Al Dhafra Private School, located in Mohammed bin Zayed City, is an established school that opened in 1983. Initially offering a combined US/UK curriculum, the school is now focusing on the US curriculum only.
Al Dhafra School MBZ was awarded a Very Good rating in the ADEK 2021-22 inspection round. It retains this rating for 2022-23.
Al Dhafra School opened in September 1983 and relocated to villa premises in Abu Dhabi in 1995. In 2012, the school moved to new purpose built premises in Mohammed Bin Zayed City.
The school operates from two sites with a separate Middle and High School at "The Villa campus" offering a US curriculum combined with IGCSE (which is being phased out), and a KG1 - Grade 12 campus at MBZ, offering the US curriculum leading to an accredited Standard High School Diploma (in Grade 11) or an Advanced Studies High School Diploma in Grade 12. The school has students from Kindergarten (KG) to Grade 12. KG to Grade 4 is mixed gender, in Grades 5 to 12 boys and girls are taught in single gender classes, with the exception of a few electives and some International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) classes.
Al Dhafra Private School has some 1,600 students spread across its two campuses. The Villa campus is a Middle and High School campus only which prepares students for the US curriculum from Grades 5-12 and the UK IGCSE curriculum for students in Grades 9 and 10. The few remaining students continuing with the UK curriculum at AS or A Level, then transfer to the second Mohammed Bin Zayed City campus for Grades 11 and 12. The MBZ campus offers a through-school education from KG1 to Grade 12 which is solely US curriculum.
Some 37% of students attending the school are Emirati, followed by students from Egypt (16%), Jordan (11%) and Syria (10%) who make up the largest nationality groups in the school, but students of a wide range of nationalities make up the remaining numbers. The language of instruction is English. Class sizes with a teacher:student ratio of 1:14 are low enough to be able to ensure good support for students. Teacher turnover, at 15%, is relatively low by UAE standards where the average is around 22%.
The school’s vision is ‘‘To provide a trusting and supportive school community, in which students are placed at the centre of learning, developing personal responsibility and self-discipline, as they become independent and creative learners and thinkers. Teaching will be inspiring and all students empowered to succeed within an innovative culture of high expectations, high standards, and outstanding quality."
The most recent ADEK inspection published in 2017 notes that “Life in the school is friendly and culturally diverse with a positive and inclusive ethos in which all staff and students support and respect each other”.
What about the curriculum?
The school follows an American curriculum from KG to Grade 8; from Grade 9 to 12, students were previously able to choose to follow the American or British curriculum. Only 40 of its 1,630 students were following the UK curriculum in grades 9 to 12 when last inspected by ADEK in 2016-17 and this is now being phased out.
The school is accredited by Cambridge International Examinations Board (for UK curriculum) and by AdvancED for the US curriculum which is based on the Virginia State Common Core Standards.
The sole focus on the US curriculum can be seen through developments currently taking place at the school, where a range of initiatives are planned to support students’ development and academic progress. From September 2017, all Grade 10-12 Students will be set targets for SAT exams, and practice questions will be part of the curriculum to help prepare students for the official College Board Assessments. Grade 10 Students will sit a practice PSAT paper in school during Term 2, before the official assessments in Term 3. Grade 11 and 12 students will be encouraged to try to achieve the highest possible mark in SAT1 and to sit SAT 2 if they have the ability to do so.
Students completing Grade 11 with the necessary 22 credits will receive a Standard High School Diploma, whilst those achieving 26 credits will receive an Advanced High School Diploma (both accredited by the State of Virginia) which will be accepted for Equivalence by ADEK. The school offers a fairly narrow range of subjects in addition to the standard Maths, English and Science. These include IT, Business, Economics, Mechanics and Sociology as well as compulsory Arabic, Islamic and Social Studies. All students participate in IELTS (English as a Foreign Language) tests also.
What about the facilities?
The school’s buildings provide high quality spacious facilities to support and stimulate learning. The seven science laboratories enable students to experience stimulating hands‐on practical learning. The five ICT rooms are used well to develop a key component of students’ 21st Century skills. Classrooms are spacious and flexible and have interactive white boards, which are used well by teachers. The school purchased 300 iPads in 2014, which are used as part of a project involving the Elementary school and Grade 10.The art and music facilities provide curriculum breadth for students’ learning.
All available space is used creatively; the extensive roof space has been converted into an effective sports facility. Other sports facilities include an Olympic sized swimming pool, KG splash pool and the large central covered area for a variety of sports. There is a gym and an equipped area for KG children to learn through play. There is an outdoor KG curriculum area which could benefit from additional shading. There are two libraries, one in each of the senior and junior sections of the school.
What the inspectors say
The most recent ADEK report, based on the inspection that took place in October 2016, rated the school as Good. However, in reality, there are elements which are on the way to Very Good. The key indicators for Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills, and the protection, care, guidance and support of students were rated at the higher level, whilst all other indicators were rated Good.
The key strengths of the school were found to be progress made by all students, in all subjects in all phases, the friendly and culturally diverse learning community where all staff and students support and respect each other, the focused, decisive and effective senior leadership which is moving the school forward, the positive impact of improvements to teaching and assessment on students’ achievement, and the attractive, well-maintained and resourced building that provides a safe and welcoming learning environment.
The inspectors noted considerable improvements across the school. Particular praise was given in relation to the innovative approach being taken across a number of areas - for example, in English enrichment lessons in Grade 8, students opt to learn English through the medium of either drama, debate or media. Access to these options through the two lessons per week are popular with students and effective in improving English speaking and writing skills.
In grades 10 to 12, a new programme of Thinking Actively in a Social Context (TASC) is having a positive impact on innovation skills, because it supports creative problem solving and reflection. In KG, the school has moved away from teacher-led delivery to a more child-initiated approach. This approach includes the introduction of talking partners, a home reading programme, reading buddies and guest parent readers.
The main areas for improvement identified during the inspection were the need for a larger, more representative Board of Trustees, which should include parental representatives from the newly formed parents’ association, the need to develop further the team of middle leaders, such as heads of phases and subject coordinators, to strengthen their impact on teaching and learning, and further improvement to student achievement in Arabic in particular.
Al Dhafra Private School has seen considerable improvement over the past 4 years. Its next inspection is due to take place in the 2018-19 academic year. It will be interesting to see what further progress has been made, given the evident commitment from the owner and leadership of the school.
Fees range from AED 24,800 in KG1 to AED 42,700 in Grade 12. Books are additional and range from AED 1,000 in KG to AED 3,500 in Grade 12.
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