Al Ain International Academy, located in Al Sarooj, Al Ain, was the first Aldar Academy to open outside the capital. Despite its rapid growth it not only secured a Good rating in the first inspection after opening, but has since moved up one grade to Very Good (2015/16) and retained this rating in the 2017-18 inspection round.
The story so far...
Al Ain Academy - originally known as Al Ain International School - is part of the Aldar Academies group, one of the UAE’s largest providers of private education in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.
The school describes itself as "a welcoming, vibrant learning community. A forward-thinking school which aims to not only help students grow academically, but also prepare them to be active, confident and caring members of society". The school prides itself in nurturing a truly international community, "where students can excel academically and succeed in all areas of school life whilst maintaining principles and values, such as mutual respect and responsibility".
Al Ain Academy officially opened in September 2011 in a former government school building. This attests to the strong relationship between Aldar Academies and ADEK, the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department. The school offers a high quality education from FS1 to Year 13 (the first cohort of Year 13 students was added in 2018-19) following the English National Curriculum. The school has adapted the curriculum "with an international flavour", including Arabic, Islamic Studies, and Civics as required by the Ministry of Education. Students are said to make "sustained and rapid progress".
Students are said, in general, to come from "advantaged backgrounds". The majority of current students are either Emirati (60%), UK (9%), American (6%) and Canadian (2%) citizens, although 65 nationalities are represented in total.
In total, 15% of students have been identified as having some form of special educational needs (SEN) – all mild in nature. The school does not admit or have the resources for children with complex SEN support.
The school employs some 70 plus teachers, together with approximately 50 teaching assistants - an extremely high number providing 60% of total staffing - and enabling the school to offer very low teacher:student ratios of 1:10 in FS and 1:15 through the remainder of the school. Teachers are recruited based on their “experience in the delivery of the English National Curriculum and the Foundation Stage Curriculum”.
Read our most recent Experience visit here!
What about the curriculum?
The curriculum is British in design, but modified for the UAE. There is an Arabic curriculum in place from Foundation Stage. According to the school’s Website, “the Al Ain Academy welcomes families of all nationalities and offers the best of both worlds – an exceptional combination of the best of British-style education delivered within a truly international community, enriched by the UAE culture to meet the needs of the 21st century in our increasingly global world”.
The overall quality of students’ achievement was found to be very good by the ADEK inspection team. Most children join Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) with little or no English and the significant growth of the school involved new students with low starting points joining across year groups. This, together with the high percentage of students whose first language is not English, has had a significant impact upon attainment levels. Strong teaching and intervention has meant that students overall make very good progress, supported by very good learning skills.
In common with all Aldar Academies, FS1 and FS2 children learn Arabic either as native or non-native speakers. Specialised, qualified early years practitioners who are native speakers of Arabic work with the children to develop the children’s speaking, listening, reading and writing skills in Arabic. The curriculum content has been developed by the specialist Arabic team working across the Aldar academies and the focus of lessons is upon assisting the children to develop the core skills required in preparation for the Ministry of Education Arabic curriculum commencing in Year 2.
Primary students focus on lessons in English, Mathematics and Science with additional Foundation subjects of Design and Technology, Information and Communication Technology, History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages (Year 4 upwards), Music, Art and Design, Physical Education and Personal, Health and Social Development. Arabic and Islamic and Social Studies are added to the curriculum in line with Ministry of Education requirements.
Students in Years 7 to 9 continue with a broad range of subjects before being assessed in Year 9 for possible IGCSE options. Options include Art, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Computer Science, Design Technology Graphics, Design Technology Resistant Technology, Design Technology Textiles, Drama, English, English Literature, French, Geography, History, Maths, Music, Physical Education Core, Physical Education Exam, Physics and Psychology and Economics.
A Level options cover a similar range to the IGCSE programme.
Al Ain Academy also offers a wide range of Extra-curricular activities. These take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. These are generally open to pupils from Year 2. More academic clubs include Science Club, Homework Club, Arabic and Quran, whilst those with a more creative interests can join, Junior Choir, Music Production, Arts & Crafts, Lego, Tech Club, and Set design.
A wide range of sports clubs operate throughout the year including Swim Squad, Development Swim Squad, Girls Football, Boys Football, Boys Athletics, Playground Games, Girls Netball, Touch Rugby, Table Tennis, Recreational Football, and Dodgeball.
Finally, in addition to regular Music lessons as part of the curriculum, Al Ain Academy works with IMS to offer Musical instrument lessons. Lessons include Vocal, Guitar (Acoustic, Classical, Electric, Bass), Piano, Strings (Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass), Woodwind (Recorder, Piccolo, Flute), Brass and Percussion (Drum kit, Orchestral; Percussion; Glockenspiel, Timpani, Xylophone, Marimba). Music Theory lessons and instruction towards the completion of the ABRSM and Trinity College London Rock School examinations are also offered.
What about Academic Achievement?
