Al Yasmina School, located in Abu Dhabi, offers a British curriculum for students from three to eighteen years old, and has a capacity for 2000 students, but is currently attended by approximately 1,800 students.
The story so far
Al Yasmina Academy was the second school to be opened by Aldar Academies, and was founded in 2008, after the launch of Pearl Primary, another highly regarded school in the capital. The Academy says that although it regularly receives applicants from other Aldar schools - The Pearl and Al Muna, "these are not feeder schools as they are located within the city". The vast majority of students at Al Yasmina continue from primary into secondary.
Aldar Properties, owner of the Academies, is better known as one of the biggest construction and property management companies in Abu Dhabi, but it also manages one of the most highly regarded primary schools in the capital, Pearl Academy.
Al Yasmina itself is held to be one of the best British curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi, competing with, but often second choice to the more established British School for those wanting their children to follow a GCSE and then A' Level path.The school regularly does well in WhichSchoolAdvisor.com surveys. In the 2018 School Survey, 85 percent of parents said they would recommend the school to other parents.
The school is a member of the British Schools of the Middle East by whom it was inspected in February 2014. It was rated as being "Well above the required standard" in all areas of the inspection. That made Al Yasmina the first school in the UAE to be rated "Well above the required standard" in all areas of the inspection, the only all-through school in Middle East to be rated as such, and only the third school of all those inspected to achieve this rating. However, it is not accredited with either the Council of International Schools (CIS) nor with British Schools Overseas (BSO), which is affiliated to the UK Department of Education and carries out inspections every three years based on UK OFSTED standards.
The Academy was rated Very Good with Outstanding features during the last ADEK inspection which took place in November 2015. Al Yasmina is one of two schools (the other being Pearl Academy) that were not inspected as scheduled in 2017-18, due to their "sustained high performance over three consecutive inspections".
Al Yasmina Academy continues to grow with over 1,000 students in the Primary School and a further 800 in Secondary. No one demographic group dominates with students representing over 80 nationalities (one of the most diverse populations for a school in the UAE). The two most sizable populations have recently swapped ranking - 30% are from the UAE (previously 21%) and 23% are British (previously 27%) and next largest nationality groups are from the US and Australia (although each with a mere 5%).
Teachers are predominantly from the UK and their 170+ numbers mean that the teacher student ratio within the school is approximately 1:11. There has been significant growth in teacher numbers in recent years to allow for a greater focus on Arabic and "to ensure we have an Arabic department that can cater for the needs of all students". The school has also added additional exam boards, is therefore able to deliver more subjects, requiring an increase in staff numbers to deliver them.
Class sizes average 25 children, with two teaching assistants in each FS1 class, one teaching assistant from FS2 to Year 2, and five teaching assistants shared each across years 3 and 4, and 5 and 6. In Secondary school, class numbers reduce significantly as students choose their GCSE and A Level options, with many not having more than 15 students.
All children are allocated to houses: Endeavor (Green), Voyager (Red), Challenger (Yellow) and Discovery (Blue). These houses apply to both the secondary and primary school. Two house captains are chosen from Year 6 for head of the primary houses and two are chosen from the secondary school to be the captains of the secondary houses.
What about the curriculum?
The Primary School at Al Yasmina is divided into 3 sections - the Early Years Foundation Stage (FS1 and 2), Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2) and Key Stage 2 (Years 3, 4, 5 and 6). The curriculum is based upon the National Curriculum of England and Wales but is modified to reflect the society and culture of the United Arab Emirates.
Students begin their secondary school years in Key Stage 3 (Years 7, 8 and 9), following the National Curriculum of England and Wales, and then move into Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11). During KS4 students sit GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) external examinations. The IGCSE or GCSE is not a choice - the school offers the UK or international versions of the qualification depending on the subject.
There are currently 24 subject option choices to year 10/11 students.
