United Arab Emirates / Abu Dhabi / Al Rowda / Abu Dhabi International School

Abu Dhabi International School Review

Abu Dhabi International School is located on Abu Dhabi Island in the traditional area of Al Rowdah. The school is one of the longer-established private schools in Abu Dhabi, having opened in 1992. It offers a US curriculum to high school at which point, from Grade 9, the school offers UK curriculum GCSE/IGCSE, and AS/A Levels.
Parents' Rating
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3.4 out of 5 based on 6 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
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Availability 2021/22
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Annual fee average
AED 20,500
Annual fees
AED 13,200 - 28,300
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Opening year
1992
School year
Sep to Jun
Teacher turnover help
18%
Principal
Ms Pamela Issa
Community

Nearby nurseries

0.2km • EYFS curriculum
0.3km • EYFS curriculum
1.2km • EYFS curriculum
1.3km • EYFS curriculum
1.8km
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Abu Dhabi International School
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
hourglass_empty
Availability 2021/22
hourglass_empty
Annual fee average
AED 20,500
Annual fees
AED 13,200 - 28,300
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Opening year
1992
School year
Sep to Jun
Teacher turnover help
18%
Principal
Ms Pamela Issa
Community
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Abu Dhabi International School is located on Abu Dhabi Island in the traditional area of Al Rowdah. The school is one of the longer-established private schools in Abu Dhabi, having opened in 1992. It offers a US curriculum to high school at which point, from Grade 9, the school offers UK curriculum GCSE/IGCSE, and AS/A Levels.

The story so far...

This, the original Abu Dhabi International school (AIS), was founded in 1992 by Mrs. Jihan Nasr, who, according to the school has been dedicated to her mission of ensuring that every child is accepted, nurtured and provided with their needs and grow to become unique individuals.

The school introduces itself by telling us that "at AIS we believe that every individual can make a difference and a positive change to the world is given the right opportunities. We also believe that the immeasurable can be achieved with a child with strong home-school partnerships. At AIS our students grow with the idea that they are powerful beings who create their own destinies through the consistent exercise of good choices. Sincerely believing that actions speak louder than words, we, at AIS, seek to model this lesson throughout our school. This is what makes students of AIS pioneers in whichever field they wish to pursue."

The Vision of AIS is 'To prepare global citizens who will lead for positive change'. The School's mission is ‘To support all students attain their full potential in personal development and active citizenship by providing the foundation for lifelong learning through quality education.’

AIS welcomes children from KG1 (KG) and KG2 (designated Prep) to Grade 12.  With a total of just over 1,050 children, the school is half the size of its newer sister school, located in Mohammed bin Zayed City, which opened in 2005.

Students are split across four phases of the school, numbers are broken down into KG with approximately 115 children, Primary with approximately 400, Middle School with around 340 and the High School with approximately 210 students. The number of students per grade varies considerably, with Grades 11 and 12 each having around 40 students, whilst Grades 6 and 7 have over two and a half times this number with approximately 105 and 135 respectively.  Most grades have two or three classes, with Grades 6 and 7 having 5 and 6 respectively.  Class sizes average 1:25 across the school, with a teacher and teaching assistant in the KG, Prep and Grade 1 classes.


AIS students collaborating

There are approximately 40 nationalities with the largest groups are Jordanian (21%), Egyptian (18%), Emirati and Syrian, both with 11%.  Students are taught by 77 teachers, who are supported by 7 teaching assistants. 

Teachers come largely from South Africa, Ireland, Lebanon, America, and Jordan. Staff -turnover at 18% is below the average for international schools in the UAE, but greater than has been the case in the past at AIS. Teachers at AIS must have a Bachelors Degree in their subject area and a Teaching Diploma or the equivalent of 10 years of teaching experience. All teachers must also meet the ADEK requirements for licensure.

What about the curriculum?

AIS provides its students with the opportunity to graduate with the British (IGCSE and A-Level) programme after following a US curriculum from KG to Grade 8. Those who wish to continue following the American curriculum and IB courses transfer to the sister school at MBZ. The school is accredited by AIAA.

Core subjects across all sections of the school include  English, Math, Science and Arabic. French is obligatory from Grades 3 to 8 with those in Grades 3 to 12 prepared to sit for the DELF (Diplôme d’Etudes en Langue Française)---the official qualification awarded by the French Ministry of Education to certify the competency of candidates from outside France in the French language. 

