Al Yasmina School, located off the island of Abu Dhabi, close to the airport, offers a British curriculum for students from three to eighteen years old, and has a capacity for 2000 students, and is currently at full capacity.
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. Al Yasmina was 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 previous ADEK inspection which took place in November 2015. Al Yasmina is one of two schools (the other being The Pearl Academy) that were not inspected as scheduled in 2017-18, due to their "sustained high performance over three consecutive inspections". In fact, although originally expected to take place in 2018-19, the most recent inspection did not take place until the 2019-20 academic year.
Clearly, ADEK's trust in Al Yasmina in terms of it maintaining its high standards was well placed - the school has been rated Outstanding - the highest possible rating.
Al Yasmina Academy continues to grow with just under 1,200 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 swapped ranking with some 41% (compared with 30% at the previous inspection) from the UAE and 13% British (previously 23%). The next largest nationality groups are from Egypt and Jordan (each with a mere 5%).
Teachers are predominantly from the UK and their 160 number means that the teacher student ratio within the school is approximately 1:13. There are also an additional 55 teaching assistants. 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. A staff turnover rate of 12% is at the lower end of the scale for international schools in the UAE, where the average is around 22% each year. A low staff turnover is generally a good sign - suggesting a committed and happy team.
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 6% 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 using internal and international tests which are subsequently used to inform students' progress and attainment. 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.
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."
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".
In 2018-19, Aldar Academies chose to provide a joint statement of A Level results for Al Ain Academy and Al Yasmina Academy. A total of 55 students from both schools participated in the A Level examinations, and Aldar Academies claimed outstanding results for them. All examinations were graded in the bands A*- E, therefore providing a 100% pass rate. At Al Yasmina Academy (which, as the longer-running Secondary school, we would expect to have the majority of students), 44% of exam entries scored A*, A or B.
IGCSE results were also positive. 88% of students were awarded 9-4/A*-C grades at five or more subjects including English and Maths. The academy recorded an impressive 46% of 9-7 grades among all exams sat by its IGCSE students, while 85 per cent of total entries earned 9-4 grades. The academy also recorded strong achievements in the core subjects of English and Maths with 99% and 96% achieving grades of 9-4 respectively as well as a 100 per cent pass rate overall. 85 per cent of Al Yasmina Academy’s UAE cohort achieved at least one top grade between 9 and 7.
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 was retained until the latest inspection, and the school had a clearly stated its 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." Al Yasmina Academy has done exactly as set out, having achieved the Outstanding rating in November 2019.
According to ADEK's inspection team, the Academy's strengths are the outstanding progress made by most students, in particular the achievement of students in English and the sciences; students’ personal and social development, their relationships with their peers and teachers and their attitudes to learning; the very effective use of comprehensive and rigorous assessment processes which drive improvement throughout the school; the expertly planned and delivered curriculum which meets the needs of all groups of students; the protection, care, guidance and support of students, and the leadership at all levels of the school.
So impressed was the inspection team that it awarded the Outstanding rating across all six key performance measures. Almost every indicator across the core English-based subjects of English, Mathematics and Science are rated Outstanding across the school. In the Arabic-based subjects, almost all indicators are rated Good or Very Good, though there is still work to do with regard to Arabic as the first language, which is largely rated Acceptable for attainment.
Arabic provision remains singled out as requiring further enhancement, although the school has recruited heavily to strengthen its Arabic language capabilities. In addition, the inspectors called for the development of a wider range of analytical skills at A Level, noting that students' innovation, use of technology and analytical skills "are inconsistent across all the subjects".
If you would like to read the full ADEK inspection report - and we strongly advise that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Feedback from parents, students and teaching staff is predominately positive. This is undoubtedly a well run, caring, and well performing school. The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com School Survey indicates a largely positive opinions from parents who felt that their children have a strong sense of belonging, and considerably enjoy going to school. Parents are largely confident that their children's learning needs are met, and are satisfied with feedback from, and the academic performance of, the school. Almost nine out of ten parents would recommend Al Yasmina to other parents. The only 'niggle' seems to be in relation to the fees - with 20% disagreeing that the fees represent value for money.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Al Yasmina Academy and would like to share your experiences with other potential members of your community, please complete our Survey here.
What about the fees?
Fees are at the very top end for the capital, ranging from AED 44,390 (FS1) to AED 61,150 (Year 13) according to information on the school's web site and are paid in three equal installments (2019/20 fees). The fees are premium, but on a par with other high performing schools in Abu Dhabi.
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