends – she will play with anyone who is up to something exciting!  The only thing that really makes Abbie stand out in terms of age is that she is very petite.  Not that it bothers her at all!

Abbie is totally independent and can manage things like feeding herself and toileting with ease.  We are however really grateful that her Mum is our class helper for swimming lessons, this helps enormously with the logistics of changing for and taking part in a swimming lesson!


Ellie, FS1, Horizon International School

Our reviews team were very impressed by the Foundation Stage at Horizon International School during our review visit.  Classes are centered around a huge, varied open play area, plus there is a fantastic outdoor space for the good weather season. 

Foundation Stage Head, Amy Milne, advocates a focus on learning through play at each child’s own pace.

Amy, what are your thoughts on children starting school age 2?

The relationship starts at the initial assessment, when the family and child come to meet us.  We are thorough in our assessments and have reluctantly said to some families that we felt their child would benefit from another year in nursery before entering the school system.

There are many reasons a child might not be quite ready.  Sometimes the child just needs a little more confidence and sometimes the language just isn’t quite there yet. 

We don’t expect all children to be speaking fluent English, but there does need to be a level of understanding so that they can participate and be safe.  The KHDA will allow children to ‘demote’ or to wait another year, and we will let parents know when we feel this might be appropriate.  In the end though, it is always the parents decision – we are just here to advise and support. 

Looking around at our lovely two-year-olds who have started this year, I see that by half term they had all settled and are thriving. 

At the beginning, some needed a longer staggered start and we have been happy to work with the families to facilitate this. They have tended to be the very youngest of our two year old cohort – the children who have November/December birthdays.   When we think about the ‘youngest of the youngest’, plus maybe they have English as a second language this is when my teaching team need to be proactive and support the children though some challenges. 

Ellie - busy cooking with her pals

Do you see any challenges ahead for the younger children?

In Foundation Stage, we are able to be flexible and adaptable with the children.  We can look at their age and stage of development and plan their learning accordingly. 

I do sometimes think ahead to exam age - will this group be mature enough?  We all know that exam pressure at age 15-16 is huge at the best of times.  What happens if you are even younger come exam age?  Plus for expat children, there will always be a concern about leaving for another education system overseas.  Where does being ‘out of age’ work for education in their next home country?

That said, there are a lot of great schools in Dubai and we will all learn to adapt. We just need to reflect on the progress of these children and always be mindful of how we can help them.


Alicia Watts - Ellie’s Teacher, FS1 Horizon International School

Ellie is absolutely fine socially – she has taken to school like a duck to water!  Everyone wants to be her friend. She is a naturally kind child, really a kind friend to all and we are so proud of her.

Ellie is confident and able, in fact she is often the first in line or the first to respond to a task – quite the leader!  It helps that she had been to a good nursery and her older brother attends the school, so Ellie was familiar with being away from Mum and Dad as well as being in the school environment. 

I do find that she is tired towards the end of the week, but I could say the same for most of the children.  On a day to day basis – she get so engrossed in what we are doing that she always seems surprised when the end of the day comes!  I’d definitely say that Ellie was ready and able for school.

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