Arcadia School started life as a primary school opening in August 2016. Located in the Jumeirah Village Triangle area of Dubai, the school offers an enriched National Curriculum for England. From September 2020 the school launched a secondary section, located just across the square from the original primary section.
Originally established as the Arcadia Preparatory School, the later change of name reflects the expansion of the school into a Secondary section, now open across the square from the current primary school. At the time of writing (February 2022) the school is open to Year 9, with plans to open year on year right through to Year 13.
Arcadia School has been a one of a kind project in many ways. There is no large corporate organisation behind it, but rather the school was a means to 'give back' for Indian businessman Mohan Valrani. Mr. Valrani's son, Navin, is CEO of the venture.
Arcadia School describes itself as "a family school, owned and run by a family that is ever present and hands on, therefore, standards in teaching and teachers are high, there are no compromises on facilities or investment in children and parents. We make parents lives easier, with homework completed at school and monthly fee payments. Arcadia is a school that cares and listens and is reflective and of a similar standard to a private school in the UK."
Arcadia School has some 58 nationalities of children (up from 20 in its opening year). Approximately 30% of the children are British, leaving 70% coming from 57 other nations. This creates what the school calls a "Global School in a British environment". To support its nationality mix the school has an experienced 'English as an additional language' department, giving Arcadia School the ability to welcome children with varying levels of ability in the English language.
Overall student numbers have now reached 725, spread across four classes in each year group. Classes in years 2, 3 and 4 are almost at capacity and we understand Arcadia also has plans to open an additional (fourth) FS1 class.
The split of children between boys and girls is pretty even, with an upper ceiling of 25 children per class who are supported by a teacher and a teaching assistant. Average class sizes are around 20 children. The school employs 64 teachers, all from the UK and a further 20 teaching assistants. The teacher to student ratio at the school of 1:12 should ensure that children receive personalised learning and support.
At the outset, Arcadia focused on the quality of its teachers. The school had over 800 applicants for the positions in the school. Interest was in part driven by generous packages with accommodation 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. Staff turnover, at 14%, is well below the UAE average of 20-22% - a positive sign in terms of ongoing stability and commitment.
Find out more about the school and its facilities by reading about our Experience visit.
Investment continues to take place in every area of the school, including in staff development, whereby teachers have at least 2 training and development courses per term and are invited to team building events every term.
Arcadia School follows the English National Curriculum with a focus on the core subjects of Mathematics, English and Science, but seeks to instil an Entrepreneurial spirit in every child that is reflected in the enrichment learning that is offered in a Junior MBA course. French is offered as an extra-curricular activity (ECA) and is offered as part of the Enrichment Learning programme. Three free extra curriculum activities are included from Year 1 upwards within school fees, which also cover four sets of uniforms, and all textbooks.
The school follows the Prep School model of Extra-curricular activities and homework being supervised in school through an extended day. School finishes at 2pm for FS and 4pm for Year 1 upwards. Arcadia also provides "options" for FS1 or FS2 children to remain in school until 4pm, to support working parents. No homework is taken home in the Primary school.
The school has subject specialists for Art, IT, PE, Music, Arabic and Islamic Studies, Social Studies, Spanish, and French. The school offers 'enriched learning' running in harmony with the English National Curriculum, including two additional sports and one additional non sport subject.
Students in the Secondary School have a particular focus on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Outdoor Education. They work towards iGCSE and GSCE examinations in Year 11, followed by AS, A Level and a range of vocational BTEC options for Sixth Form.
The first cohort of students to take their iGCSE and GCSE examinations will complete their exams in June 2023, followed by A Levels in September 2025).
Arcadia has entered into a partnership with Sands Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership, which will offer a bespoke programme for Years 7 – 11 and as a launch pad for the Sixth Form. The programme features Social Entrepreneurship, Business, New Media, Coding, Engineering, Communication, and Collaboration - all based within real learning contexts with positive benefits for the local and wider community.
