Ambassdor International Academy is a relatively new, first of its kind, UK/IB combined curriculum school, opened in the Al Khail Gate development (close to the Al Khail Road and at the rear of Al Qouz Industrial area) in September 2019.
Ambassador International Academy, launched in September 2019, is a sister to the existing Ambassador School in the Bur Dubai Mankhool area (rated Very Good by the KHDA in its last inspection) and the Ambassador Kindergarten and Nursery (a feeder to the school) which was rated Very Good in the 2017-18 inspection programme.
Originally anticipated to be another Indian curriculum school in line with the current Ambassador School and Kindergarten, a somewhat late launch in 2019 surprised us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. Not only is the school not CISCE, as anticipated, nor is it a straight-forward UK or IB curriculum school, but rather plans to offer a combination of the two, and this from Early Years to Grade 12.
Having opened with around 200 students, one year later, student numbers were up to just over 600. And by the time of the school's first KHDA inspection in March 2022 - when the school was awarded a Good rating -, the enrollments had reached 1,030. The capacity of AIA is 2,000 - so there is still some distance to go. Grades will be added on an annual basis, subject to KHDA approval - the school is currently open to Grade 9 and will add Grade 10 in August 2023.
Feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com's School Survey has been substantial in terms of numbers (116) and approval ratings - 4.2/5 or an 84% positivity rating.
Comments from parents have been detailed and expansive:
This is an amazing school and we liked it from the time we went for the school tour before it opened. Once opened, the level of education was quite high regardless of it being a new school. The teachers are highly qualified and give specific feedback on the students. The extra curricular activities before Covid were many and my son loved playing football and swimming while my daughter appreciated gymnastics and dance class. The students are really multicultural and there is a great sense of discipline and good behavior in this school. A big strength for this school is the Principal who is very passionate about children learning and development. A weakness is something the school cannot change, the location. If the school could secure a big parking lot at the front of the school, perfect."
"It's really a good school, friendly teachers and staff, systematic teaching keeps children happy... Overall, I and my child are happy with the school."
"AIA is a very good platform which emphasizes on questioning, researching and thinking skills. My child has been in AIA for more than a year now and I can see major improvement in communication , research and reading skills. My child is encouraged to think and reflect rather than being burdened with concepts after concepts. Even distance education due to pandemic was very well organised with minimal parent support required from home. Class time table was aptly split between online and offline activities so that screen time is in control and childern also feel challenged and motivated to show their hard word and understanding. Would really recommed AIA to parents who are looking for balanced learning of their children in terms of academics and learning through experience."
Further details of parent feedback can found under The Buzz
AIA's Vision statement informs that "Ambassador International Academy is dedicated to creating responsible universal citizens who would be bright leaders of the 21st century by laying a superior foundation through quality education."
Its Mission is to "Inspire our children to be passionate global lifelong learners through an enriched holistic international curriculum that encourages them to Inquire and Innovate while proactively contributing in meaningful ways to the world."
The school is certainly a broad mix where nationalities of students is concerned, with a total of 61 currently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the ownership of the school and its sister organisations, the highest population group is from India. However, this is followed by a diverse range of students from the UK, USA and Egypt in the next three positions. The school has also attracted a small cohort of 13 Emirati students and a larger number (85) of Students of Determination.
In contrast, the majority of the 91 teachers (approximately three-quarters) are from the UK, Ireland and South Africa. Some 10% of teachers are from India, whilst the balance are from Russia, the Philippines and Pakistan. Every teacher must have a minimum of four years experience (rather than the usual minimum requirement of two years) and many bring with them up to a decade’s experience. All are expected to have first rate English language skills. They receive training from the International Baccalaureate organisation.
Classes are open from pre-KG to Grade 8 in the current year. In its marketing material, the school stated that it would have a teacher:student ratio of 1:8 in KG and 1:14 in the Primary classes. This appears to have been revised to 1:10 in KG and 1:12 in the Primary school since opening with an average of 1:11 according to the first DSIB inspection report. However, both should ensure plentiful personal attention for children.