IGCSE and A levels subjects include English, Arabic, Math, Statistics, Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Additional options include Sculpting, Robotics, and Film Studies.

AIS offers a variety of Co-Curricular Clubs which are included in the school fees. These include Football, Basketball, Table Tennis, Eco Health and Safety, Robotics, Film Club, Innovators, UAE Cultural Club, Book Club, Poetry Club, Chess, Cooking, Public Speaking and Debate, Choir, Drama, Dance, Art, Francophone, SAT Math, Newsletter, Arabic Calligraphy, Quran Recitation, Yearbook, Photography, Escape Room, Bulletin Board, Fun Science, Track and Field, MUN, Rubik’s Cube, Drones, Fitness, Scratch, Folklore and Spelling.


Performing Arts at AIS

Extra-Curricular Clubs are extra and attract additional fees; these include Ballet, Gymnastics and Taekwondo.

The school also offers a CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) program (taken from the IB curriculum which is offered at the MBZ school) that includes international educational trips. 

What about support for students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents?

Unusually, 5% of places are reserved for students with special needs and learning difficulties and for those with Gifts and Talents. At the time of the last ADEK inspection in 2018-19, 1.5% of students,  (so around 15) had been identified with SEN requirements.

According to the school, "over the years, we have gained a reputation for successfully dealing with a variety of learning difficulties and disabilities through a well-structured Special Education department." This is noted in its inspection reports.

The school sources Learning Support Assistants to support individual students and the fees for this depend on the services required. AIS also offers English as a second language support to students to attain proficiency in English.

What about academic achievement?

The school administers the IOWA Assessments and MAP. It also participates in the TIMMS, PISA and PIRLS, and has consistently performed above the UAE average on all these assessments.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is also pleased to see that AIS publishes its examination results on its website. Unfortunately, details of the last results published where students sat examinations as usual (in 2018) have not been published in detail - only a graphic showing that AIS students routinely achieve higher percentages of A*-A grades at A Level, AS and IGCSE are shown, but does this does not allow comparison with other schools.


Senior students preparing for life beyond the classroom

The last set of results published in detail were those of 2016, when, at IGCSE, 69% of its students scored A* and A in five or more subjects, with almost 95% scoring A* and A in Chemistry and more than 80% scoring A* and A in Mathematics, Physics and Biology.  At GCE (AS – Level), 50% of its students scored triple A in Mathematics and two Sciences, with 92% scoring A in Mathematics. At GCE (A – Level): 42% of its students scored three A* or A in Mathematics and two Sciences, with more than 80% scoring A* and A in Mathematics and Arabic. These are grades worth shouting about.

With no examinations being held in 2020 or 2021, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, all examination entries were graded instead by the schools' own staff through a process of Centre Assessed Grades.

Since its inception, AIS has secured university placements for all its graduates. The school has also been recently recognised by ADEK as having the highest rate amongst Abu Dhabi schools in securing university placements and admissions for its graduates in top-tier universities worldwide. In the past 3 years, all graduates obtained admission from 4-year colleges and universities including the highly ranked universities listed below including:

o Massachusetts Institute of Technology
o Columbia University
o New York University
o University of California, Berkeley
o University of California, Los Angeles
o Georgia Institute of Technology
o University of Toronto
o McGill University, Toronto
o Imperial College London
o University of Manchester
o University of Edinburgh
o King’s College London

AIS has a College Prep Advisor who counsels and guides students with their university applications. She works closely with the students in their high school years providing career guidance and supporting them in building strong portfolios for their university applications. The school has a long-standing relationship with a multitude of universities all over the world that regularly comes to visit the school in order to help students make an informed decision.

What about the facilities?

AIS on Abu Dhabi Island is based in an older building, and in 2018, stopped admissions temporarily in order to undertake substantial renovation works at the campus. We understand that this programme has been delayed, but that the school building will be reconstructed into a state-of-the-art facility for completion by August 2023.

What the inspectors say

The first ADEK joint inspection of both the Primary and Secondary sections of the school took place in October 2016. Previous inspections had treated the Primary and Secondary schools as separate entities. Historically the Primary School had been a particular area of strength.  The school was rated Good at this time.

