Dubai Heights Academy - The WSA Hard Hat Tour visits a school where both premium facilities and a price-conscious ethos meet...
Dubai Heights Academy - The WSA Hard Hat Tour
By C Hoppe
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Considering construction on 1,800 student capacity Dubai Heights Academy only began on the 14 February; work is moving at a considerable pace.

Built in vast pre-cast concrete panels, the school is rising quickly. And, although work continues on the upper floors of the Primary, inside the building, the AC system is being fitted and interior walls going in.

This is no ordinary ‘school-build’, and no ordinary owner. While it is indeed Emirati owned 7 Tides first school project, the developer is well known for its residential, commercial and resort properties across Dubai and the wider-world. Anantara The Palm, Dukes in both London and Dubai, Oceana Residences and more, are all 7 Tides projects. 

In fact, the company's expertise with luxury developments seems to have rubbed off on the school build. A quick look at the facilities at Dubai Heights, and you might feel like you are about to visit a resort…

When complete the school will have three swimming pools, three sports halls, a full size outdoor sports pitch, multi-ball courts, 500 seat theatre, parent coffee shop with views over the competition pool, 50 metre length canteen to seat 200 with hot meals provider, Primary art and food tech classrooms, lego-room, ‘snoozle’-room (multi-sensory room), sensory room and a multi-sensory gym with interactive-educational climbing-wall and more…

Yet parents will be surprised to know that while the facilities are ‘premium’ the prices really are not, falling firmly in the mid-range sector.

Dubai Heights will start at AED 44,200 for Foundation 1 and rise to AED 58,400 for Year 6. Added to this is a 15 percent discount for the first year and 10 percent for both the second and third years. With Founders-fee discounts fees will fall in the range of AED 37,570 to AED 49,640.

To put this in context, of the UK schools that opened in September 2016, both Kent College (AED 54,000 to AED 74,000), Sunmarke School (AED 55,000 to AED 70,000) and Arcadia Preparatory School (when the Founders-fee discount is discontinued), are all more expensive.

Oaktree Primary (AED 35,000 to AED 50,000) and GEMS Founders (AED 22,000 to AED 27,000) remain more affordable as options, however the pay off would be in specifications and facilities. If these matter to you, and our parental survey show there are considerable differences in the weighting parents give to these, those planned for Dubai Heights Academy are very much premium.

Founding principal Andrew Prosser (pictured below, left and above, right) says he plans to be inclusive, holistic and attempt to add no additional costs for sports activities, or additional learning support when provided by in-house staff.

Uniforms are also included in the fees, along with 9 hours per week of additional learning support for the children who require it.

The space and location

Dubai Heights Academy is vast, designed in clearly designated sections, each with their own access and drop-off points.

Ease of entry and exit will be key: The school is located in a hub for busy schools, next door to both Founders and GEMS Al Barsha National Schools, near GEMS World Academy and Creative Science School, with JSS and Foremarke also close enough to impact drop-off and pick-up schedules. 

In the Primary building  one of the first things you notice is an incredibly large store room located just off the main entrance, because as founding principal Andrew Prosser says, “so many schools simply have nowhere to actually put anything.”

In addition, every classroom has its own storeroom, while the Primary reception even boasts its own baby changing/feeding room.

Prosser previously oversaw the building of Safa Community School and is bringing his learning of what went well, and perhaps what did not, to Dubai Heights Academy.

It is the Foundation building which appealed most to the team on our visit however. Built on what looked like an offset Fibonacci spiral, the building resembles nothing of the pre-cast ‘square-ness’ of the Primary.

Each classroom boasts a vast curvaceous window, while in the shared central atrium there’s a wet-play area and play equipment in a shaded play-well.

Architect Rashid Taqui says he wanted to create something fluid, creative and fun yet playful, and he certainly has.

The progression through the school sections is as Taqui calls it, “a sobering up,” a growing up if you will, as the Dubai Heights students progress from the playful Foundation building to the more serious side of education- the Primary and then Secondary schools.

Across the school there are numerous ‘Arabic-inspired’ design features although Taqui is quick to point out that the ‘play-wells’ and natural roof-lights, are much more deeply rooted in the context of the climate and environment rather than the concept of just being ‘Arabic'. 

Both the Primary and Foundation have numerous play-wells which allow the children to play outdoors in a central courtyard, yet remain shaded by the building itself. 

Architect Rashid Taqui with WSA Editor, Cursty Hoppe

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At capacity, the school be five form entry, with 24 students per class for Primary and Secondary and 22 children per Foundation class.

Although the school will launch Foundation 1 to Year 4 in September 2017, the plan is to complete the entire structure, leaving the Secondary ‘shell and core’ until it is required in a few years’ time.

One completed, Dubai Heights will carve a new niche in Dubai’s education sector. One where facilities and value for money meet. suspects that a successful entry into the market at a time of significant competition for the affections of parents will give many schools, certainly those still in planning, much food for thought.

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