AIA invested in an exceptionally experienced British Founding Principal with strong exposure to the IB programmes. James Lynch brought over 20 years of experience in education at schools across the UK and Middle East. Mr Lynch obtained a Bachelors Degree in Education and a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from the Graduate School of Education at renowned Exeter University.
Mr. Lynch joined Ambassador International Academy following his Headship of Innoventures’ Dubai International Academy and leadership of Secondary provision at Raffles World Academy, both of which are rated Very Good by the KHDA.
Having evidently accomplished his mission of achieving the highest possible rating of Good (as awarded by the DSIB inspectors to new schools on their first inspection), Mr. Lynch announced that he would be leaving AIA at the end of the Summer 2022 term.
His successor is Mr. Anthony Wright. Mr. Wright appears to be uniquely well qualified to take the helm at Ambassador International Academy, where he joined the school following six years in senior positions (both as Head of Secondary School and Deputy Head Teacher) at the Oberoi International School in Mumbai, India.
Prior to this position, Mr. Wright was Head of Seniors at the College Alpin Beau Soleil in Switzerland and Head of Science, where he led students and teachers in the IB Diploma, High School Diploma and IGCSE. Mr. Wright has also taught IBDP and IGCSE Biology and Sciences respectively at The English College in Prague and in Nigeria. Mr. Wright studied Neuroscience at Cardiff University and obtained his Qualified Teacher Status at St. Martin's College, Lancaster, UK. With a wide breadth of experience in both the UK and internationally, and a background in both the UK and IB curricula, Mr. Wright appears to be an excellent choice for AIA.
What about the curriculum?
Children follow the content of the English National Curriculum, but taught within the framework of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme, based on their inquiry-based and cross-curricular approach to learning.
The grading structure of the school (pre-KG to Grade 12, rather than FS1 to Year 13) suggests that the IB programme is actually the lead curriculum in the school.
The daily routine for PYP students has been set. Student begin their learning every day in their homerooms with teachers and follow a time table that spans a range of activities including units of inquiry, language, mathematics, French, Arabic, PE and the arts. The subjects that are covered in the Primary Years Programme are Mathematics, Language, Social Studies, Science, PSPE (Personal, Social, Physical Education) and Arts.
In drawing on the National Curriculum of England and the Scope and Sequence documents of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, the school says that the AIA curriculum blends the inquiry approach of the IB with the rigour of science, maths and English, and at the same time retains its local cultural flavour of the UAE.
But in order to maintain its commitment to both UK and IB curricula, AIA is going rather against the trend of schools in Dubai, who had previously offered iGCSE for Grades 9 and 10, followed by the IB Diploma programme, by offering both the iGCSE and MYP programmes.
MYP students at AIA have a choice to make between taking the MYP for three years from grades 6 to 8 and iGCSEs in Grades 9 and 10, or whether they take the MYP for a full five years from Grades 6 - 10.
The curriculum pathways are not blended. Students must choose, at age 14, either the IB MYP programme or iGCSE.
At Grades 11 and 12 (Sixth Form), students will decide between either the IB Diploma Programme (or the rather more vocationally-based IB Career-related Programme), or UK curriculum-based A’ Levels. Again, courses from each pathway cannot be mixed. There is no independent BTEC option (the most commonly found UK curriculum vocational option in the UAE), or an opportunity to blend individual IB courses with A’ Levels.
And A Level options will be strictly limited - to either Science or Commerce subjects - reflective of the approach taken by many Indian curriculum schools and, again, perhaps indicative of the main nationality group to whom the school appears to appeal.
The number of IB subject options has not yet been confirmed. Under normal circumstances - and given the specific focus of the IB curriculum on offering breadth of provision as well as depth - we would expect students to be given a choice of 20+ IB subjects. This remains an unanswered question at present, though the first Grade 11 students will commence their studies in three years time.
