Al Shoruq Private School, located close to the al Wasl road in Jumeirah, Dubai, is home to just over 2,100 students, almost one in four of which come from local, Emirati families and the remainder from other Arab national families. The school teaches from three to 18 years of age and follows the UAE Ministry of Education's curriculum.
Al Shoruq (Sunrise) Private School (also spelt Al Shurooq according to the KHDA) was established in 1986 in the Jumeirah area of Dubai and offers the Ministry of Education curriculum from Kindergarten to 12th Grade. The school is located on a modern campus in the heart of Jumeirah 1, to which it relocated some 10 years ago. Students are separated by gender from Grade 5 onwards.
The school’s Vision is to "Provide an attractive and intelligent learning environment for the development of an active generation capable of acquiring knowledge and skills independently."
In the 2016-17 KHDA inspections, the school was rated Acceptable for the 8th year in a row. This is the absolute minimum rating expected by the KHDA with the goal being that all schools should be rated at least Good. However, in the light of internal developments at Al Shoruq School, this was potentially something of an achievement.
The school has clearly been through turbulent times; the current principal had been in post for 14 days at the start of the inspection in February 2017, and was the third Principal to have taken up the post in the 2016-17 academic year. The Inspectors noted that “School leaders have maintained adequate school performance throughout a turbulent year, which saw three principals in post, some for a very short time. They have improved some aspects of the school such as the development of an innovative and creative curriculum. They have ensured that the school complies with statutory and regulatory requirements”.
It seems that parents may also been aware of the less than stable situation, with student numbers having decreased by 3 per cent since the previous year, although 515 new students were admitted. Student numbers at the time of the inspection were 2116, an overall reduction of 64 on the previous year, but a real reduction (if the 515 newcomers are excluded) of almost 580 students (some 25%+).
Staff turnover, prior to the start of the academic year, was an even more astounding 48% - almost half of the teaching staff at the school. The school employs close to 150 staff who are mainly from Jordan. It may well be that the on-going maintenance of the status quo, in terms of the Acceptable rating, needed to be “shaken up”, but a turnover of this amount among both staff and students suggests some significant issues. However, based on the Inspection report, where teachers were deemed to be well-qualified, it seems that there were other issues at play, rather than a deliberate “loss” of less capable staff.
Having said this, previous inspection reports identified a number of strengths at the school. In particular, they praised the progress made by students in Islamic education, especially in the lower grade levels, and students’ understanding of Islamic values. All students showed at least a good level of personal development and their understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures were good in Primary and Middle school and Very Good in the KG and High School.Given that the students at the school are overwhelmingly Arabic and just over one-quarter Emirati, this was perhaps to be expected.
Students’ responsibility towards the community and the environment was found to be Good and Very Good in High school.In addition, students consistently demonstrated very good personal and social development, and their behaviour and attitudes had been mostly positive. Students’ attitudes to learning were found to be positive. Their engagement with their teachers and with one another was characterised by mutual respect and courtesy.
Across all sections, students demonstrated increasing independence and responsibility. They considered feedback from their teachers and peers as an opportunity to improve their work and displayed a high level of self-discipline and positive student behaviour, particularly in the High school. Students conscientiously respected the school’s behaviour rules and policies with only occasional intervention from adults. Based on feedback from students and parents, there were very few incidents of bullying.
Students also exhibited a desire to support one another and provide help for those who needed it both within and beyond the school. They treated students with Special Educational Needs (SEND) appropriately and did their best to support them in their learning. Students from different nationalities and backgrounds interacted positively with each other and valued each other's differences.
However, these strengths, in relation to personal and social behaviour and development, were counter-balanced by the inspectors against some significant concerns about the quality of education being delivered at the school, notably in relation to assessment processes and their use and impact on improving the quality of teaching. Improving students’ attainment and progress has been a recurring recommendation, particularly in Primary (cycle 1), where the needs of students have not been adequately met. The continuity of curriculum delivery has also been an area of consistent concern.
In the Kindergarten (KG), attainment and progress were rated acceptable in Mathematics and Science. In English, Arabic and Islamic education progress was good. Throughout the school, attainment and progress were at least acceptable in Islamic education, Arabic, English, Mathematics and Science. In the High School (cycle 3) attainment and progress were deemed to be at least Good in Mathematics and Islamic education (although progress for KG and Primary had been downgraded to Good from Very Good). Learning skills were acceptable in the KG and Primary, and Good in the Middle and High School sections.
