Established in 1966, the American School of Dubai is one of the oldest co-educational K-12 schools in Dubai. It is a not-for-profit independent school, governed by a Board of Trustees. There is no owner of ASD.
The story so far...
Now well over 50 years old, the school is run as an independent not-for-profit community school (it is the only American not for profit school), but given the facilities (two swimming pools, toddler pool, two large outside playing fields with real grass, auditorium, black box theatre, field house, running tracks, shaded play areas, two libraries, two cafeterias, music rooms…) running costs mean high fees.
Three-quarters of students come from the United States and Canada, with a further 76 nationalities represented and the largest nationality group of teachers is from the US. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com likes very much both the transparency and the clear focus the school puts on teacher recruitment, and salaries, to ensure a high retention rate. Highly unusually for a school in Dubai, ASD publishes this information. The school has some 188 teachers and 53 teaching assistants, offering a very favourable staff:student ratio of 1:10. Staff turnover, at 11%, is half the UAE average for international schools.
Students attend classes five days a week, Sunday through Thursday. The school day for students in KG1 begins at 8:00 a.m. and ends at 1:45 p.m. Students grades K2-12 attend from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Due to the demands of the timetable, the school operates an 8 day rotation of classes.
Having relocated from its original site in Jumeirah 1 eight years ago to a location closer to the newer residential areas of Dubai, any concerns that families might not wish to travel have proven to be unfounded. Student numbers continue to grow at ASD, even whilst they may be falling at other schools. Although an increase of only around 50 students overall in the past year, demand is such that ASD has already announced plans to expand, adding another building adjacent to the current site in order to meet the growing educational needs of the North American population in Dubai.
Having said this, we get a sense at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, that the school is taking another look at demand and how it might meet it. A new Director of Admissions & Enrollment has been appointed and for the first time, ASD appears to be reaching out to the wider community, encouraging them to attend Open Days and Community Events, and suggesting that the school - whilst nominally full with some 1,890 students - will always consider a good applicant. This is a long way from its historical position, where often, families where given the impression that unless they were US or Canadian passport holders, there was no point in applying.
In October 2017, the ASD Board of Trustees approved commencement and construction of the new Middle School on the plot of land formerly known as the Gate 4 parking lot. The school says that the new building will provide "exciting, purpose-built spaces for the innovative aspects of an American School of Dubai education, such as STEAM labs, a library, Black Box theatre, agora spaces and advisory programs and the learning needs of middle school students, both in program design and curriculum. The project allows the continued development and refitting of the ASD High School, further meeting the education needs in Dubai." The construction is anticipated to last 14 months with school occupation of the new spaces for the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
Update from November 2018 - it seems that the arrival of the new Superintendent has coincided with a decision by the Board of Trustees to review the plans for the Middle School, approved one year ago. Given the slowing of arrivals and the outflux of expatriates from Dubai, particularly those involved in the Oil industry, it would seem prudent to review the future requirements of the school.
The conclusion reached by the Board has been to re-purpose the new facility as an Early Childhood section which would become the home to KG1 and KG2 students. Perhaps of more interest, is the decision to introduce a pre-KG section (children aged 3+) which is in line with other international curricula. This will ensure that the school captures those children currently attending nursery or Kindergarten, whose parents might be tempted to choose an alternative school or curriculum for convenience.
To learn more about planned curriculum changes which are being planned currently, read our curriculum update below.
What about the curriculum?
ASD currently offers KG1 through grade 12 instruction and the school is accredited by the US Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. Admission to the school is based on the approval of ASD’s Admissions Committee and a student successfully meeting the admission criteria, including assessments in varying forms depending on grade level. The school generally expects students to be working at a level one year ahead of a comparative US-based school, with academic achievement a key focus.
At school, students sit a number of external examinations: SATs, PSATs, Measures of Academic Progress (MAPs), Advanced Placement examinations (AP), and the American College Tests (ACT) in which they do very well.