The most recent inspection took place in 2018-19 and AIS was awarded ADEK's second highest rating of Very Good.  Inspectors commented that the overall performance of the school was very good. Leaders give the school a very clear direction. Students have very positive attitudes to learning, and achieve very well, especially in KG and middle...The school achieved improved ratings in all six key performance standards.

The strengths of the school were found to be:

  • The highly effective leadership of the principal and senior leaders resulting in evident improvement in all areas since the previous inspection.
  • Students’ high levels of achievement.
  • Teachers’ commitment to raising the quality of teaching and overall progress of students.
  • The caring ethos, positive relationships and secure environment of the school.
  • Students’ highly developed learning skills, independence and enthusiasm for school which is reflected in their high levels of attendance

In particular, the inspection team noted that leaders have addressed most recommendations of the previous inspection. The variability in teaching has been reduced and teaching overall is now very good. As a result of better teaching, achievement overall has improved to very good in the Kindergarten, middle and high phases, though it remains good in the primary phase. (It should be noted that both attainment and progress for Islamic Education and Mathematics were rated Outstanding in the Senior school).

All aspects of students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills were rated Very Good across the school, as were the performance standards for the Curriculum and for the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students and Leadership and Management. 

The key area for improvement remains Teaching and Assessment which was rated a mix of Good and Very Good. However, the inspection team commented that teachers now provide greater consistency in their practice across subjects. They are committed to professional development and have higher expectations of students. Performance management supports those with weaker skills. New teachers are following the procedures introduced through their induction programme.

The inspection team also commented that a new building is being planned on the same site to improve the learning environment, facilities and resources. In the lessons seen, learning is now well resourced across most subjects, particularly in the kindergarten and in science. The school has made strong progress in identifying groups of students with different abilities and lesson plans are now differentiated to provide activities to meet the learning needs of most groups of students. Leaders’ capacity to improve the school further is very good.

In terms of areas of improvement, the inspectors advised AIS to:

  • Further development of assessment to support students of all abilities by:
    - ensuring all students are identified according to their individual abilities
    - ensuring that the progress of all groups of students is measured and monitored regularly
    - ensuring that marking, feedback to students on how to improve further and opportunities for self-assessment is more consistent
    - providing appropriately differentiated learning activities to suit students’ abilities more consistently across all lessons.
  • Continue to develop standards in Arabic medium subjects to match those in other core subjects by:
    - raising expectations across the Arabic subjects
    - ensuring prior assessment data of individual students is linked effectively to plan differentiated learning tasks
    - providing opportunities for students to develop their extended writing skills across phases
    - providing effective levels of challenge for students according to their ability with a focus on the development of reading, writing, speaking and listening
    - implementing a whole school framework for practicing Arabic speaking and writing and reading skills across the school.

Overall, there is no question that AIS had made significant improvements over the two years between 2017 and 2019.  No inspection took place in 2020-21 (when the next inspection would have been due).  It will be very interesting to see if AIS has continued far enough along the road to improvement when it is next expected to join the limited number of schools in Abu Dhabi that have managed to achieve the highest 'Outstanding' rating.

If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - find it here.

The Buzz

In 2018, 342 parents participated in ADEK's parent satisfaction survey.  Overall, AIS achieved a parent score of 3.97/5 - close to an 80% satisfaction rating. According to ADEK this was 60% higher than that of other schools of a similar type. You can read the report here.

The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has received a very limited number of responses - a total of only four -  and these were rather less positive than those of ADEK's survey returns with a rating 2.6/5. 

As is often the case, parents who are dissatisfied tend to be more inclined to respond to surveys than those who are not.  If you are a parent, teacher or student at AIS and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please complete our survey.

Our View

Abu Dhabi International School has a long heritage and reputation which has now been underlined by the positive result of the most recent ADEK inspection. For families seeking a school that is successful in offering two curricula and a High School curriculum at which its students appear to have considerable success, this is a school that does so at a very reasonable fee level.  Without doubt, the campus is inevitably older, less impressive and spacious than the sister school at MBZ, but still has a great deal to offer.

What about the fees?

Fees at the AIS Abu Dhabi campus are in the value to mid-range (between AED 15,160 to AED 32,280).  Those at MBZ by contrast (for parents who may be considering this option) range from AED 26,500 to AED 46,600.

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

Abu Dhabi International School is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:

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