One of Dubai’s most academically successful schools, Al Salam Private School, expanded for September, 2019 with the Al Salam Community School opening in Al Twar. Like the original Al Salam Private School, students follow the UK National curriculum leading to A Levels. The original school's academic reputation means that the new school is permitted to open right through from FS1 to Year 13 from the outset by the KHDA.
One of Dubai’s longest established private schools opened its second campus in September, 2019 and is growing its brand of high quality, accessible education. Al Salam Private School has a long and established history of serving families in Dubai and has operated for almost three decades. The family-run school offers a quality education at an affordable price at its existing campus and has formed a unique partnership with Bin Haidar Education, a subsidiary of the Mohamed Omar Bin Haidar Group (MOBH) to build a second campus at Al Twar.
Al Salam Private School - now renamed Al Salam Primary School - has reverted to a Primary only campus, with a capacity for 1,100 students. There is already a waiting list at the expanded school which has also benefited from the opening of the new school through improved facilities - find out more here.
Al Salam Private School and Nursery began in 1985 as a small Nursery in Deira. It was opened by Mr Magdy Gharib and Mrs Sue Johnston and grew progressively to meet the needs, challenges and demands of local children, including their own as they attended the school. The school has always been noted for its family nature and Mrs Johnston has led the school as owner and Headmistress from its inception until 2017 when she left her role as Principal to focus on the expansion plans. She and her sons continue to be fully committed and involved with the operation and leadership of the school where inclusivity, academic and personal excellence as well as family and spiritual values are deeply embedded.
Al Salam operated in the historic communities of Dubai: Al Rigga, moving to Al Muteena and later Hor Al Anz, before relocating to its current site in Al Nahda 2. The original school has consistently been at the top of Dubai’s academic results and the high academic performance of its students has always been a distinguishing feature of the existing school which the owners intend to embed in the new campus.
The Founder, Mrs Sue Johnston, named as one of WhichSchoolAdvisor's UAE Education Influencers in 2015, commented on the expansion plans that "People have been asking us to open a second school for over ten years, as we’ve always lived by our motto “The best for every child” and we’re delighted that we’re now able to do this through our partnership with Bin Haider Education." Bin Haidar Education is investing in the school building and has formed a long term agreement to be Al Salam’s property partner. The Group has a long-term vision to invest in education and see Al Salam Community School as the ideal partner with whom to align its values.
The new school's ethos is SAFE – HAPPY – ACHIEVE
Al Salam Community School was initially led by the former Principal of the original Al Salam Private School, Mr. Kausor Amin-Ali, who joined the school in 2017, taking over the Principal's role from Mrs. Johnston. However, within a year, Mr Amin-Ali had left the school and as at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year, the third Principal to join the school in its third year of operation has been revealed as Mr. Kifaya Khan.
Mr. Khan is a qualified British Headteacher with over 20 years experience, whose most recent position was as Principal at Rashid School for Boys in Dubai. Originally from London, Mr. Khan originally qualified with a Bachelors' degree in Computer Engineering and then took a second degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies in Riyadh. Mr. Khan is also an accredited inspector for British Schools Overseas and for AdvancED. His four children will also be joining ASCS.
With the transfer of Secondary students from Al Salam Private School to the new campus, Al Salam Community School opened with close to 800 students. At the time of the school's first KHDA inspection in March 2022 - when it achieved a Good rating, the highest awarded to new schools by the DSIB inspection team - the student cohort had grown to over 1,530! A teaching staff of 47 joined the Secondary section of the new school, including those who have transferred from ASPS with the overall teaching staff now numbering 128, with a further 32 teaching assistants.
Whilst the highest nationality group for students is Pakistani, the majority of teachers are British. Again, true to its history, ASCS is a truly international school with students from Singapore, Vietnam, South Africa, Bulgaria as well as multiple Arabic and western nations among its cohort. There are also 226 Emirati students at ASCS.
The teacher:student ratio is 1:12, a relatively low figure for an affordable school. If there is a concern, at first sight, it would appear that staff turnover is significant at 40%. However, this figure does not take into account the growth in staff numbers since the school opened.
A key offering of the original school, long before it was a requirement in Dubai schools, was to provide access and support to Al Salam's high quality education to students of Determination. Al Salam Community School has clearly adopted the same inclusive approach with 117 students of Determination registered at the time of the inspection.
The inspection team found that "provision to successfully meet the needs and aspirations of more vulnerable students, including students of determination is robust. However, provision for students who are gifted and/or talented remains at an early stage of development."
The inspectors found that the provision and outcomes for Students of Determination was Good, noting that "School leaders are committed to inclusion and a well-qualified governor for inclusion is involved in both the strategic and operational aspects of the inclusive education provision. Early and accurate identification of need through observation results in the establishment of well-planned support. There is an early alert system to identify students with additional needs. Led by a team of inclusion staff, teaching interventions are in place and students of determination benefit from some individualised programmes of work."
What about the curriculum?
