Located in the Bida bin Ammar area of central Al Ain, Al Ain American Private School opened in 2006 and has had a chequered history. However, almost 15 years after its opening, AAAS seems to have turned a corner - and in a very big way!
The Story so far...
Al Ain American School was established in 2006. Its history has been "variable" to say the least, particularly in relation to the quality of education it has been perceived to offer by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi's Education Authority (ADEK) inspectors, who initially, in 2013 and 2014, rated the school "In need of significant improvement".
Since this time, there has been a complete turnaround at the school. In the 2015-16 inspection round, the school was one of only two to move from the lowest rating band to be rated a Good school. In the 2017-18 inspection round, the school was rated Very Good, only one step away from the top Outstanding rating.
Unfortunately, whilst much has clearly improved at Al Ain American School, what has not is the school's website, which does not work for the most part, and is certainly not informative. Most information appears to come through the school's Facebook page. Add to that the fact that the school does not appear to have its own email address (it uses one hosted by ADEK), and getting in touch is also something of a challenge.
That said, however, there is clearly much to recommend the school.
Its Vision Statement is "to create a generation of educated and inspired individuals who strive to make valuable contributions to a global society", whilst its Mission Statement notes that "AAAS is committed to providing quality education for all students. The education shall afford students various opportunities to think critically, to apply 21st Century Skills while in the classroom, and to become responsible ambassadors in a global society."
At the time of the ADEK inspection in 2017-18, Al Ain American School had some 870 students studying from KG1 to Grade 8. The school is now open to Grade 9. Inevitably in a school that is not fully open, there is a strong weighting of students at the KG (29%) and Elementary Sections (57%). However, as the school continues to grow to Grade 12, it can be expected that a more balanced student breakdown will be seen.
The majority of students - some 73% - are from local Emirati families. In addition, a further 5% of students are from Jordan, 3% from the US, and 2.6% from Palestine. Students are taught by some 58 teachers, supported by 22 teaching assistants, enabling a teacher:student ratio of 1:15 - low enough to ensure that students are provided with individual attention. With a staff turnover rate of 10%, teachers would appear to be satisfied with their employment - an important factor in ensuring stability within the school.
Approximately 4% of students have been diagnosed with additional learning needs. The most recent ADEK inspection report rated the provision for students with additional needs as Outstanding, noting that "the school provides a highly safe and secure environment. Students with special educational needs (SEN) and those who are gifted and talented (G&T) are very well supported."
The remarkable turnaround at Al Ain American School can really be credited to only one person, Dr. Wilfred Bock. A South African national. Dr. Bock was involved in the setting up of the school in 2006, although he remained with it for only one year. After the two initial 'failed' inspections in 2013-14 and 2014-15, the owner of the school reached out to Dr. Bock, who in between had been employed by ADEK and by GEMS Education, to rejoin as Superintendent.
A series of changes to staffing - some 70% were replaced - re-organisation of classrooms designed to promote collaborative learning, and a focus on student behaviour and social skills designed to model courteous, friendly behaviour, were key elements of Dr. Bock's strategy. Although Dr. Bock is no longer with Al Ain American School, having returned to his native South Africa in 2018, his influence has clearly remained.
What about the curriculum?
AAAS follows the American Common Core Curriculum (aligned to the California State standards) and the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education Curriculum. Kindergarten subjects include Literacy, Numeracy, Science, Social Development, Gross Motor Skills, and Physical Education,
Students in Grades 1 to 7 study English, Mathematics, Science, Arabic, Islamic Studies, Social Studies, Information Technology, Robotics (Grades 6-7), Arts, and Physical Education. No details of the curriculum beyond Grade 7 are provided; however, we would expect a continuation and broadening of the core subjects in Grade 9 onwards, with a range of electives. The most recent ADEK report noted that "Older students master skills in digital design, ICT, control technology and filming in dedicated ‘exploration’ lessons. Students’ performance skills are showcased in assembly through dance, music, public speaking and singing and they demonstrate well-developed innovation skills."
What about the facilities?
The school spent about AED 2 million on building its resources and modernising its facilities to meet current learning standards when Dr. Bock returned in 2016. In addition to its classrooms, the school now boasts Science laboratories, libraries, Art rooms, music rooms, an auditorium, a drama room, and specialist SEN rooms. Sports facilities include a Cricket Pitch, school gymnasium and swimming pool.
What the inspectors say
Al Ain American School is clearly one on the up in terms of standards. The last ADEK inspection report speaks in glowing terms of its achievements.
The report summarises the strengths of the school as:
The inspection team noted in their summary, that school leaders had addressed most recommendations in the previous inspection report and that students’ achievement overall was now very good, though the Middle phase was rated Good. There had been improvements in Arabic as a second language which was rated Good. Teachers were found to provide greater consistency in their practice across core subjects and phases, including non-core subjects. They were committed to professional development and to ensuring that the learning needs of all students were met in lessons and extra-curricular activities.
Opportunities for students to develop creative expression through music, art and drama was found to be very strong. Students were able to develop their interests and talents through a range of activities both in class and in extra-curricular provision. Assemblies at the start of the day enabled students to showcase their many talents which provided an inspirational start to the day. Students appeared to enjoy school greatly, and their attendance was outstanding.
Perhaps the highest praise overall was with regard to the capacity of the school's leadership to improve the school further. Inspectors noted that "as demonstrated by its rapid and sustained improvement over time", this was rated Outstanding.
It is rare, in our experience, for an inspection team to suggest a capacity for improvement that is above the rating given to the school. The fact that the inspection team felt that Al Ain American School had the capacity to improve to Outstanding is clear evidence of what their expectations.
This view was undoubtedly supported by the overall ratings for each of the six key performance standards against which the school was measured - no less than three of the six were rated Outstanding, with the other three (Students' Achievement, Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum) rated Very Good.
Of course, there were recommendations for improvement. Inspectors advised
If you would like to read the full ADEK inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasoning behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Unfortunately, ADEK does not formally report the feedback that it receives from parents or students. However, the inspection report notes that "Partnerships with parents and the community are outstanding. Parents are represented on the governing body and they support the school very effectively. A highly effective governing body which include[s] the school’s owners and parents, meet[s] regularly to discuss school performance. The views of parents, teachers and students are taken into account."
Clearly, with an Outstanding attendance rate of 98%, students are engaged and happy at their school. The limited staff turnover of 10% also suggests a satisfied faculty.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Al Ain American School, please do share your opinions with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
What about the fees?
Fees at Al Ain American School fall into ADEK's low to medium band and into WhichSchoolAdvisor's affordable range. They vary from AED 14,600 in KG to AED 24,900 in Grade 9. Additional fees include Books, which range from AED 2,200 to AED 2,600 from Grade 1 and dependent on grade, uniform fees of AED 300, and transport fees of AED 2,500.
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