Updating the curriculum
It seems that the new leadership of the school is also keen to ensure that aspects of the ASD curriculum are also updated and renewed. The school has had something of a reputation for being "old-fashioned" and "complacent" in terms of its academic offering. As a result, ASD is now planning to implement a Pathways program from KG to Grade 12 which allow adaptations to the curriculum to include a specific focus on Business and Enterprise, Technology and Innovation, Performance and Bi-lingualism. The school will maintain its strong Liberal Arts focus, whilst aiming to provide a "relevant and personalised education". ASD intends to develop the updated curriculum through pulling from Best Practice using a research driven approach which takes into account calculated risks. The school will work closely with its Corporate relationships to facilitate practical experiences for students, including potential internship opportunities.
More broadly, ASD is also looking at future trends for post-school, with changes being made to college programs and other options for students into direct employment. They are considering alternative school systems and curricula and although they have stated that AP will be retained as the main pre-college program, the school is not ruling out other possibilities if parents and students demand alternative routes.
In addition to the curriculum, ASD is also looking close at its Inclusive Education policies and also the data that it currently uses about student performance to inform teaching and the curriculum. Both of these are key concerns of the KHDA and an ever-growing focus of inspections. The other, of course, and one which has resulted in the school's overall rating falling below that which would otherwise be expected, is the provision of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Currently, the school is not compliant in the delivery of these two programs, and has been placed under increasing pressure to rectify this position. Whilst no specific commitment has been given to address these concerns, ASD is apparently in discussion with the KHDA to arrive at an acceptable solution which meets the needs of its parent and student community.
What about facilities?
The American School of Dubai enjoys a 23-acre, million square foot, wireless, state-of-the-art facility in the Al Barsha area of Dubai. It is located on the corner of Hessa Street and very close to the access to the Sheikh Zayed Road, making it accessible from all directions (though traffic is inevitably something of a challenge at the start and end of the school day).
The purpose-built facility, completed in 2010, includes 100 classrooms, two libraries, a 630-seat performing arts theatre, field house, indoor and outdoor running tracks, climbing wall, dance studio, regulation soccer fields, an organic garden, additional playing fields and play areas, fitness centre, two 25-meter swimming pools, six tennis courts and two cafeterias. Currently, the KG and Elementary Sections, with their own facilities including library, sports hall and swimming pools are located on one side of the campus, whilst the main administration block (including the Performing Arts Centre), Middle and High School sections and Sports facilities are located opposite. The school is surrounded on two sides by its playing fields, offering a wide range of Sports, Co-curricular and Extra-curricular activities as a result.
The school does operate with an environmentally responsible mindset. As noted by ASD, “Sustainable and renewable practices were incorporated in the Al Barsha campus facility design. A sustainability statement guides the school in its charge to be responsible stewards”. And proof of these claims has recently been independently verified with ASD having been named winner of the Expo 2020 Sustainability Champions' Competition, a collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. "ASD is one of the only two UAE schools, from more than 100 participating UAE schools, selected to receive a combined AED 1 million-worth of photovoltaic panels and sustainability support next academic year. ASD has been recognised for its commitment and contribution to sustainability initiatives."
Many families consider ASD to be the only truly American school in Dubai - driven in part by its history, its staffing (almost entirely US nationals) and its solidly American feel and ethos. This includes competitive Athletics and Performing Arts through the school's association with MESAC (The Middle East South Asia Conference). The school's Campus Recreation Activities (ECAs) are offered by each school section and include numerous after- school programmes, clubs and activities to give students the opportunity to be active, learn new skills, develop leadership and have fun. Student government, Mini Falcons, rollerblading, knitting, cupcake making, gaming, robotics, student tech crew, international student associations, Mu Alpha Theta, Boy and Girl Scouts, Thespians, National Honor Society, Falcon Ambassadors, Model United Nations, leadership organisations and more are just some of the opportunities available to ASD students. More than 85 percent of ASD students from K1 - Grade 12 participate in extracurricular activities, student organisations, athletics and clubs.
What the inspectors say
The American School of Dubai has consistently achieved a ‘Good’ rating from Dubai's education regulator, the KHDA, the third highest grade (behind Outstanding and Very Good), since inspections began ten years ago, and in 2017-18, the rating remained unchanged.