Al Salam Community School follows the English National Curriculum, provided through the Cambridge International Curriculum, and the required subjects following the Ministry of Education curricula. It aims to offer a particular focus on the Arts.
In the Foundation Stage, the school follows the National Curriculum for England Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). High value is placed on literacy and numeracy within the early years. The prime areas of focus are Personal, Social and Emotional Development, Communication and Language, and Physical Development. The curriculum covers Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World, and Expressive Arts and Design. Arabic is introduced for all students in FS1 and continued in FS2. Islamic Education is also provided in the early years for muslim children.
In the Primary school, students continue to develop their knowledge and skills across the broader English National curriculum. However, learning is not limited to facts but to the practical abilities and thinking skills required for the 21st Century. Lessons involve both group work and individual work, supported by stimulating resources, and experiential learning - learning through doing - as the starting point for all learning. There is an emphasis on subject knowledge, but with attention given to questioning techniques, in order to mix higher level complex questions with more straightforward concepts. Students receive constructive feedback from staff which is detailed, individual and shows clearly how to improve or extend their learning.
The school has adopted Google technology and Chrome hardware, software and Applications. Staff coordinate and check online resources so that technology use is safe. The school states that "the preferred mode for students is for them to be active and constructive authors and contributors rather than passive recipients of online content." Coding is available in the curriculum from Key Stage 2 (Years 3 to 6) and in after-school clubs. Students learn to use editing tools, design tools and robotics.
As students in the Secondary school start to work towards their International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) in Years 10 and 11 through either the Cambridge or Edexcel International Examination Boards, so the focus changes in terms of the skills and abilities students are expected to develop. Core subjects include English, English Literature, Mathematics, General Science (from Year 7 - Biology, Chemistry & Physics are taught separately), History, Geography, Social Studies and Applied ICT. In addition, the school offers Arabic as a first or second language, Religion, French, Music, Sports and Art.
In addition to the core English, Mathematics and Science subjects, IGCSE subject options include Accounting, Arabic, Art and Design: Fine Art or Graphic Design, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Enterprise, Environmental Management, French, Geography, Global Perspectives, History, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Physics, Psychology, Sociology, and Travel & Tourism. Previously students at Al Salam Private School had been unhappy with the narrow range of subjects available to them - this is a significant improvement.
International AS subjects include Accounting, Applied ICT, Arabic, Biology, Business, Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, English Language, English Literature, French, History, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, and Travel and Tourism. Students will usually select three or four AS subjects which will then be carried through to A Level.
But academic success alone is not sufficient. Much effort is focused on the development of independent learning skills, the ability to tackle open-ended challenges, and the development of innovative approaches to learning and problem-solving. Students are expected to contribute as digital authors, using mixed media presentation and audio and video editing tools, to build their own ‘digital essays’ on issues of the day. They are invited to participate in competitions and team challenges, and to take part in activities they nominate themselves to improve the school site and operations. They will undertake team, leadership, outdoor challenge and entrepreneurial activities in every year group and participate in global communications and exchanges which bring them into contact with global diversity.
Provision for students of Determination has also been included. ASCS offers the ASDAN programme from the UK, which focuses on providing life skills and giving students opportunities to succeed with practical activities;
ASDAN is an education charity and awarding organisation whose courses foster personal, social and work-related skills. ASDAN programmes are widely recognised by educators for providing an engaging curriculum that empowers students through personalised learning and choice. Courses are designed to motivate and enhance learners' confidence, self-esteem and resilience. In addition, learners develop core skills in teamwork, communication, problem solving, research and self-management. The programmes are designed for young people and adults aged seven to 19 and over and currently, for example, one ASCS student is involved with day to day office work and preparing and serving breakfast to staff.
What about academic achievement?
Given that the majority of Secondary students (and staff - including the leadership) transferred from Al Salam Private School - this school having reverted to Primary only from September 2019 - it is entirely appropriate to consider the past academic record of the original school.
Historically, the results at Al Salam Private School have been consistently high with IGCSE results of A*-C averaging 99.6% from 2009 to 2016 inclusive, compared to a UK average of 68.5%. A*-A grades have averaged 69.2% over the same time period; compared to a UK average of 21.5%.
The school has also been at the forefront of international test results such as Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and in the Grade 8 results in 2015, came second in the UAE with an impressive 600 for Maths and 620 for Science. This achievement underlines the school's focus on academic achievement at an affordable price, with the average fees being significantly lower than the other schools in the top 5.
ASCS provided limited information about its A Level and GCSE results for 2021, with no details of the number of students in each cohort or the number of examinations for which they were entered. We do know that 75% of A Level entries were awarded A*-A grades and 94% A*-B. As with 2020, all results were based on Teacher Assessed Grades as no examinations took place due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
The school also revealed that at AS Level, 67% of grades were awarded at A*-A and 79% at A*-B. For IGCSE, 40% of grades were awarded at A* (9-8), 56% at A*-A (9-7), and 73* at A*-B (9-6). No details of the number of students, exam entries or the overall pass rate from A*-C were provided.
