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 it will launch a secondary section, located just across the square from the original primary section.
The story so far...
Originally established as the Arcadia Preparatory School, the recent (2019) change of name reflects the expansion plans which will see a Secondary section open across the square from the current primary school in February 2020, when it will offer places from FS1 to Year 7 (Year 7 students are currently accommodated within the original building) adding Year 8 in September 2020.
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, Nitin, is CEO of the venture. Principal Graham Beale was involved in the project from the drawing board and is clearly enormously personally invested in the school.
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 550, spread across four classes in each year group. 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 47 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.
Approximately 5% of students have additional learning needs and are supported by a specialist SEN team. 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.
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.
What about the curriculum?
Arcadia School follows the English National Curriculum with a focus on the core subjects of Mathematics, English and Science, but seeks to instill 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 will have a particular focus on Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Outdoor Education. They will 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 September 2022, followed by A Levels in September 2023 (based on students joining the school for Sixth Form from outside when the school starts to offer Year 12 in September 2022, concurrently with Year 10.
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, STEAM 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.
What about Academic Achievement?
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.
What about the facilities?
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 will hopefully also provide access to more open natural space. Construction on the Secondary School started in 2019 with opening planned for February 2020.
The Secondary School is located on a plot of 140,000 square feet (over double the size of the original school building) and will have a built up area of 264,000 square feet which will be some 70% larger than the current school. Two additional sporting facilities which will certainly be appreciated include a 3,500 square feet Swimming Pool (over 2.5 times the size of the current pool) and a football pitch of some 58,879 square feet - seven times the size of that available to students in the original building. The school will also feature 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 will offer attractive and efficient spaces which have been designed for the ease of use of portable technology. There will be open, light and transparent areas throughout the school which will complement that 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 flexible furnishing 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.
What the inspectors say
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.
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.
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!
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com as received a particularly high number of responses to our School Survey for the Arcadia School. Parents are overwhelmingly positive about their children's enjoyment of school, the academic performance of the school, their confidence the school's ability to meet their children's needs, and communication. 84% 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.
In Dubai, where big is increasingly best among school developers, Arcadia School is certainly worth seeking out for an exception to the rule, a school that proves small really can be quite beautiful. The launch of the neighbouring Secondary school in September 2020 means that parents will have the option of offering their children a through-school experience, albeit split across two neighbouring campuses.
What about the fees?
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 and AED 59,840 for Years 1-7.
Students entering the academic year 2019-20, are eligible for the Governors’ Scholarship and are subsidised 15% of their tuition fee for their entire tenure at Arcadia School (until the end of Year 6). This includes deposits paid in 2019-20 academic year for future enrolment years.
For students joining Foundation Stage 1 classes in 2019-20, the tuition fee will be subsidised 25% for that year only and thereafter will be subsidised at 15% for the remainder of the student’s time at Arcadia School (until the end of Year 6).
Places will be open to students in Years 7 and 8 from September 2020 - applications are being accepted now - for Year 9 from September 2021 and Years 10, 11 and 12 from September 2022.
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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