Al Salam Private School is a long-established and popular school, located in Al Nahda, Dubai. Until 2019, It provided a UK curriculum education for both girls and boys, from ages 3 to 18. Upon the opening of its sister school, Al Salam Community School in September 2019, the original school has reverted to Primary only.
The story so far...
Founded in 1988, Al Salam Private School is one of the oldest UK curriculum schools in Dubai. Originally opened as a nursery in 1985, the school followed shortly thereafter in a group of private villas and relocated to its current purpose-built site in the Al Nahda area, in 2002. It is accessible to families from both the traditional Deira area of the city, but also to students travelling from Sharjah and further afield.
After 30 years of development into a through school for students from age 3 to 18 years, September 2019 saw a historic change, with the opening of a sister school - Al Salam Community School - which has taken on the through-school mantel, whilst Al Salam Private School has reverted to its original Primary only status.
Whilst the change of status to Primary only may impact the focus and direction of the school, it does not change the core promise of Al Salam.
The school's vision has not changed, and is "To provide a holistic and inclusive learning environment, where academic and personal excellence is inspired in all, empowering them to become globally responsible life-long learners."
In order to achieve its vision, Al Salam commits itself to: "providing a balanced and student-centred curriculum that caters to individual students and learning styles; stimulating the intellectual, spiritual, emotional and physical development of all members of the school community; promoting a safe, stimulating, caring and compassionate environment; living and propagating the belief that every child is special and has a right to good education; nurturing creativity, courage and perseverance and seek to expand the Al Salam family, enriching the lives of all those involved."
The motto of Al Salam School is “where every child is special”. This is embedded into the ethos of the school and a fundamental belief that the school aims to inculcate in staff and students. "Diversity, tolerance and inclusion underpin the importance of celebrating individuality and a collective sense of purpose." Long before inclusion became an area of focus in mainstream schools and prior to the presentation of the KHDA's Inclusive Education policy in late 2017, Al Salam already followed this mantra.
In 2017, a significant change in personnel took place at Al Salam, with a new principal, Kausor Amin-Ali, arriving to fill the very big shoes that belong to Mrs. Sue Johnston, who had been in the role for 30 years as Founder of the school, making her one of the most enduring school heads in the country (read our article about the changes at Al Salam school here). Parents were pleased to know that Mrs. Johnston was not relinquishing her involvement with the school and remain its CEO. Nb: The record for tenure is currently held by Sister Samira Ayoub Botrus at Al Rashid Al Saleh school (in the position for over 35 years). Both are anomalies in a country where a three to five year tenure is closer to the norm.
With the focus on the development of Al Salam Community School, and the decision to return to a Primary school at Al Salam Private School, it was perhaps inevitable that Mr. Amin-Ali would move to the new school on its opening. He has been replaced by Craig Dyche-Nichols, who has moved from a Principal's position at a Primary school in Dubai to take over the role. Prior to this he was Head of Middle School at a highly-reputed GEMS school also in Dubai. Mr. Dyche-Nichols has been in the UAE for 8 years, moving to the Emirates with his wife who is also a Principal.
Mindful of the impact of the changes on the school, Mr. Dyche-Nichols notes that "Our commitment to ensure every child becomes a ‘lifelong learner’ is never more relevant than in this era of digital advancement, whereby skills and character are to be valued alongside academic achievement and ensuring that students with SEND will be provided with the support, accommodations and curricular modifications required to enable equitable access to educational opportunities. The preparation for future studies, work and making a positive contribution to society underpins all that is Al Salam."
With the change to a Primary School, many of the statistics have also inevitably changed. The 2019-20 KHDA's DSIB inspection which took place in November 2019, barely two months after the re-opening of the school with a new Principal, new Senior Leadership team and 25 staff and over 400 new students, rated the school as Good for the ninth year in a row - a not inconsiderable achievement, given the enormous changes that have taken place.
In the 2019-20 academic year, Al Salam Private School had approximately 1,130 students (compared with the original school's 1,300), of whom just over one in five (10%) were from local, Emirati families. Pakistani as a whole made up the largest group of students. The school employs 76 teachers and 40 teaching assistants (a significant increase in the latter from 27, to support the overall younger ages of students). The majority of staff are Indian nationals - but a truly international group, according to Mr. Dyche-Nichols - and with staff turnover at 9% (compared with a Dubai average of 20-22%), they are clearly committed to their school. A reduced teacher to student ratio of 1:10 means that individual support should be available to students.
Al Salam was one of the first truly inclusive schools in Dubai, and this has clearly not changed, with some 156 students of Determination on the roll for the current academic year.
What about the curriculum?
The school curriculum follows the UK-based Early Years Foundation Stage for 3 to 4 year olds which is a play-based programme that focuses on six key areas of academic, social and physical development.
Students from Year 1 to Year 6 follow the Cambridge International Programme (CIPP), a world-class curriculum which covers English, Maths and Science, and alongside the Ministry of Education (MOE) subjects, this forms the backbone of student learning. The learning experience throughout these years prioritizes the development of students’ moral/ethical responsibility, leadership potential, and independent learning. To ensure a broad and balanced curriculum, subject teaching in Primary includes the Humanities, Computing, Design and Technology, Art, Music, and P.E and Co-curricular subjects.
The programme of study further evolves to include Music, Innovation, and Technology (MIT) and enhances students literacy and critical thinking through a Literacy and Oracy development programme. Students progress into a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy to support the development of 21st-century skills and digital literacy.