The first cohort of IGCSE students sat their exams in June 2017, and, according to ADEK's inspectors, "The school achieved high standards in its first set of International General Certificate of Education (IGCSE) examinations taken in 2017". The report notes that the performance of the few students in Year 11 was outstanding in Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Food technology, PE, French and Statistics. Standards were very good in Mathematics, Good in History and Information and Communication technology (ICT), and acceptable in English Literature. However, results were described as weak in Art, Arabic, English language, Business studies, and Physics.
In 2019 IGCSE results improved significantly with 84% of students achieving 5 subjects at grade 9-4 (UK benchmark for 2019 was 64%).
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would like to see a much more detailed breakdown of results including student numbers, exam entries, and exam results broken down by the UK recommendation of percentages of grades 9-8, 9-7, 9-6, 9-4 and the number of students achieving five subjects at grades 9-4 including English and Maths.
We would also hope that the Academy will be transparent in its publication of A Level results for its first cohort of Year 13 students who will sit the exams in June 2020.
Whilst we fully recognise that exam results are not and should not be the be-all and end-all of education, they are still an important factor in school choice.
What about facilities?
The school is in a well renovated government building, able to currently accommodate around 1,000 students with over 40 classrooms. The school has a number of new ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities, with PE resources described as outstanding. These include two swimming pools, a sports hall, and a full sized football pitch. Classrooms are well equipped and generously sized. The schools has a library and a number of computer suites. However, the 2017-18 ADEK report does note that the school has not yet implemented expansion plans to improve premises and resources to the highest quality.
What the inspectors say
Al Ain Academy's Very Good rating in 2017/18, is the equivalent of the A2 rating of 2015/16. Abu Dhabi Emirate presently has very few Outstanding rated schools (just seven of over 180 schools), so the retention of this Very Good rating should not be under-estimated.
In the most recent ADEK report, Al Ain Academy was rated Very Good across four of the six key indicators and Outstanding in the remaining two.
The overall quality of students’ achievement was found to be very good by the ADEK inspection team. Most children join Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) with little or no English and the significant growth of the school involved new students with low starting points joining across year groups.
This, together with the high percentage of students whose first language is not English, has had a significant impact upon attainment levels with achievement in Arabic as a first and second language found to be acceptable. Given the school's location in Al Ain, with a strong Emirati contingent (over 50% of students), this will inevitably be an area of focus of the inspection teams and one that Al Ain Academy will need to address if the school can hope to achieve the highest Outstanding rating. However, strong teaching and intervention has meant that students overall make very good progress, supported by very good learning skills.
Learning skills are very good overall, and students’ English language skills continue to develop well, especially in speaking.
Students’ personal development is outstanding. Their relationships and attitudes to learning are exemplary. Respect for the heritage and culture of the UAE and Islamic values contributes to students’ outstanding behaviour. Attendance and punctuality are very good.
Teaching and assessment are very good overall. Teachers deliver engaging lessons which stimulate thoughtful enquiry and discussion. They provide their students with well-judged personalised challenge and support.
School assessment systems are generally strong and the curriculum very good. It is planned very well and reviewed regularly and systematically. It provides a wide range of choices in extracurricular activities and options for older students. Students are very well prepared for the next phase of their education.
The quality of protection, care, guidance and support is outstanding overall. The school’s work to ensure an excellent level of care and welfare underpins its calm and nurturing environment. Care and support for Special Educational Needs (SEN) students is highly effective.
Leadership and governance were also deemed to be Very Good.
Areas identified in further need of improvement related to the need to raise standards in reading and writing in Arabic, to share outstanding teaching practice further across the school and to develop the use of assessment information in order to more effectively plan for individual student progress - again another key area of focus in the inspection focus. With the next ADEK inspection due in 2019-20, Al Ain Academy has most of the current academic year to raise standards in those areas identified. If it can do so, it would be only the second school in Al Ain to achieve the Outstanding rating.
If you would like to read the full ADEK inspection report for Al Ain Academy - and we strongly recommend that you do so - you may find it here.
Unlike the KHDA in Dubai, which asks parents and senior students at schools in advance of their inspection to participate in a pre-inspection survey, ADEK does not publish any form of parent feedback.
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has received a limited number of responses from parents at Al Ain Academy. If you are a parent, teacher or student at the school, please do share your experience with other readers by completing our survey here.
Those parents who responded to our survey were split directly down the middle in terms of their thoughts on the school, with 50% very positive and the other 50% rather less so.
There is no doubt that in common with all Aldar Academies' schools, Al Ain Academy delivers a very good quality of education. However, the Al Ain school (which shares a very similar physical structure and layout to the older Abu Dhabi Island Al Muna and Pearl Academies - both Primary schools) would benefit from a significant facilities upgrade, though would risk losing some of its charm in the process.
Fees at Al Ain Academy range from AED 39,600 for FS and Primary to AED 40,970 in Years 7 and 8, AED 50,190 in Year 9 and AED 59,320 for years 10 to 13. These are in line with Aldar Academies' general fee structure.
It should be noted that, in general, fees in Abu Dhabi Emirate are significantly lower than for equivalent and similarly rated schools in Dubai.
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