An ICSE school, Ambassador School Dubai is clearly on the way up, having now secured four Good ratings from the KHDA, and a headteacher, governors and parents increasingly aligned on the way ahead.
Ambassador School Dubai has been rated Very Good for the first time in the KHDA's DSIB inspection process for 2019-20. This review will be updated in due course. The full inspection report can be found under the Inspection tab above the review.
The Story so far...
One of the very few ICSE schools in the UAE, Ambassador School, located in the Al Mankhool area of Dubai, currently has 842 students. The school is open to children - girls and boys - in mixed classes, from aged 5 to 18, or from Grade 1 to Grade 12. KG children attend the associated and highly rated Ambassador Kindergarten. Two further schools belong to the group - the CBSE curriculum Ambassador School, Sharjah, which opened in 2016, and the most recent school to be established, Ambassador International Academy, Dubai, which offers a blended UK/IB curriculum at considerably lower fees than the ordinarily top-end IB schools.
As an Indian curriculum school, it might be expected that the usual concerns about rote learning, heavy bags full of texts books, and a total focus on exam results would be raised. However, whilst there is most definitely a strong focus on the academic - and much more besides - Ambassador also notes that it has other priorities.
According to the Ambassador School team, "probably very few schools focus as much on Well-Being of all its stakeholders, in the true sense, as Ambassador. To ensure that students from a very young age are empowered to understand their emotions and themselves better to deal with the ever-increasing stress levels of the adult world, the school introduced Positive Psychology for students from grade 4 onwards."
Current student numbers include a total of 842 students on roll, of which 480 are in the Primary section, 250 in the Secondary and 112 in the Senior phase. Most grades have 4 to 5 classes in the Primary section, and, in common with many schools in Dubai, this number reduces to three or two classes in the Senior section of the school. Average class sizes vary between 25 and 30 with 30 being the highest number.
Although the school officially has students from twelve different nationalities, the vast majority (95%) are from India. The split of male to female among students is broadly equal (53:47). Students are supported by 100 teachers and 5 teaching assistants (the latter mainly used in Grade 1, where each class has a TA). There are also specialist Music, Dance and Yoga instructors. According to the school, "Teaching Assistants are purposefully deployed to enhance the independent learning skills of students and assist the Class teacher in adding value to the learning of the low-attaining pupils." The school also has a number of Learning Support Assistants to assist students of Determination and dedicated Nannies to assist in daily operations.
The majority of teachers - as would be expected - are recruited from India. The minimum qualification requirement is graduation in the specific subject with a teaching degree. A large majority of teachers are Post-Graduates with a teaching degree. A minority of the senior teachers are PhD holders. The school has Homeroom teachers for grades 1 and 2. From grade 3 onwards, subject specific teachers are employed with the aim that they encourage interest in students and challenge them appropriately. The school aims to employ a good blend of experienced subject experts, who are not only beneficial for students but also for the professional development of junior teachers who can always seek support and guidance from subject experts. The school has found that this arrangement ensures a smoother transition from one stage to another since teachers remain familiar. Staff turnover, at 10%, is modest by UAE standards, and ensures stability. The overall teacher:student ratio is an impressive 1:10.
As a school, Ambassador can clearly be seen to be improving having secured a Good rating from the KHDA for the last four years. For the previous four years it had been rated an Acceptable school - the minimum rating required by the KHDA.
Ambassador School is also the first and currently the only school in UAE to have won the prestigious ‘Golden Peacock’ award for ‘Innovative Service’, the GESS Award 2019 for ‘Best initiative for inclusion and wellbeing’, the IMC RBNQA’s MQH competition 2019 winner for Inclusion and student wellbeing, Global Innovative School Award 2019 for ‘Innovation in Pedagogy’ and was also voted one among the best 5 Indian curriculum schools in UAE by WhichSchoolAdvisor's sister website, SchoolsCompared.com’s, Top School Awards 2019.
What about the curriculum?
Ambassador School states that it "focuses largely on academics; however it provides a well-balanced curriculum comprising of sciences, humanities, performing and fine arts, sports, languages, reading across the curriculum and STREAM. The objective is to allow each child to excel in whichever stream is chosen by the student."
