Part of the Al Nahda National Schools Group, Al Nahda National School for Girls is not strictly a Girls' school only. The school offers co-educational, mixed gender classes from KG to Grade 3. Boys then transfer to the Al Nahda National School for Boys.
The story so far...
Al Nahda National Schools is a private school group on Abu Dhabi Island, founded in 1983 by Emirati businessman and entrepreneur Saeed Al-Junaibi. Unusually, the school offers both the British (Cambridge-based) curriculum and the American curriculum from KG to Grade 12, blended in the KG, with students choosing from Grade 9 which to follow for their school leaving qualifications.
The school states that its Vision is "Everyone engages, everyone reflects, everyone learns".
The school's Mission Statement is: "Al Nahda National Schools are committed to engaging students to connect their knowledge and understanding to develop the whole learner. We value diversity and model acceptance of all cultures within the school, UAE, and international communities of the world".
The school is divided into two campuses: The Al Nahda National School for Boys' campus (for boys in Grade 4 and above), and the Girls' campus (for girls from KG to Grade 12 and boys from KG to Grade 3).
In total Al Nahda National Schools educates a combined total of approximately 6,500 students across the three campuses. The vast majority of students are located at the Girls' campus, with over 5,000 students located there. This includes approximately 900 students in the KG section, some 1,800 in the Primary school section, around 960 in the Middle school section, and close to 1,500 students in the High School.
Emirati students make up the largest contingent at the school, being some 24%, followed by Egyptian students at 20%, Jordanian nationals at 17% and Palestinian passport holders at 7%. A broad range of other nationalities are also represented. Approximately 1% (some 50+ students) are identified with SEN requirements. Staff promptly identify students who have special educational needs (SEN) and take effective steps to promote all students’ health and wellbeing.
The school does not provide much information about staffing. There have been some evident changes at Senior Leadership level, notably in respect of the Director. The majority of staff appear to be from Arab countries, but the Director of the Girls' campus, Cassandra Dyson, and Principal of the Girls' campus, Sandra Zaher, appear to have more Western backgrounds. In the KG section, both native Arabic and native English speakers (many evidently Irish) work together with the students. Once students move on to the Primary section, there is a fairly equal mix of Arabic and English-speaking class teachers, with specialist teachers for ICT, Music, and PE, as well teachers for Arabic, Islamic and Social Studies and Moral Education. There are between 14 and 16 classes per grade - underlining that this is a very large school.
A total of 254 teachers and a further 14 teaching assistants are responsible for the education of the students - a staff:student ratio of 1:20, which is on the high side and may make it difficult for staff to provide individual attention for students. A staff turnover rate of 15% is below the UAE average for international schools of 20-22%, but still means that one in six staff were new at the start of the 2017-18 academic year.
What about the curriculum?
As mentioned in our introduction, unusually, Al Nahda Schools offer a dual curriculum with students following a common UK curriculum programme in KG and in Primary school, followed by the choice between the UK and US curricula in Middle and High school sections. Over 80% of students follow the UK curriculum in the Middle school. On entry to Grade 9, students choose between the UK curriculum based IGCSE programme, followed by AS and A Level in Grades 11 and 12, or a US curriculum, leading to a US High School Diploma. There is a very significant switch of curriculum at this stage, with 80% of students following the US curriculum in the High school section.
The school states that "the academic courses are designed to expose all students to a wide range of creative, social, scientific and athletic experiences. These would not only help them to discover their own unknown strengths and develop new ones, but also lead them to appreciate the diverse skills and talents of their peers".
The school is accredited by the Council of International Schools, the European Council of International Schools, NEASC - the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (with whom the US High School Diploma is accredited), the Cambridge International Examinations Board and Edexcel Board (for accreditation of the UK curriculum and through whom the IGCSE, GCSE and AS/A Level examinations are conducted). The school is also a test centre for SAT (the US pre-college entry examinations), and TOEFL and IELTS (both offering English-language testing for College entry).
Al Nahda National Schools says that it believes in the necessity of offering a curriculum that disciplines and encourages the intellectual growth of students in order to prepare them to pursue higher studies. "Our academic program emphasizes a broad [board sic] foundation and in depth knowledge in various areas including Languages, Mathematics, Sciences, Humanities, Information Technology, Islamic Studies, Physical Education, Music and Art. Languages include Arabic, English, Urdu and French".
Students following the UK curriculum sit for Advanced Level at the end of Grade 12 in a maximum of four subjects. The selection of AS and A Level subjects is made on the basis of performance at IGCSE.
For the IGCSE exams, compulsory subjects are English, Mathematics, and UAE Ministry of Education curriculum Arabic and Islamic Studies for Grades 9 and 10. The students may then choose from a range of other subjects including English Literature, Computer Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Geography, History, Sociology, Arabic, French, Urdu, and Art and Design.
