WSA Experience Visit November 2019
Our first visit to Alpha School took place in November 2019. The school is hidden away in a quiet residential area close to the Dubai International Airport, and is easily accessible from Junction 90 of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road which is a short distance away. For families in Sharjah, Mirdiff and surrounding areas, this is a very easy option.
Unlike most new schools in Dubai, which are mandated to open to Year 6, offering Primary education initially, Alpha School makes up one of a handful of true Primary only schools, with no intention to expand on its existing site. Thus the focus of the school and its team will also remain on Primary education.
In fact, the owners of Alpha School have announced that they will be launching a new school with Secondary provision - Cedar International School - just across the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Highway in Al Warqa'a for September 2020, providing a seamless transition for Alpha students.
Our visit to Alpha School began with a tour, led by Eliza and Neil. The youngest students are housed on the Ground floor of the building and spend their time in well-resourced classrooms designed for the age-group and to spark their imaginations.
Class sizes are generally small with a maximum of 22 children at this level, supported by both a teacher and teaching assistant. Further up the school, classes currently have between 14 and 17 students - far lower than most Premium schools, let alone an affordable school such as Alpha.
As our Guides showed us around the school, it was clear that they were happy and enthusiastic. They particularly commented on how much they appreciate their teachers and the caring atmosphere of the school. They were also very enthusiastic about the recently introduced House System which enables students to be challenged and rewarded not only individually, but collectively.
Whilst classrooms are bright and well lit, our Guides particularly appreciate the indoor multi-purpose hall which is used for PE during the warmer months, as well as assemblies and performances, they clearly took real pleasure in the outdoor spaces that are available. In addition to two playground areas, with timings split to ensure that older and younger students are not using the same space at the same time, there is also a canteen where students are able eat their own snacks or to purchase them from the supplier.
There is no doubt that outdoor space for sports activities is at a premium - in fact part of the car parking area, which is fully enclosed, is also used for this purpose. However, this does not seem to detract from the students' enthusiasm and, of course, is not unusual in an inner-city area.
Following on from our tour of the school, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was able to meet with two parents to find out about their impressions and experience. It is no secret that Alpha School has been through a somewhat unstable time, losing its first Principal during its first year of operation. However, both Noor (whose child started in FS2 in the school's opening year) and Vinita (whose child is currently in Year 6) felt that the arrival of Alison McDonald had created a sense of stability, and that the school is moving forward. They believe that Ms. McDonald has a clear vision for Alpha School and has been direct and open in sharing her plans.
Both parents agreed that the teachers are real strength of Alpha School, but they also commented that all staff - non-teaching also - were valued and respected by students and parents alike. Both parents felt that they and their children were comfortable in the smaller environment of Alpha, and this has benefited their children who were more confident and responsible, and had developed a greater level of maturity because of the size of the school and the lack of secondary students. The school is family-oriented and a close community, where children are happy to come to school.
Vinita, whose son is a more recent recruit to Alpha from another school and curriculum, also commented on the honest and genuine attitude she had found at Alpha. She particularly noted that the lack of commercial air about the school and how the senior team were open and accommodating of parents' opinions and acts on improvement suggestions.
Both parents also appreciated the communication with the school which includes a regular weekly newsletter. Parent Information sessions have been provided to enable parents to understand processes such as GL assessment and subsequent Goal-setting conferences, as well as the content of the Arabic curriculum, for example.
Summarising their impressions of Alpha School, both agreed that Alpha is a school with a positive ambiance, where children are cared for, and where parent opinion matters. The school offers an excellent quality and caliber of teachers at positive fee levels.
Subsequent to our meeting with the parents, we joined the Senior Leadership Team of Alpha School to discuss their views about the school, its direction and curriculum. They told us that the community at Alpha is like a family. Staff take care of each other and the size of the school has enabled them to get to know students and their families as individuals. They described Alpha as "a small school focused on Innovation".
A key part of this focus is supported by the Apple Technology provided within the school and which is supplemented by workshops and visits to other schools and organisations - the team is actively building relationships with other schools to support this and to develop its focus on future skills.
The individual approach to students is supported not only by the quality of teaching and small class sizes, but through personalised tracking and teaching. A weekly staff meeting focuses on individual children - ensuring that they are receiving the right support. The streaming of children in English is an important means of enabling this small school to provide appropriate personalised learning across groups of students.
Teachers benefit from weekly Continuous Professional Development (CPD) sessions with a focus on experiential learning development and support for students with Gifts and Talents, as well as those in need of additional Learning Support. Alpha School aims to offer an all-round education, including correct manners and behaviours, building confidence among students so that they are able to open doors to their futures.
Teachers are very much inspired by the school's motto - "We may not be the biggest, but we CAN be the best."
Our final input was from Principal Alison McDonald. Unfortunately, Alison had been forced to travel at short notice just prior to our visit. We knew from the staff we met that Ms. McDonald is a very hands-on Principal, not averse to coming to classrooms and taking over the teaching! We therefore asked her what her priorities are at Alpha School.
With the school's first KHDA inspection due to take place in the current academic year, and with the change of leadership, we knew that the school's internal evaluation would be a core part of Ms. McDonald's focus. But we learned that there is so much more!
We thought it worthwhile to reproduce the feedback we received as we received it:
Ms. McDonald told us "I have an open roof approach to teaching and learning - I don't like lids being put on learning (through curriculum, social, age or gender). I explicitly and implicitly remind my leaders and teachers to 'take the lid off'. The sky really is the limit!
We want to leave our Experience visit report with Ms. McDonald's final words:
I believe: happy teachers, who feel empowered and enabled = happy children who are well provided for, mentally, emotionally and physically = happy parents.
It sounds like a very simple formula - and if it were, no doubt every school would achieve these goals. We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, though, are hugely impressed by the aspirations of this small school and the steps it is taking to achieve them.
Alpha School is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.
Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information