Until Grade 8, compulsory subjects include Arabic, Sciences, languages (either Hindi or French and Arabic), Social Studies, Mathematics, and Islamic Education/ Ethics. From grade 9, a wide choice of subjects are offered, including Mathematics, Economics, Computer Science, Sciences ( Physics, Chemistry, Biology), Hindi, French, Psychology, Environmental Science, Commerce, Accounts, Business Studies, Physical Education and Fine Arts ) enabling students to choose depending upon their aptitude, interest and career choices. In addition, Chess is compulsory for grades 1 to 8 and Positive Psychology is compulsory for grades 4 to 10.
Whilst the subjects themselves may not be particular unusual in any way, the attitude of the school towards their delivery may well be. The schools notes that "Being an Indian Curriculum school never stopped the Ambassador Team from exploring and experimenting with best international practices of delivering curriculum."
The school has done away with text books for lower primary students and has instead introduced booklets in-house developed which are customized according to the needs and challenge level of students. This decision was aimed on ensuring a focus on skill-development, and according to the school, has been working extremely well for the last two years.
Other innovations include a focus on Research, Do-it-yourself, Cross-Over learning, STREAM classes, varied types of flipped classrooms and Independent learning along with ‘We Care’ and Well Being programmes. In addition, the school has introduced its Financial Literacy programme across school at different levels, which is designed to inculcate the habit of handling money efficiently. Ambassador School believes that understanding and managing finance is absolutely essential and non-negotiable in the real world.
In addition to the academic curriculum, the school also offers an extra-curricular programme - ASEP (Ambassador School Enrichment Programme) - with activities such as World Scholar (Debate), WoW programmes (Maths: What Operation Works, Languages: Wings Of Words, Sciences & Social Sciences: World Of Wonder, Environment: War On Waste, Well Being: World Of Wellness), Super Scientist, Zumba, Kho-Kho, Tennis, Basketball, Cricket, Yoga, Karate, Football etc. which are integrated in the curriculum. The school does highlight its performing and visual arts programme, and an enrichment programme of events. The school offers the Duke of Edinburgh Award, and takes part in inter-school sports events. More information on these can be found on the school's comprehensive website.
What about Academic Achievement?
Students do well in examinations - the school regularly has toppers scoring in the high 90%s - and leavers head for universities around the world. According to the school's latest statistics, 17% each head to India, Canada and the USA, 10% to the UK, and 3% each to Europe, Singapore and Australia. Interestingly, 30% opt to stay in UAE.
The results of the latest independent examinations held in March 2019 for grades 10 and 12 were declared in May 2019. For the 2019 ICSE/ Grade 10 examinations, the School topper achieved 97.6%. In addition, Ambassador School could boast World and UAE toppers in Chemistry (100), Commercial Applications (100), English Literature (100), History & Civics (100), and Physical Education (100).
For the 2019 ISC/ Grade 12 examinations, the School topper (and one of the UAE's toppers, and World number four) achieved 99.25%. In addition, ASD students were World and UAE toppers in Mathematics (100), Chemistry (100) , Economics (100) , Commerce (100) , and Computer Science (100). The school average for 2019 was 85.6% compared with 80% in 2018.
The school supports students with university preparation, choice, and applications from Grade 8, when students undertake Psychometric assessment to determine their aptitude for various choices available in terms of subject combinations. In addition, Orientation sessions/Career Counseling sessions are a regular feature of the school academic calendar when students are not only guided towards the various options available to them, but also offered assistance on how to go about building their profile and developing their applications. The school also organises university fairs every year to provide parents and students about the processes, options and latest updates.
All students from Ambassador School Dubai went on to university, including to top-rated universities such as Imperial College London, University of Leeds, California College of Arts, Maryland College, Clark University, University of California, Waterloo University, University of British Columbia, NITs, India, and St. Xaviers, Mumbai.
In addition to the public examinations, students at Ambassador School also participate in a range of External Benchmarking Assessments, as required by the UAE National Agenda, including CAT4, ASSET, IBT, TIMSS and PISA. The school's 2018 PISA results comparison, showed that whilst the OECD average for Science was 489 and the Dubai Private Schools' average was 500, Ambassador School students achieved an average of 551. Almost identical results were achieved for Mathematics (489/501/551) and the result for reading was even more impressive at 487/501/565.
What about support for students of Determination?
Ambassador School also takes pride in being a fully inclusive school, wherein ‘inclusion’ is not just a word. It is the school’s Mission, which has become a practice and is reflected in actions – including giving equal opportunities to students of determination on different platforms and providing them with the experience of being part of the community.