Post‐16 students do GCE Advanced (A) Level study. Al Yasmina offers the following as AS/A' Levels for those choosing to stay on: Arabic, Art &Design, Maths, Further Maths, English Language, English Literature, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, French, Spanish, History, Geography, DT Product Design, Computer Science, ICT, Business Studies, Economics, Music, Drama, Physical Education, Psychology, Sociology, Photography and Media Studies. The above Post-16 subjects are offered in addition to MoE Arabic and Islamic Studies. Students are able to participate in the EPQ (the Extended Project Qualification which is an individual subject dissertation equivalent to 50% of an A Level in terms of UCAS points).
There is also a strong emphasis on Community Service throughout the school, both within the UAE and overseas. The Academy works with the local community to help with fundraising events that support the Red Crescent, as well as hosting the fundraising and the school believes it is also essential that the students understand why they are raising money for a cause. Students are aware of global issues, such as clean water, sustainability, and the support for refugees.
As well as helping to support the local community, post-16 students have the opportunity to go and support overseas with the World Challenge. This involves going to countries where poverty is very real and helping support the local communities, through housing projects. Al Yasmina has done this in both Uganda and Borneo and intends to continue its support for these communities in the future.
The school has identified 10% of students as needing additional support. The majority of those affected have dyslexia, moderate learning needs or speech and language difficulties. The school does not use standardised tests for entry as it is non‐selective; it conducts baseline assessments. Students who have been identified as gifted and talented are supported both directly within the school and also in coordination with the Academy of Excellence which operates across all Aldar Academies and is aimed at developing the gifts and talents of exceptional students from Year 5 to Year 13. The four most-able students across the group can receive a tuition fee grant to cover their first year at university.
The school has two designated SEN departments that support children who have learning difficulties or are gifted and talented. There is also clear differentiation within each class and Al Yasmina has the option for streaming by sets in both the secondary school and upper primary to ensure all children are being targeted at the correct level. The general cost of SEN provision is incorporated in the school fees. "In some rare instances if we can’t meet the needs of a pupil we may ask for additional staff to be brought in. This cost is split equally between the parents and the school." EAL Teachers are in place to support students who need language support.
What about the Facilities?
The school's building and facilities are modern, up to date and impressive having been built recently, by Aldar, who know a thing or two about construction. Set on a very large site, the school appears to be one substantial building from the exterior, but inside, it is split clearly between the two sections of the school. To the rear and side of the school are substantial outdoor sports facilities, including two astroturf playing fields, a 25m swimming pool and a learner pool, two junior halls (including one for Girls only), a gymnasium and activity studio.
In addition to the usual range of Science and Technology labs and Computer suites, Design Technology facilities include provision for Food Technology, Resistant Materials and Electronics. An emphasis on STEAM means that state-of-the-art 3D technology has been incorporated, including 3D projectors, green screens, SMART Whiteboards in every classroom, Virtual Reality headsets and Augmented Reality applications.
Creative Arts facilities include several spacious Art studios, a range of Musical facilities including practice and recital rooms, a Drama studio and Auditorium.
Read more about the school and its facilities in our Experience Visit.
Some parents grumble that while facilities are impressive, they do not get the use they could. The school claims many extracurricular clubs - offering "activities ranging from drama and musical productions to sport, Spanish lessons and revision groups".
The school has a sports calendar on its web site, and clearly intra school competitions are important. During the school term there are multiple fixtures for cricket, football, equestrian, sailing... The school year runs from September to June and is divided into 3 terms. The main school holidays are winter break (mid-December to early January), spring break (late March to mid-April) and summer break (late June to early September).
What about Academic Achievement?
Whilst Aldar Academies do not publish full details of their IGCSE and A Level results to the level of detail that would be the norm in the UK, they do at least make key data available.The school has an annual publication for its results, which can be found on its website. Results are impressive.