Given the popularity of the school and its reputation, parents may wonder why ASD is not rated at a higher grade, particularly since the rating of Good, until three years ago when the UAE-wide Inspection framework was introduced, was historically the second highest rating after Outstanding. The explanation is simple.
The latest report for 2017-18 re-states almost the identical comment in regard to the Leadership and management of the school noting that "The educational leadership of the school is of very high quality. However, school leaders have yet to ensure the school meets the UAE government's statutory requirements with regard to Arabic and Islamic education." The school does not offer Islamic education classes. As a result, students’ attainment and progress are deemed to be "significantly below the Ministry of Education (MoE) curriculum expectations for Islamic education" and rated Weak across the board.
Similarly, because Arabic is an elective subject in the Middle and High schools (mandatory only to Grade 5 in Elementary), only a minority of students are studying Arabic in these phases and their achievement is therefore rated Weak. According to KHDA guidelines, an overall Outstanding rating cannot be given if any rating of Weak has been adjudged, even if a school is rated Outstanding across all other criteria (although there do appear to be some anomalies in this context).
ASD students' academic achievement was found to be almost universally Outstanding in relation to English, Maths and Science, with exceptions in Elementary School Maths which has been downgraded to Very Good, and in KG Science which is also rated Very Good (no change from the previous inspection). The lower grade for ES Maths is driven by students’ progress being hampered by their inconsistent development of analytical, evaluative and problem-solving skills. Inspectors found that students do not receive sufficiently clear feedback regarding their progress against personal learning goals. Overall, however, the report notes that "[Students'] learning skills are consistently outstanding in all grades". BUT "Students' progress is weak in Islamic education and Arabic, except in the elementary school, where their progress in Arabic as an additional language is acceptable."
The school’s latest KHDA report notes that, "Students' personal and social development continue to be outstanding in all phases of the school. Their understanding of Islamic values and Emirati culture ranges from good to very good. Their social responsibility and innovation skills are outstanding from the KG to Grade 12." This is in line with ASD’s mission statement which is to “challenge and inspire each student to achieve their dreams and to become a passionate learner prepared to adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world.”
The KHDA praises the school’s ethos noting that “The student-centered approach to learning and the advanced character and values education programs underpin students’ strong personal development outcomes. As a result, students across the school exhibit exemplary behavior. Students show high levels of respect, social awareness and maturity when they tackle daily issues. Students, especially the KG children, are sensitive towards their peers and adults. They are proud of the strong friendships they have made at school."
This student-centred approach is also reflected in the support of students with education needs and disabilities (SEND), with the KHDA inspectors finding that "The governor for inclusion is leading strategic developments for a more inclusive school. The inclusion champion ensures the effective delivery of a whole-school intervention service model and the high-quality work by learning support specialists and counselors. Outcomes were found to be good or better in literacy skills and mathematics for most students. Progress was evident towards personal learning and academic targets and this was particularly true for students who receive support both in the classrooms and in the learning center.
Teaching and Assessment, two further key indicators, are largely rated Outstanding (across the board for Teaching for Effective Learning) or Very Good (for Elementary, Middle and High School sections) for Assessment. The report notes that the school "analyzes the available assessment data to an appropriate depth, but does not use the analyses sufficiently to inform changes to the curriculum."
Unfortunately, the curriculum design is impacted by the lack of compliance in relation to Arabic and Islamic Studies in the Elementary, Middle and High schools, resulting in further ratings of Acceptable in Elementary and Weak in the other two sections. However, the inspection team's comments clearly belie the rating levels, noting that "The highly interesting curriculum balances knowledge and skills and encourages inquiry, problem solving and critical thinking. It is aligned with the 'AERO' standards, which anchor almost all subjects. The high school offers a wide range of courses, including electives and AP courses. Students explore their interests in the innovation labs and extra-curricular activities, consistently making links to global issues. The curriculum is reviewed annually, ensuring its continuing evolution to provide a learning framework that prepares students to be contributing members of a global society." This is high praise indeed.