The Inclusion Programme goes beyond the school to reach out to the community. ‘My Buddy’ Helping Hands programme collaborates with special needs centers to provide the students of determination of these centers an opportunity to learn and perform with students of the school in the regular school environment. Internship opportunities are extended to the students of these centers (Tender Hearts Arena and Special Needs Future Development Center). They are a part of the school’s Annual Day performance. Students of the school in return are sensitized to deal with people of determination in a mature, compassionate manner."
The ethos of the school and efficient processes along with supporting and compassionate staff have been the factors responsible for managing the needs of students of differing abilities. The DSIB inspectors, in the most recent KHDA inspection report, praised provision for SEN, noting "The inclusive ethos of the school that ensures very good care and support for all students, particularly students of determination."
The school currently has some 63 students of determination and a further 35 students identified with Gift and Talents. Ambassador School employs a team of 5 staff including the SENCO, Special Educators and Counsellors, as well as an additional six Learning Support Assistants. Funding for these positions come from both the school and parents and the school offers assistance in sourcing LSA's where needed.
What about the facilities?
Facilities are largely good. The campus is on an acre and a half; the 33 classrooms which are fully equipped with interactive white boards and the campus is wifi enabled with 3 separate labs for sciences, an Islamic Education room, a Fine Art room, a performing arts room, a French/ language room, well-stocked library and cafeteria. Facilities are specially designed for the safety of students with every pillar and square inch of the campus being cushioned for impact. Outdoor facilities include two outdoor basketball courts and a soft tiled play area; effectively planned timetabling ensures best use of the open area for a variety of sports: basketball, volleyball, throw ball, table tennis, kho-kho, karate and yoga.
The School has purpose built premises with child safe interiors, child friendly furniture and amenities that include CCTV monitoring in every classroom.
What the inspectors say
Ambassador School was rated Good for the fourth year in 2018-19. The inspection report focuses on the 6 key indicators which include Leadership and Management, Students' achievement, Students' personal and social development and innovation skills, Teaching and Assessment, Curriculum and the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students.
The immediate question that strikes any reader of the latest report is "Why is this school not rated Very Good"?
22 individual key criteria ratings were upgraded to Very Good during this inspection - with only one, in Arabic, being downgraded. Certainly in terms of Student Achievement, every rating for English, Maths and Science, and Learning Skills are now rated at this level. Islamic Education is also rated Very Good in Primary and Good in the Middle and Secondary sections. Only Arabic as a Second language falls below Good, for whilst it attains this rating in Primary, the Middle and Secondary sections only achieved Acceptable.
For the other key performance measures, only three indicators remain Good - that of Teaching for Effective Learning in the Middle School, Self-evaluation and improvement planning, and Management, Staffing, Facilities and Resources (under Leadership and Management). Health and Safety is rated Outstanding across the school as is Students' Personal Development in the Secondary section.
Recommendations for improvement focus on the need to improve attainment and progress in Arabic, the effectiveness of teaching in the Middle section and more accurate self-evaluation and improvement planning that reflects the strengths and development needs of the school, firmly based around student outcomes.
We cannot see how the DSIB inspection team can fail to award a Very Good rating to Ambassador School if ASD continues to operate as it did in 2018-19.
If you would like to read the full inspection report, and gain an understanding of the reasons behind the ratings, - and this case, we really do strongly recommend that you do so, to see why we feel the school has been under-rated - you will find it here.
Some 568 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey. 97% overall professed themselves very satisfied with the quality of education being provided by the school. All feel their children are safe, and most agree that their children work hard, have a close friend in school and can talk to their teachers. A few would like their children to have more opportunities for physical exercise and games.
180 students participated in the Dubai Schools' Well-being Census. Most are happy and optimistic and want to persevere with their studies. They have a strong sense of belonging to the school and positive relationships with peers and adults. Most are confident in their abilities and in their school work.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has had a limited number of recent responses. If you are a parent, teacher or student at Ambassador School Dubai and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please share your views by completing our survey here.
What about the fees?
Fees at Ambassador School Dubai are mid-range for Dubai, but premium for an Indian curriculum school. This is perhaps to be expected - this is not a typical Indian school driving efficiencies of scale with a large student body, low teacher to student ratio, and minimum out of hours programmes. Fees range from AED 21,123 for Grade 1 and rise to AED 37,042 for Grade 10. Fees for Grades 10, 11 and 12 have been/will be discounted by between 5 and 6% from the approved KHDA fees. Given its proposition, the word value would not be misused.
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