Located in the relatively new residential area of Jumeirah Village Triangle, Arcadia Preparatory School stands out among the large number of similarly designed villas for its unique, sleek, white building set over 3 floors around a central quadrangle.
Set adjacent to a second large plot which will be the location for the Secondary School in due course, Arcadia Primary – open currently to year 4 – is home to just over 100 children, having already grown in number by 30% since its opening in September 2016.
There are over 20 nationalities of children currently of whom 60% are non-native English speakers – a key focus of the staff. Approximately 50% of children attending the school live within the local community and this number is growing rapidly as parents see that the school is operational and convenient. Not only this, but they are also finding that this is a Premium Plus school in terms of staff and facilities, but with moderate pricing – a Founder’s discount, that will be offered throughout the life of the child’s attendance, means that families will benefit from a 30% reduction on the approved fees. The Founder's discount, which was offered for the first two years of Arcadia's operations, has been replaced with a Governor's discount in 2018-19, which offers a 15% discount on fees throughout the lifetime of the child at the school.
Entering the school is akin to entering the lobby of a rather smart boutique hotel. The area is light and bright, the reception area leading from the front of the reception towards the rear ensuring that there is no sense of a barrier. There is a grand staircase, carpeted to one side and leading up to the open plan library and IT area on the first floor, which is used for assemblies and small group get-togethers.
We were shown around the school by Graham Beale, the Founding Principal. He explained that the main focus of the school during its opening period was to ensure that parents felt welcome, that teachers were comfortable with the resources available to them and that children were happy. Certainly, current staffing levels and staff to student ratios should ensure that each child receives sufficient individual attention. Maximum student numbers per class will be 24, but during the present time, the average number of students per class is 13-14. There are 14 teachers with teaching assistants in each class and specialists for IT, PE, Music, Arabic and Islamic Studies and a Librarian.
French is offered as an extra-curricular activity for two hours each week. This subject is offered as part of the Enrichment Learning programme which follows the Prep School model of Extra-curricular activities and homework being supervised in school through an extended day which finishes at 4pm for children from year 1 upwards.
Despite the additional demands on teacher-time, Arcadia has ensured that it started the recruitment process early and had over 800 applicants for positions in the school. The interest was in part driven by generous packages with luxury accommodation owned by the school and neighbouring it and a strong emphasis on Continuous Professional Development. Arcadia has clearly recognised the need to attract - and then retain - good teachers – an area that will be an increasing challenge for all schools in the coming years.
Another strong focus of the school is on IT. Arcadia is following the new UK curriculum for IT and is an Apple School. Every child will have an i-pad and coding/programming is taught from FS1. There is an emphasis on technology within the classrooms and in the open-plan IT suite which is part of the large communal IT resource and Library area on the first floor of the school.
The i-pads are used like library books with teachers sharing photos, videos, activities and work undertaken by the children with parents via a video feed to which parents log in. The aim is to ensure that there are no surprises for parents about what is happening in school – they can view this in real-time.
However, there is not solely an emphasis on technology. Arcadia Prep School intends to be a centre of Excellence for the “Talk for Writing” programme which is used widely for literacy.
Research as shown that through a process of imitation, through dance, song, acting and then a process of drawing and finally writing, children learn to visualise what they want to say and are able to produce much more complex and detailed written material as a result. Essentially, their imaginations prepare the story before they come to write it down, and it is more complete and detailed as a result.
The literacy work is reinforced by the expansive modern library with comfortable seating and lounge areas, the Oxbridge Study area – aimed at readers wanting a more traditional library study area – and an array of books with a ratio of 63 books for each child.
The central core of the school building also houses a range of specialist classrooms – including a Dance Studio, two Music rooms, an Apple Mac studio, a Media suite with Green room (and plans for a radio station/recording studio to follow) and Science and Food Technology labs.
There is also an enormous multi-purpose hall, professionally sound-proofed and with theatre lighting, cameras and retractable seating. When not in use for performances, the hall is used as a sports facility with sprung floors to protect the children at play. There is also a cafeteria which is used by over 50% of children as well as a parent café located in the main reception.
Classrooms are located around the exterior 3 sides of the plot. All are light and bright, facing into the central courtyard areas which are set out with appropriate play equipment.
At first glance, the school does seem to lack outdoor space, but this has been addressed by clever use of the top floor of the building, where a heated and chilled outdoor swimming pool, a full 5-aside football pitch and an outdoor running track have been integrated.
The play areas on the ground floor are carefully arranged to be shaded and to create corridors where a fresh breeze can travel. The construction of the Secondary School on the much larger neighbouring plot will hopefully also provide access to more open natural space.
In reality, Arcadia Prep School is actually much larger than it initially appears and certainly does not lack in staff, resources or facilities for primary age children. It also has a very dedicated team of staff who seem to really cherish the boutique style and ethos of the school.
In Dubai, where big is increasingly best among school developers, Arcadia is worth seeking out for an exception to the rule, a school that proves small really can be beautiful.
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