All students also sit the common exam for Arabic and Islamic Studies (for Arabs and Non-Arabs) held by the Ministry of Education at the end of Grade 12 to equalize their High School Diploma with the UAE official Secondary Certificate (Thaniwiyah).
The US curriculum programme is designed to provide students with a broad, but solid educational foundation. In addition to Arabic and Islamic Studies, other subjects include English, Mathematics, Computer Studies, Sciences, Sociology, French, and Art and Design, which are taught in English up to Grade 12.
High School students graduate after a satisfactory completion of the course of the chosen High School curriculum. Similar to the students following the UK curriculum, US curriculum students also sit for the common exam for Arabic & Islamic Studies for Arabs and Non Arabs held by the Ministry of Education at the end of Grade 12. This is a prerequisite to equalize their High School Diploma with the UAE official Secondary Certificate (Thaniwiyah). Unlike the Boys' section, girls are not required to participate in SAT 1 or IELTS with minimum grade requirements, in order to received the High School Diploma.
Little information is provided in regard to Extra-curricular or co-curricular activities. However the ADEK report notes that "The school offers very few extra-curricular activities to enrich students’ learning".
What about academic achievement?
Unfortunately, Al Nahda National Schools does not publish any information about the academic achievement of students across the schools. By the time students reach the High school phase, 80% choose to follow the US curriculum. According to the most recent ADEK report (from 2018), around a fifth of students in the High school phase attain high standards in IGCSE examinations. Students’ achievement in Arabic and the progress made by older students in English is good.
Almost all students graduate with a High School Diploma and a few achieve additional qualifications such as SAT1 and IELTS. Students’ achievement at this phase in the American curriculum was deemed to be acceptable overall by the ADEK inspection team.
What the inspectors say
Al Nahda National School for Girls has been rated Acceptable in both 2014 and 2016, and received the same rating again in 2018. By comparison, the Boys' school has improved its rating to Good and is clearly making further improvements, with three of the six key performance standards rated Very Good in the most recent inspection.
It is evident that the Girls' school has found it difficult to make improvements sufficient to allow it to achieve a Good rating and recent senior staff changes would appear to be designed to ensure that further impetus is given to improvement in the Girls' school.
In terms of the 2017-18 inspection, Al Nahda National School for Girls was rated Acceptable in four of the six key performance standards, with only Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills, and the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students rated Good. It is notable that the more "academic performance related" measures - Students' achievement, Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum - were all rated Acceptable. This is the minimum rating that schools are expected to achieve.
There have been improvements. The inspection report notes that "The new senior leadership team, supported effectively by the Governing Board, has identified and begun to address key aspects requiring improvement. Middle leaders are beginning to become more involved in evaluating and improving the school". The inspectors stated that "in the absence of clear data on student achievement, governors have not been able to recognise that the school’s progress in raising standards has been slow".
School leaders have reviewed the two curricula to improve continuity and progression, and have recently agreed to adopt bench-marking assessments for the American Curriculum. This is a fundamental requirement if the school is to be able to measure student progress adequately and to raise standards. Planning and assessment are undertaken for UK curriculum students, but are not correctly aligned to the standards and expectations of the British curriculum, particularly in the KG and Primary sections.
The inspectors noted that "the school has made limited progress in improving students’ learning and innovation skills. Students continue to have too few opportunities to work collaboratively on large, complex tasks. Whilst information and communications technology (ICT) resources have been upgraded, these are not yet being used regularly by students for independent learning". These comments are reflected in the ratings for Student Achievement, where, with the exception of Arabic as both a first and second language, and English in the High school section which are rated Good, all other ratings are Acceptable.
The inspectors found the strengths of Al Nahda National School for Girls to be:
The recommendations for improvement are somewhat longer. The school is required to:
There is no doubt that the improvements required are significant, involving teachers, and their professional development, to improve assessment processes and curriculum delivery, and to raise student outcomes across the school. The good news is that the school is already taking steps, supported by the owners, to provide stronger and more able leadership and management through the appointment of new staff to key Senior positions. They have also taken step to support Middle management, who will need to drive these changes across their teams, by involving staff from partner schools.
There is much evidence that female students in an all-Girls environment regularly out-perform their male counterparts. It is, therefore, somewhat unusual to find a situation where the reverse is the case - as it is in terms of Al Nahda National Schools. With changes already underway in 2017-18, it will be interesting to see how far Al Nahda National School for Girls has come when it is next inspected in 2019-20.
Fees at the school are designated mid-range according to ADEK. They range from AED 13,800 in KG to AED 20,300 in Grade 8. From Grade 9, the fees are based on curriculum, with UK curriculum fees being AED 24,600 in Grade 9 and AED 27,300 in Grades 10-12. The equivalent for US curriculum is AED 22,800 in Grade 9 and AED 24,600 in Grades 10-12. Additional fees include books (ranging from AED 910 to AED 2,080) dependent on Grade, bus fees of AED 4,500 and uniform costs of AED 250.
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