The main areas of concern expressed by the inspectors in previous reports, in relation to the quality of teaching and assessment, were adjudged Acceptable for the most part, and teaching in the High school deemed to be Good. Teaching and assessment practices had enabled students to make acceptable or better progress in the core subjects. Fundamentally, though, there had been no evidence of significant improvement across the school, with the vast majority of ratings remaining as in previous years. No measures were deemed to have improved sufficiently to have rated an upgrade, whilst several had been down-graded.
The inspection noted the need to improve assessment processes by obtaining valid and reliable internal and external data on students’ performance, analysing assessment information to monitor progress for individuals and groups of students and using this information to influence teaching and curriculum review. There is also a requirement to establish effective systems to enable students to track their own progress through self-assessment and constructive teacher feedback.
Students’ attainment and progress in the key subjects also needs to be improved by establishing effective monitoring of teaching that focuses on students’ outcomes and investing in structured teacher professional development that is linked to effective performance management.
Curriculum design, implementation, and adaptation were rated Acceptable in all phases. In KG this was a downgrade from Good in the previous inspection, because the curriculum did not provide children with sufficient choices to meet their needs. The school is focusing on increasing enquiry in lessons and improving teachers’ questioning techniques. Students get opportunities for critical thinking and independent work. In some lessons, questioning checks both knowledge and reasoning, but this was not a consistent feature in all lessons.
The report also focused on two key areas of the Vision 2020 and the National Agenda in relation to comparing student achievement against international benchmarking tests (TIMSS and PISA) and the opportunities for innovation within the school.
Of concern to the inspectors were their findings that students were not aware of what international tests mean to them in terms of their achievements and how they are compared to international expectations. External benchmarking was found to be not well-developed or embedded into the assessment framework of the school.
The school is in the early stages of analysing internal assessment data (CAT 4). It has adjusted the curriculum following a gap analysis of TIMSS and PISA 2012 results, particularly in Mathematics and Science and now uses new textbooks which align better with TIMSS and PISA requirements. The school also schedules enrichment sessions to provide opportunities for students to practice TIMSS-type questions.
In relation to opportunities to innovate, the inspection found that students follow curriculum programmes in Design, Technology, Innovation and Creativity. They use technologies in a dedicated room, which contains equipment for Robotics and computer-aided design. Grade 11 girls demonstrated innovation in constructing solar panels outside their classroom, which provide power for lighting inside the room.
Teachers have introduced elements of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum to promote an integrated approach to the key skills of prediction, experimentation, data analysis and drawing conclusions. However, School leaders do not have a school-wide vision to promote a culture of innovation – a fundamental requirement if all students throughout the school are to develop their skills in this regard.
Students' skills of research, analysis and evaluation were also found to be not fully developed. Overall, as a result of the concerns related to internal and external assessment, innovation and students’ critical thinking skills, the inspectors believed that the school’s ability to achieve the National Agenda targets “is not secure”.
In light of these issues, leadership and the school’s self-evaluation were deemed Acceptable – a downgrade from Good in relation to Leadership. The inspectors noted that the key responsibilities of leadership need to be refocused by Governors through detailing, documenting, and communicating clear lines of accountability and ensuring that all leaders concentrate on students’ academic progress, as well as their personal and social development. Whilst links with parents and the community are good, the school needs to include systematic processes for gathering feedback from parents, teachers and students to inform decision-making.
Health and safety was also downgraded to Acceptable from Good. The quality of support provided for students was Good across the school and students are kept safe on school premises and school transport. However, the inspectors noted a need to improve health and safety procedures in the school. "Visitors do not wear identification badges and there is no procedure for signing in and out. The parents’ drop-off and pick-up area is not safe. The process for fire drills is insufficiently embedded in the life of the school".
It is clear that Al Shoruq School has some considerable progress to make if it is to move out of the Acceptable band that it has been rated for the past 8 years. The latest KHDA inspection suggests that there are capable teachers who need support in relation to their professional development and skills, and enthusiastic students who deserve a higher standard of assessment and teaching to enable them to flourish, not only personally, but academically.
Given the turmoil at the top in the first part of 2016/17, it is to be hoped that the next KHDA inspection report will have a more positive story to tell and a more stable environment for all associated with the school.
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