The adaptation of the curriculum to meet the individual learning needs of students is again heavily focused on the provision of Arabic and as a result, ratings are Very Good for KG (noting that the school teaches Arabic as an additional language in both KG1 and KG2) and Good for the other phases. The report advises that "the curriculum provides students with a high degree of choice through both curricular and extra-curricular activities. Modifications to the curriculum to meet the needs of all groups of students is more successful in the KG than in the other phases. The school has a curriculum adaptation program to support students in all phases." According to the report, the school has plans to enhance the curriculum in Arabic, but at the time of the inspection, "the curriculum was not sufficiently adapted, particularly for those students for whom Arabic is a first language".
Irrespective of the issues related to Arabic and Islamic Studies and the "knock-on effect" in relation to the inspectors judgements in other areas, the KHDA team certainly recognised the Outstanding level of protection, care, guidance and support of students, although the care indicator of care and support was rated Very Good across Elementary, Middle and High school sections, though Outstanding in KG. The reason for this variation lies with the identification and support of students who are Gifted and Talented. Inspectors found that "there is no formalized process to identify gifted and talented students. There is curriculum differentiation for these students in many lessons, but some are not sufficiently challenged."
In terms of the overall leadership and management of the school, the effective leadership and governance of the school are again "marked down" to Acceptable, and school self-evaluation and improvement planning is rated Good, due to the non-adherence to the MoE rules in relation to the delivery of Arabic and Islamic Studies. However, beyond this issue, inspectors found that "School leaders share a common vision and direction for the future. Their collective educational leadership is of very high quality. Relationships and communication are strong, and the capacity to improve and innovate is evident."
Furthermore, the relationships between the school, parents and the community, together with the management, staff, facilities and resources are rated Outstanding. The report notes that the school is "the focal point of the USA's expatriate community. The parent community is highly involved in many aspects of the school, supporting teachers in all phases. Parents organize an extensive range of events that enrich students' experiences. The quality of communication and reporting is very high. The school has very productive partnerships with many local, regional and international organizations." There was further praise for staffing and resources, with the inspectors noting, as would be expected, that "teachers are highly qualified and the majority of them hold master’s degrees. Resources, including the libraries and innovation labs, enrich the learning experiences of all students and enable them to excel and innovate."
Irrespective of the KHDA rating, there is no doubt that ASD is an outstanding school in very many aspects. This view is confirmed by both parents (a relatively small number) and students (some 380) who responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey, and were very positive in their opinions about the school.
ASD is on the higher end of the scale in terms of school fees. Annual fees range from AED 59,255 for KG1 to AED 81,360 from Grades 1-12 annually. Note, this is WITHOUT the annual AED 12,484 Facility Fee that is used to fund the annual operation of facilities, utilities, and regular maintenance. The actual fee for Grade 1 therefore is AED 81,360 + AED 12,484 = AED 93,844.
The school has introduced a one-off Capital Fee of AED 22,000 paid at the time of entry. This replaced a refundable deposit – similar to the “debentures” levied by other schools in Dubai. It is used to maintain and upgrade the school’s facilities, but is waived for students who hold a corporate seat (for which the fee is a jaw-dropping USD 75,000).
Even with these costs, the school is said to have waiting lists in the lower grades (upto Grade 3) and school stakeholders have enormous pride in the school.
ASD has an excellent reputation within the American expatriate community, and is known for its facilities and strong school community. “Students had very positive and responsible attitudes towards each other and their learning. They were confident and independent, and even from a young age were self-reliant. Students' behavior was exemplary. Students were frequently seen supporting each other, offering to help or working things out together. There were no reported cases of bullying across the school,’ as noted by the 2016 report.
There has so far been fairly limited feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com via our School Survey. We encourage parents of the school to complete the survey which may be found here. What feedback has been received indicates that 68% of parents believe that the quality of education their children receive at ASD is better than it would be in their home country (compared with a UAE average of 39%). 79% of parents would definitely recommend the school to others (compared with 72% across the UAE), whilst 5% would not (compared with 15%). 79% of parents were satisfied, and a further 11% partially satisfied, with the level of academic performance of their children (compared with 63% and 26% on average in the UAE). The vast majority of responses suggest that parents are indeed very happy with ASD as their school choice for their children.
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