At IGCSE in 2015/16, 82% achieved five A* to C grades including Maths and English and 86% in any subject - compared to a UK average of 58.6%. One out of two students achieved five A* to A grades. In 2017/18, students achieved a 100 percent pass rate in their IGCSE results and surpassed the UK average for five A* to C grades (considered the benchmark results for students wishing to progress to A-Level) with 87% achieving 5 or more A* to C grades, 32% of those earning 5 or more A* to A grades.
Note: The school has a "value added" grade of 1053 which would put it in the top 5% of UK schools. Value added measures the improvement in students from the date of entry, and is a means to analyse the contribution of a school, over and above natural student ability.
Al Yasmina also reports its A' Level results. In 2016, 94% of students who sat 3 or more A Levels recorded at least 3 A* - E grades and 48% of students who sat 2 or more A Levels achieved 2 A*- B grades. For A levels in 2017, the school noted that nine students achieved all A* to A grades, while "68 percent of students achieved one or more A* to B grades". Unfortunately, the school does not provide details of the number of students involved - we know that this was 33 students in 2014, but assume that the Sixth Form cohort has grown significantly since this time.
In 2017/18, Al Yasmina Academy students achieved an unbeaten 100 percent pass rate in their A-level exams, with 34% of students achieving 3+ A*-A grades. According to Al Yasmina, "Overall, the academy's entire cohort of students performed strongly in the subjects of Mathematics, Further Mathematics and the Sciences, with the vast majority achieving an A*- C grade. This reflects the institution’s strong focus on the STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) as it strives to deliver a highly relevant education".
To help students transition to university, all students receive mentors. The school has a careers advisor to support students, and hosts several university open evenings. The school also provides help with writing personal statements, online applications SAT’s, IELTS, COPA and all other international tests for students.
What the inspectors say
The school was ranked as a Very Good school with Outstanding features by the Abu Dhabi education authority (2105/16 inspection). This rating has been retained for the most recent inspections, but the school has a clearly stated ambition to be ranked Outstanding by 2019 according to its Whole Academy Intentions for 2015-19, stating its intent to be "an ADEK Outstanding school and a BSME accredited school."
The Academy's strengths are passionate beliefs, high expectations and a clarity of shared vision of its leaders that results in a "relentless pursuit of excellence"; students’ very high quality personal skills, a positive ethos that supports a harmonious community in which students flourish, are very happy and enjoy school; the wealth and quality of opportunities that enrich learning beyond the formal curriculum; the high level of attainment and progress in subjects taught in English in comparison with best international standards.
Only Arabic provision is singled out as requiring further enhancement, although the school has recently recruited heavily to strengthen its Arabic language capabilities.
The teaching staff are reported to be highly experienced with appropriate qualifications in the British education system, as are said to have a track record in proving their delivery of high quality education.
Feedback from parents, students and teaching staff is predominately highly positive. This is undoubtedly a well run, caring, and well performing school.
More importantly this is a school that according to its ADEC Irtiqaa report has not only improved considerably since its first report in 2010, but started off well, and is still getting better. Students enter below the UK expectation level, but by the end of reception exceed those levels "in all areas" - reflecting the "Value Added" rating of the school. Students continue to make advancements as they proceed through the school according to the report.
The school itself says it makes a real effort to ensure its students "have a broad and balanced curriculum and not only get the qualifications that they need, but also get life skills that will guide them throughout their lives... The amount of extra-curricular activities offered is truly outstanding and there is a determined attitude by all that that every single child here matters. This is why we create lifelong learners who will go on to make a difference in the world."
Fees are at the very top end for the capital, ranging from AED 41,580 (FS1) to AED 57,330 (Year 13) according to information on the school's web site and are paid in three equal installments (2017/18 fees). There is also a registration fee of AED 2000. The fees are premium, but on a par with other high performing schools in Abu Dhabi. Yasmina also offers a paid bus service, which costs AED 5,841 per year. The cost is the same for both one-way and two-way travel.
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