Students who are able to, go on to universities in Canada, the UK and Germany. The University of Sharjah is also a popular option for students who prefer a more local choice.
What about the facilities?
The new campus has excellent facilities that enable the school to provide a modern and international education. Facilities include over 70 large, well resourced classrooms including FS and Year 1 classrooms which each have direct outdoor play area access. There are also several outdoor breakout spaces for Primary and Secondary. Specialist facilities include seven Science labs as well as labs for technology, Art, media and design and a large 1,000 square metre multipurpose hall with provision for performing arts and sports. The facilities are designed to provide a better quality of learning - particularly in terms of the outdoor space, and specialist classrooms which now include a huge Music Room, and a Double-sized Art Room.
Outdoor space includes external play spaces of more than 4,000 sqm with separate areas for FS, Primary and Secondary. Sports facilities include a six lane, 25m swimming pool with appropriate covering to ensure privacy for girls, and large outdoor and indoor playing fields catering to a diverse range of sports. The building has been designed to be accessible for people of determination
The school features a UAE Heritage Centre. The Al Salam team is determined to build on their world class achievements, and supplement their curriculum innovations, with modern and accessible facilities.
What the inspectors say
One of the most interesting questions on the opening of ASCS was how its performance would compare with the original school. ASPS had been rated Good by the KHDA inspection teams for the previous nine years, with the last report being issued for 2019-20 - just ahead of the Covid 19 pandemic.
Although originally due for its first inspection in the year of opening, the Covid 19 pandemic meant that the first inspection of Al Salam Community School took place in March 2022, when the school was awarded a Good rating.
Student achievement was found to be largely Good in terms of progress in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, but Acceptable in the FS and Primary sections, though stronger in the Secondary and Sixth Form. Perhaps surprisingly, Arabic and Islamic Studies were largely rated Acceptable. In line with the overall rating, the two key performance standards of Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum - at the heart of student achievement - were also rated Good.
The absolute strengths of the school are clearly the Personal and Social Development and Innovation skills of students, and the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support, both of which were rated Very Good across the school. Leadership and Management was largely rated Good, with the Management, staffing, facilities and resources rated Very Good.
In terms of the school's strengths, the DSIB inspectors identified these as:
In terms of areas for improvement, the inspection team's main focus was on raising teaching standards, and therefore students' progress and attainment.
They recommended that Al Salam Community School should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Feedback from parents at Al Salam Community School to WhichSchoolAdvisor's Parent Survey has been relatively limited, though most respondents were fairly positive.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Al Salam Community School and would like to share your experiences with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our Survey.
Whilst it is still relatively early days for ASCS - compared at least with the original Al Salam School - and typically of school openings in Dubai, there was a delay of approximately 6 weeks to the opening of the new campus - the general buzz around the school seems to be positive.
According to the school, parents were understanding about the delay and supportive, with Parent Orientation and Curriculum events being completely full. They are now extremely interactive and involved with training sessions. Parents are keen to be involved in their children's education. The culture of parents has changed with many opting for true value for money schools, moving from premium schools and travelling from beyond the local areas, such as Arabian Ranches and Dubai Sports City.
There was no KHDA pre-inspection survey for Al Salam Community School, but feedback within the inspection report notes that "Governors are dedicated to fulfilling the promises to parents and have made difficult decisions to establish strong, stable leadership to take the school forward, as we emerge from the pandemic. Leaders are increasingly successful in engaging most parents and in considering their views and concerns when shaping the vision of the school. As the school emerges from the pandemic, the school community, including students, makes increasingly sustained and impactful social contributions to the local and regional communities."
This is a very open statement in relation to the changes of leadership that have occurred since the school opened, and which, in terms of the inspection result, appear to have been validated.
The inspection team comments: "Parents have chosen this school for their children because they are invested in the strong vision and community mission of the governing board and the leaders of the school."
There is no doubt that ASCS is a school that has built upon the legacy of the original Al Salam Private School, a much loved and highly regarded school which was, and remains, a community school in all but name. It seems that much of the aims and ethos of ASPS have transferred successfully to ASCS and we expect that it will continue to build on that legacy.
The expansion of Al Salam’s brand of education is a significant achievement for the sector in Dubai, as no other stand-alone school, with an average of fee of AED 23,000 has expanded to open a second campus in the past five years.
What about fees?
Fees for Al Salam Community School are significantly higher than those of ASPS, which, given the new campus and its facilities, and the extension of subjects, is not surprising. None the less, they are considerably lower than many other UK curriculum schools. Fees start at AED 22,000 in the Foundation Stage, rising to AED 29,000 in Year 6. Secondary School fees commence at AED 32,500 rising to AED 38,000 in Year 13.
Students who transferred from ASPS to ASCS in 2019-20 were offered reduced fees which were in line with those of the original school.
ASCS charges an Assessment fee of AED 500 once an application has been made, and a fee of AED 1,000 on offer of a place, which must be paid within one week.
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