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 55 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 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.
In November 2018, it seemed that the arrival of the new Superintendent, Dr. Paul Richards, had coincided with a decision by the Board of Trustees to review the plans for the Middle School, approved one year prior. Given the slowing of arrivals and the outflux of expatriates from Dubai, particularly those involved in the Oil industry, it seemed 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.
In line with all schools based in the UAE, the arrival of the Covid 19 pandemic resulted in the requirement for schools to deliver their curriculum on-line for a large part of 2020. In May/June 2020, the regulators carried out on-line evaluations of the Distance Learning provision for all public and private schools. Each was rated on a scale of three outcomes, Developed, Partially Developed and Not Developed. As would be expected, ASD was rated Developed. The Distance Learning Evaluation for ASD can be found here.
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.
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.
Students can choose from 25 Advanced Placement courses including AP Capstone, a culminating two-year credential program in which students complete in-depth research on world phenomena. Students have an opportunity to engage in self-directed learning through Global Online Academy—ASD’s partner for online-learning courses in the High School. GOA's mission is to reimagine learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society.
In addition to the curriculum, ASD is also looking closely 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.
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.
ASD provides detailed information about its students' academic achievements and college/university entries on its website and its High School Profile can be found here.
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 2019-20 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.
Two key areas of recent focus by the KHDA's Inspection teams has been compliance with the KHDA's Inclusive Education policies and, in still further detail, at the provision of of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Historically, the school was not compliant in the delivery of these two programmes, and has been placed under increasing pressure to rectify this position.
It is the latter in particular that has resulted in the school's overall rating falling below that which would otherwise be expected .
The latest report for 2019-20 re-states almost the identical comments in regard to the Leadership and management of the school noting that that have been made in the two previous reports. Inspectors noted 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.
By the time of the 2019-20 inspection, the school had taken steps to address the issues of non-compliance in respect of the Arabic and Islamic Studies requirements, but the overall rating of the school remained unchanged at Good.
In terms of areas of improvement, the DSIB inspectors had a single focus:
The message was delivered still more firmly in the overall assessment within the report:
"The active board of trustees supports resourcing but has not ensured the school’s compliance with the Ministry of Education (MoE) mandated curriculum regulations.....the curricula for Islamic education, Arabic, UAE moral education and UAE social studies are not consistently providing for the needs of older students".
In addition, the delivery of these subjects clearly did not meet academic requirements - with Islamic Education across the school being rated Weak, and with Arabic as both a first and second language being rated Weak across Middle and High School sections, though it was rated largely Acceptable in Elementary.
However, for the vast majority of ASD parents, what almost certainly really matters is the school's performance across the non-Arabic subjects, and here there can be no complaint!
In terms of strengths, the DSIB inspection team found these to be:
ASD students' academic achievement was found to be universally Outstanding in relation to English, Maths and Science.
"Students’ personal and social development is outstanding across the school. They exhibit innovative thinking, empathy towards their peers, strong levels of communication, self-awareness, resilience and global citizenship. They are passionate learners who strive for excellence as they adapt and contribute to a rapidly changing world. Their understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati culture are very good in the KG and good elsewhere in the school.”
The quality of teaching and assessment across the school also received high praise with the inspection team noting that "the quality of teaching is outstanding in almost all subjects across the school. Teachers are skillful in planning and facilitating lessons that allow students to explore, inquire and persist when developing their understanding. Most teachers develop students’ curiosity and critical thinking through exploratory learning and guided inquiry. Teachers provide timely and effective feedback and use assessment data to inform and adjust their instruction".
The curriculum design was found to be of a high quality with the report noting that "the quality of the KG curriculum is outstanding. It enables children to discover for themselves and to make choices about what and how they learn. In the higher grades, the standards-based curriculum for English, mathematics and science is regularly reviewed and revised in order to improve students’ learning. However, the lack of compliance in relation to Arabic and Islamic Studies resulted in the curriculum design in the Middle and High school sections being rated Weak.
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."
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. Support for students of Determination and for those with Gifts and Talents was rated Very Good.
The inspectors noted that "the board of governors and school leaders are increasingly committed to ensuring access and well-resourced provision for students of determination. Inclusion is a key goal for the school. The director of student services is skillful in leading all facets of the identification and support process. Most students are well supported by teachers and the team specialists, resulting in very good progress towards their personal goals. There is an appropriate balance between in-class and individual support. The supervised and guided study periods for older students are particularly effective".
In terms of the overall leadership and management of the school, the effective leadership and governance of the school are again "marked down" to Weak 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 school’s partnership with parents has successfully and genuinely engaged most of them in their children’s learning. Parents’ concerns are promptly addressed. The partnership with parents, through the existing representation groups, remains steady and effective. The communication and reporting systems enable parents to have useful access to their children’s learning information, supporting them as key partners with the school".
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."
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to see the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Irrespective of the KHDA rating, there is no doubt that ASD is an outstanding school in very many aspects. Of the 115 parents who completed the KHDA's pre-inspection survey, 91% said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided. According to the KHDA, almost all parents who completed the survey expressed their satisfaction with the quality of education provided. They agreed that their children are safe at school and that the school keeps them well informed about their children's education. Most agreed that the school leaders respond to their views and that teachers help their children develop effective learning skills.
A sizeable 955 students completed the Well-being Survey. Most students surveyed enjoy the challenging class activities in this safe school. They developed strong friendships, persevere with their classwork and reported little physical, verbal or cyber bullying. Most have positive expectations of their future beyond school.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has been completed by a limited number of parents. Those who have done so are generally satisfied with the main elements of our survey. The majority of students enjoy going to school "a tremendous amount" and have a strong sense of belonging.
The vast majority of parents are satisfied with the level of academic performance of the school, although a surprising number respondents (almost two thirds) said that their children required additional tuition outside of school. Parents also rated it highly for Sports, Performing Arts and Fine Arts. 75% of parents would unreservedly recommend ASD to other parents, whilst a further 14% would probably do so. If there is one negative identified by parents, it is the level of school fees which 48% of respondents felt were value for money, whilst a further 32% partially agreed that they represented good value. 18% completely disagreed with this statement.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at ASD, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey.
ASD has an excellent reputation within the American expatriate community, and is known for its facilities and strong school community. The school's history and strong academic record - and now the highly modern campus with its superb facilities - mean almost certainly that ASD will remain the first choice for the vast majority of parents seeking a genuine 'American' school experience.
Despite its location directly adjacent to its nearest competitor in terms of facilities and curriculum - GEMS' Outstanding-rated Dubai American Academy - for families coming particularly from North America, for whom the Arabic and Islamic Studies elements of the curriculum may not be a priority, we believe that ASD continues to remain almost impossible to beat.
There is now one further option for families seeking Premium US curriculum and facilities (with the closure of GEMS United School, options had shrunk to these two), with the opening of Dunecrest American School on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road - a more practical location potentially for families living further away from the Al Barsha 1/Sheikh Zayed Road location.
ASD is on the higher end of the scale in terms of school fees. Annual fees range from AED 56,000 for pre-KG, AED 59,255 for KG1, AED 64,683 for KG2 and AED 82,581 from Grades 1-12 annually. Note, this is WITHOUT the annual AED 12,984 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 82,581 + AED 12,484 = AED 95,065.
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.
American School of Dubai 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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