Assessment pathways are diverse and value the learning journey and student growth based on individual starting points. The Primary phase culminates with Cambridge Curriculum Checkpoint tests to benchmark the students’ performance as they move into secondary school.
What about Academic achievement
Academically, as a Secondary School, Al Salam has been among the highest achieving schools at IGCSE and AS Level. Since the basis of this success inevitably begins in the Foundation and Primary sections, expectations are that this will be reflected in the results from international bench-marking tests and check-point tests as has historically been the case. The school states that it offers a value-add of 1.5 to 2 points over and above the predicted (baseline) level of development for students based on international entry and on-going assessment.
What about the facilities?
Located at the heart of Dubai, in a busy urban area, the school is built on three floors and is innovative in its use of its space, given the challenges of being located in such an historic and well-developed area of Dubai. Set in 17,000m2, facilities include a recently added multi-purpose gym and a rooftop playground.
With the return to Primary status, the learning environment is in the process of transformation, including classrooms, corridors and outdoor areas. This will enable learning to take place throughout the building, not just in the classroom. the FS and Key Stage One (Years 1 and 2) playground is a very effective outdoor learning provision, with students taking part in a variety of learning experiences, including water play, playing music on the music wall, getting ‘messy’ in the mud kitchen, drawing on the chalk walls and developing their strength and balancing on the climbing apparatus.
We are told that the planning is already at an advanced stage for redeveloping other areas of the school and that some developments have already taken place; this will help facilitate learning and enable every child at Al Salam to have engaging, challenging and fun lessons. There has already been a huge amount of internal structural changes involving the removal of walls to provide additional room sizes and space to breathe. The developments have included a large music room, double-sized art room to allow more space for creativity, and a prayer room and intervention and counselling room on each floor of the building.
What the inspectors say
Al Salam Private School has held a rating of Good from Dubai's education regulator, the KHDA for the past nine years. This is the minimum rating that the KHDA wishes every school in Dubai to achieve.
The most recent inspection took place in November 2019. As mentioned earlier, it is a testament to the skills, dedication and commitment of the new Al Salam Primary team that they were able to achieve the Good rating again this year, given the fact that the Principal, Senior Leadership team, new and existing staff and 400 new students were adapting to their new school barely two months after its opening. This was acknowledged by the DSIB inspection team in their report.
In terms of the six key performance standards which are assessed by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau team, the Foundation and Primary sections of the school achieved predominantly Good ratings for Student Achievement in English, Mathematics and Science (though attainment in English and Mathematics in the Primary section retained their Acceptable rating). Arabic as both a First and Second language were rated largely rated Good, (with the exception of Arabic first language attainment in Primary, now Acceptable), and Islamic Education was rated Acceptable, retaining its rating from last year.
Ratings for the second key performance standard of Personal and Social Development and Innovation Skills were Very Good for both Personal Development and Social responsibility and Innovation Skills, and Outstanding for Students' understanding Islamic Values and of Emirati and World cultures.
Teaching and Assessment were also rated Good across both sections of the Primary school, although the Curriculum design and implementation was rated Good across both section, but Very Good in regard to its adaptation to meet individual students needs. There is clear evidence that the interdependence of teaching and assessment, and the curriculum and its delivery on an individualised basis is at the core of Student Achievement, and these are clearly two areas that will need to improve if Student Achievement is to be raised.
Health and Safety arrangements and the Care and Support of students are rated highly, with the first Outstanding and the second Very Good. The provision and outcomes for Students of Determination also achieve a Very Good rating. The leadership of the school and the relationship with parents and the community are also rated Very Good.
Overall, the KHDA report summarises the strengths of Al Salam Private School as:
The inspectors identified a range of improvements and areas for development which include the recommendations to:
Al Salam Private School now has very clear objectives in terms of where its focus needs to lie in the current academic year. The closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic means that the school had only a relatively short period after the inspection to address these recommendations. It will be interesting to see how far the staff were able to make progress when the next inspection report appears.
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do - you will find it here.
Some 325 students took part in the KHDA's well-being survey in 2019-20. Students are confident that they feel safe at school and have a sense of belonging. They are aware about bullying, but do not express any concerns. A minority of students express concerns generally about health, happiness and/or well-being.
93% of the 173 parents who responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey expressed strong satisfaction with the quality of education, its value for money and that the school listens to their views and teachers help their child to learn. Some comments refer to the overuse of technology to the detriment of their children’s skills in reading and writing. A few mention transportation difficulties but nearly all agree that their child is kept safe at school.
The KHDA report noted that "Parents benefit from educational workshops, which offer strategies for use at home. An active parents’association enthusiastically helps to organise school social and charitable events. Regular newsletters and the use of online portals give parents valuable and timely information about their children’s progress. Reporting is thorough and takes a range of forms."
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received limited response from parents regarding the school. However, those who have responded would overwhelmingly (88%) recommend it to other parents, although interestingly, 63% of respondents had also considered moving their child to another school. Parents are extremely satisfied with the academic achievement. The vast majority of parents also say Al Salam is great value. More here.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Al Salam Private School and would like to share your opinion with other potential members of your community, please take part in our survey here.
What about fees?
Tuition fees at the school are published on the school's Web site. They range from AED 16,700 for FS1 to AED 19,838 for Year 6, which makes the school relatively highly affordable for a school following a UK curriculum.
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