In common with all IB curriculum schools, extra curricular activities are a particular focus - based around Creativity, Action and Service - (some 30 in number) offered at least two days each week from internal and external providers in activities such as sports, innovation, arts and mother tongue. Examples include over 20 Sports activities, STEAM, Century Tech, Arabic and Islamic, Music, Drama, Dance, Yoga, Visual and Creative, English, Maths, Science, French and Spanish.
In addition, the school has a number of Leadership Committees, with a total of 111 students involved, representing over 30 nationalities. These include the Student Voice Group (which includes the head/deputy boy and girl for PYP and MYP), House and Vice House Captains, Eco Warriors, Digital Innovators, AIA Radio Hosts who have created a student AIA radio station, Well-being and Healthy Lifestyle Champions.
Facilities at the school are good and functional rather than impressive, in keeping with the location in Al Khail Gate. The plot at over 16,000 sq.m, offers considerable outdoor space, whilst the built up area of over 21,000 sq.m provides a four storey building.
The section for Early Years is self-contained and allows a secure and safe environment for younger children with 14 classrooms devoted to Pre-KG, KG1 and KG2. A specialist KG activity Room, Dance Room and Library are also provided.
In the main building, 71 light and airy classrooms with a further 32 specialist classrooms are available for Grade 1 to 12. A mobile IT lab and a separate IT laboratory are provided for Primary students, in addition to a Gaming Design and Coding lab.
Secondary students have access to specialised learning spaces including a library and additional laboratories for Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, The Arts and Maths). Artistic students are also catered for, with a Fine Arts studio, soundproofed music and recording rooms, dance room and exhibition display area.
The school will also eventually have four libraries (KG, Primary, Middle School and Senior). The school Librarian is an IB trained teacher and able to offer support to the students, particularly as they progress through the upper grades. Facilities also include a combined 650-seater Auditorium/Indoor Sports Hall marked for Badminton, Basketball and Volleyball.
Outdoor facilities include Multi-sport Courts, a football pitch, cricket nets and pitch and track markings for athletics. There is a Temperature Controlled 25m outdoor shaded pool, plus a 8m x 4m training pool for the Kindergarten children.
The first inspection by the KHDA's DSIB team took place in March 2022 when Ambassador International Academy achieved a Good rating - the highest rating awarded to schools on first inspection. It is clear from the inspection report that the school has adopted the IB curriculum and implemented it well - there had been suggestions that the school was offering a UK curriculum due to the intention to offer IGCSE in addition to the MYP, and A Levels in addition to the IBDP.
Students generally seem to make Good academic progress and attainment across English, Maths and Science across the school, but the performance in Arabic and Islamic Studies was largely Acceptable. It is evident that the Good teaching and assessment skills of the staff, together with the 'very well designed' curriculum, are responsible for student achievement. Whilst the inspectors complimented students' inquiry skills, the key elements of innovation and enterprise were less developed.
Students' personal development was Very Good, but their social development and innovation skills, together with their understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures, were found to be Acceptable in KG and the PYP grades, though Good in the MYP grades.
The protection, care, guidance and support of students is clearly a strength - rated Very Good across all grades and performance indicators. The provision and support for students of Determination was rated Good and is clearly a focus of the school. Finally, the leadership and management of the school were also broadly rated Good, though the relationship between the school, parents and the community also achieved a Very Good rating.
In terms of the strengths of AIA, the inspectors described these as:
Without doubt, AIA has made a very good first impression where the inspectors are concerned and shown that at least in the PYP and MYP sections, it is possible to deliver a high quality IB curriculum and a much more affordable level than has thus far been found in the UAE. The challenge as the school grows to towards the IGCSE/MYP and A Levels/IBBP, will be to maintain the quality, and breadth of curriculum (particularly at IBDP) whilst retaining the current fee level.
Interestingly, whilst the inspectors comment that "Planning is well-advanced for subject choices in MYP and later in IBDP", there is no mention of development of the IGCSE and A Level curricula.