A further partnership with University of Pennsylvania-based Real Discussion, announced in 2018, provides a skills Framework that supports the existing curriculum and approaches Discussion as a discipline based around Four skills: Relate, Excerpt, Ask, Listen. Students are provided with a study and discussion 'toolset' for in-depth learning. The Real Discussion programme has already been launched in Year 6 and 7 English and humanities subjects. The system is designed to "equalise airtime" among students, raise quality of student comments, support student leadership, minimize anxiety and build classroom communities.
A strong focus of the school is on IT. Arcadia is follows the UK curriculum for technology and is an Apple School. Every child has an iPad and coding/programming is taught from FS1. Technology is used 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 iPads 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 School intends to be a centre of Excellence for the 'Collins reading scheme' 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.
Enrichment activities will also be strengthened with the opening of the Secondary School and directed towards the needs of older students. Enrichment Opportunities will focus around the areas of Creativity, Performance, Citizenship, and Sports and Physical activities. They will include Outdoor Education, the Duke of Edinburgh International Award programme (to be offered from September 2021), an Entrepreneurship programme, STREAM Programmes, Vocational Counselling, Internship offers across companies in a variety of industries throughout Dubai, and links with and summer excursions to international Universities.
Current Primary school extra curricular activities feature a wide range of sports including basketball, football, dodgeball, gymnastics, dance, ballet, martial arts, rugby skills, tennis skills and yoga. In addition non physical extra curriculum activities include reading to dogs, Disney film making, Islamic art, wacky science, Junior MBA, Choir and reading club. The school also offers a music academy where students can learn to play guitar, piano, violin, cello, drums and have one to one singing lessons.
Close to 10% of students had additional learning needs and were supported by a specialist SEN team at the time of the school's BSO inspection in June 2021 with a further similar number receiving support as English Language learners.
The school has one Inclusion champion, one Inclusion teacher, a pupil counsellor and 10 Learning Support Assistants. If intermittent help is required for a student, then it is provided free of charge. If the child needs a full time Learning Support Assistant Arcadia School supports the parent in finding one, but full costs are borne by the parent.
In November 2020, Arcadia announced the inauguration of the Aspire Hub, in collaboration with Neuropedia. The Aspire Hub, said by the school to be the first of its kind in the private education landscape of Dubai, is an integrated facility which specialises in speech, language and occupational therapy. It includes state-of-the-art facilities catering for a broad range of needs by highly qualified team members.
The school has also introduced the highly regarded ASDAN curriculum which is specifically designed to support students with additional learning needs through a programme of academic and life-skills subjects targeted to their individual abilities.
The school was rated Good in terms of the support and student outcomes for students of Determination in the KHDA inspection, and were found to offer a 'highly inclusive' environment with focus at the most senior level of the school.
Arcadia School benchmarks students' progress against the GL assessment system which is the preferred KHDA tool for measurement of achievement. The GL assessment expectation for Years 2 to 6, is that 60% of students should meet or exceed the expected level of attainment in their standardised tests in English, Mathematics and Science.
Data provided by Arcadia School shows that students at all levels from Year 1 to Year 6 are working considerably above the GL expectations.
|Year Group||% of students working at or above expectations|
* Year 1 student percentages are average attainment data.
Classrooms are located around the exterior three 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 current Arcadia 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. The play areas on the ground floor are carefully arranged to be shaded and to create corridors where a fresh breeze can travel.
The school prides itself of being "warm, friendly, and community-oriented".
The construction of the Secondary School on the much larger neighbouring plot has also provided access to more open natural space.
The Secondary School is located on a plot of 140,000 square feet (over double the size of the original school building) and has built up area of 264,000 square feet, 70% larger than the original school. Two additional sporting facilities include a 3,500 square feet Swimming Pool and a football pitch of some 58,879 square feet. The school also features a Dining Hall for communal eating, a library designed to accommodate a range of study areas and an indoor sports hall set up to offer a range of sports activities.
The environment of new building is described as 'Ultra-modern' and offers attractive and efficient spaces which have been designed for the ease of use of portable technology. There are open, light and transparent areas throughout the school which complement the modern classrooms which are designed to be modular and flexible. Special features of the classrooms include variable height furniture, based on research that suggests that children learn better in a flexibly furnished space (think reading a book on the floor at home or perched on stool as opposed to the formal structure of a chair at a table), and interactive projection facilities onto classroom walls.
In addition to the regular facilities of the school, additional investment has recently been made to include UV lights and an air purification system in order to ensure the highest levels of safety and health, following the Coronavirus pandemic.
Arcadia School received its first KHDA/DSIB inspection in March 2019 and was rated Good - the minimum rating that the KHDA aims for all school in the emirate to achieve. It is also commonly the case for a new school, entering its first inspection round, that this is the likely outcome if the school is operating at a level the KHDA would expect.
Due to the cancellation of inspections as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, no inspection was carried out in the 2019-20 academic year.
The inspection team found the strengths of the school to be students' Outstanding personal development in the Foundation section (also rated Very Good in the Primary section), the Very Good Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, and the relationship with Parents and the community. The investment in the school was also clearly illustrated by an Outstanding rating for Management, staffing, facilities and resources.
The strongly inter-related performance standards of Students' Achievement, Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum were largely rated Good - although in common with many international schools, the performance in Arabic subjects was less strong - and rated Acceptable for the most part. Attainment in Arabic as a first language was rated Weak - an area of improvement that will need to be a particular focus of the school.
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team advised that Arcadia School needs to:
If you would like to read the full KHDA inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
As a result of the cancellation of inspections during 2020 and 2021, and in line with all UAE public and private schools, Arcadia participated in a Distance Learning Evaluation to rate the provision of on-line learning provided to all students as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. Arcadia achieved the highest rated of Developed for both the Primary and Secondary schools which were evaluated separately. The report can be found here.
In addition, in common with a number of UK curriculum schools in the city who wanted to ensure that an inspection did take place for quality assurance purposes, Arcadia was also inspected by a team representing British Schools Overseas, which follows the inspection process carried out by the UK Department of Education's inspection teams and measures the school under inspection by strict UK standards. Arcadia achieved a Good rating, one of four possible ratings and the second highest, with achievement of this level across all key performance standards.
Where areas for improvement were identified, Arcadia was advised to:
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com as received a particularly high number of responses to our School Survey for the Arcadia School with an overall rating of 4.1/5 or a positivity rating of 82%. Parents are overwhelmingly positive about their children's enjoyment of school and their sense of belonging, the academic performance of the school, their confidence the school's ability to meet their children's needs, and communication. 84% of respondents would unreservedly recommend the school to other parents, and even school fees - often the biggest niggle - appear to represent good value for money to the majority of parents.
If you are a parent, teacher or older student at Arcadia School, please share your thoughts and experience with potential members of your school community by completing our Survey here.
The KHDA inspection report notes that there are excellent relationships with parents. "Parents are fully involved in their child's education and are supportive of the school. They feel welcome in the school. Reports on their child's achievements are well-detailed with clear targets for students to achieve."
189 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey and 99% were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. They feel that their children are happy and safe at school. Parents feel that school leaders and staff listen to them and act on their views. They are provided with the information and support they need to help their children.
They describe the school "as a lovely friendly school with a community feel. All staff are approachable and make us feel welcome."
Rarely does the KHDA quote such warm comments from parents!
In Dubai, where big is increasingly seen to be best among school developers, Arcadia School is certainly worth seeking out for an exception to that rule and a school that proves small really can be quite beautiful. The launch of the Secondary school now means that parents have the option of offering their children a through-school experience, albeit split across two neighbouring but highly resourced campuses.
Our own experience of Arcadia, from Mr. Valrani across the leadership and its teachers is one of a team that is absolutely devoted to ensuring the very best of educational practice for all of their students - a singular commitment that is very visible.
Arcadia models itself on being Premium Plus school in terms of staff and facilities, but with mid-tier plus pricing. Reduced fees range from AED 45,900 for FS1, AED 52,020 for FS2, AED 59,840 for Years 1-6 and AED 63,750 for Year 7, AED 68,000 for Years 8 and 9, and AED 72,250 for Years 10 and 11. Sixth Form fees for Years 12 and 13 are approved by the KHDA at AED 76,500.
Arcadia School 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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