In terms of areas of improvement, the DSIB inspection team recommended that AIA should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com are impressed by feedback from the 116 parents who have so far completed our School Survey.
With a rating of 4.2 out of 5, the school has not yet made the top rank, but given that it is three years old - and spent half of its first year having to offer distance learning, a completely new situation for all UAE schools - 84% approval is impressive.
Almost 4 out of 5 parents who completed the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey were satisfied with the level of academic achievement of the school, with this percentage of respondent also agreeing that no additional tuition was needed outside school. Communication and discipline were also seen to be strengths of AIA.
87% of parents would recommend the school to others. As so often is the case, if there is a niggle, it is in relation to school fees - though over two-thirds (69%) believed that they were receiving value for money, and only 4% of respondents disagreed with this statement - against a UAE average of 12%. It seems that most parents agree that Ambassador International Academy is offering the quality of education they are seeking at an affordable price.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Ambassador International Academy, please share your experience and opinions with other potential members of your community and please complete our survey here.
Whilst it is too soon to say how well AIA is performing from an academic standpoint, the school has shared consultation reports from both the KHDA and the IB organisation which showed that Ambassador International Academy was clearly on track to apply for its IB Primary Years Programme authorisation.
AIA achieved a 'Developed' rating as part of the Distance Learning Evaluations carried out by the KHDA - performing better than one third of Dubai schools in the process.
One of the core components on which Ambassador International Academy has marketed itself was an offering of an "affordable IB and British education".
It will be interesting to see how the school manages this. Over the years, we have advocated a dual curriculum approach at Sixth Form/Grades 11 and 12, but have found that the significant investment required in staffing for the two curricula at this level - particularly in order to be able to deliver the breadth of subjects that we feel must be offered - meant that UAE-based schools were simply not willing to make the financial investment.
This has recently changed, with both GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis and Sunmarke School, - at substantially higher price points - having introduced both A Levels and the IB Diploma programme from September 2019. Repton School Dubai and Nord Anglia International School have also both announced their intention to add A Levels in the near term.
It seems that AIA has decided that this is where the compromise must lie - affordable education, but with limited subject options that address the cost concerns related to staffing, in order to be able to offer both curricula.
We believe that Ambassador International Academy must be seen fundamentally as an IB curriculum school, and it may well become an excellent IB continuum school, though we wonder whether it will be able to offer the breadth and depth of subjects for which IB schools are usually known It is unlikely, however, to be seen as an outstanding English National Curriculum school, given the limitation on subject options at iGCSE and A Level.
If we would raise one possible concern, it is that AIA currently is open only through KG, PYP and lower MYP grades at the present time. As the school grows towards Grades 11 and 12, the requirement for highly qualified IB curriculum teachers will become imperative. Whether the costs involved in recruiting this expertise will add another potential upward pressure on fees remains to be seen. Parents should be aware that the currently reduced fees may be increased by up to 7% annually, and no fees for Grades 10-12 have been published.
Fees in 2022-23 are AED 28,400 in Pre-KG, rising to AED 42,000 for Grade 7 with published fees of AED 50,500 for Grade 8 and AED 53,010 for Grade 9. These fees are still significantly lower than the approved fees of AED 69,300 and AED 76,300 respectively. Somewhat hidden in the small print is a note to the effect that the discounted offered will reduce by approximately 7% on a yearly basis.
Even with fees discounted, they are still somewhat higher than those of the Ambassador School in Mankhool, which start at AED 20,695 in Grade 1, rising to AED 41,400 in Grade 12. As mentioned earlier in our review, this was inevitable, given the curricula being offered. There is also an AED 500 non-refundable registration fee and a further AED 500 assessment fee, which will be adjusted against the first term's fees.
AIA is also offering significant discounts for siblings, starting at 10% for the second student in a family of two, and five percent for the second child in families of three children or more, with a discount of 15% for a third child in the same family, 20% for the fourth and 25% for the fifth.
Ambassador International Academy is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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