Aspen Heights British School is a relatively new English National Curriculum school which opened in Abu Dhabi in September 2017. The school is located in the Old Al Bahya district and is part of the International Schools Partnership group of schools.
The Story so Far
Aspen Heights British School (AHBS) opened September 2017 with founding Principal Emma Shanahan (formerly of Aldar Academies). The school is the fourth member of the International Schools Partnership group in the UAE. ISP now has more than 45 schools in 12 countries which educate over 45,000 students. Other ISP schools in the UAE include Reach British School in Abu Dhabi, and The Aquila School and Nibras International School in Dubai.
Currently, the school is open from FS1 to Year 9 and will add Year 10 in September 2021. The school is co-educational and with a 56:44 gender ratio of boys to girls. As at November 2019, AHBS has just over 700 students, from over 50 different nationalities of whom 57% were Emirati. It has grown substantially since the time of its first ADEK inspection in February 2019, when there were just 400 students.
According to the Principal's introduction to the school, Aspen Heights British School 'is very much like a village school – our close relationships with our families and the community is what sets us apart from many other schools in Abu Dhabi'. This is certainly one of the benefits of a smaller student cohort.
AHBS employs 57 teachers who come from the UK, Ireland, and South Africa. All are Native English speaking with a minimum qualification of a Bachelors' degree, appropriate teaching qualification and two years’ experience.
In common with most new schools, student numbers are much higher in the Primary section with four Nursery (FS1) classes, six FS2 classes, whilst Year 1 has five classes. Year 2 has four classes, Years 3 and 4, three classes each and Year 5-9 each have two classes. Maximum class sizes are 25 students, though the average class size is 22.
Under normal circumstances, Nursery classes each have one teacher plus a Teaching Assistant with a maximum of 20 children, whilst FS2 to Year 2 have maximum 25 children, again with a teacher plus teaching assistant. Under Covid arrangements, Nursery has 10 per class, FS2 has 20 with two separate bubbles of 10, whilst Years 1-6 have a maximum of 15 per class.
The school says that its vision 'places children; their interests and learning needs, at the centre of the learning process.We utilise the wonders of Abu Dhabi’s locality and ecology to inspire learning, and create a sense of responsibility for our local and global environment.'
Students are organised within a house system, the four names of which reflect the school's emphasis on the environment: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.
.AHBS teaches the English National Curriculum, together with the Ministry of Education curricular requirements with a focus on STEM education as well as Earth sciences and conservation. As is noted as part of the school's ethos, the school aims to "environmental focus provides children with unique hands-on opportunities to appreciate and interact with their local environment, such as growing their own vegetables and herbs in our hydroponics greenhouse".
"Amazing learning is central to everything we do" with a personalised teaching approach and enquiry led learning.
The school follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum for England and Wales, which details seven key areas of learning from birth to five years old which include:
In addition to the EYFS curriculum, FS students have Arabic lessons four times a week, they study Music and ICT, and they have twice weekly Physical Education (PE) lessons with specialist teachers in Nursery, and one swimming lesson and one PE lesson a week in FS2.
In the Primary years (Years 1-6), AHBS broadly follows the National Curriculum for England, tailored to meet the needs of the international community of the schools, as well as the Ministry of Education curriculum for Arabic subjects for both native and non-native students (Arabic, Islamic Studies and Social Studies).
Students study four core subjects – Maths, Science, English (Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening) and Computing – together with the foundation subjects of History, Geography, Art, Design and Technology, Music, Physical Education, Swimming, French (from Year 3 upwards), and Moral Education.
In addition to the British curriculum, the school values, ethos and teaching approaches encourage children to develop collaborative enquiry skills, and 'to understand that they are important individuals who can make a positive difference to the lives of others. Our aim is to promote curiosity, to encourage students to ask questions, and to teach them to use their skills and knowledge confidently in real life situations.'
Key learning areas include:
Extra-curricular activities (ECAs), trips and visits are designed to enhance children’s learning incorporating local culture and locality, whilst Integration of Arabic links learning through language and leading assemblies enables classes to share their learning to children and families in weekly assemblies.
Secondary school teaching provides challenge whilst enabling students to see meaningful links in their learning. Students are segregated for learning in the Secondary Building, with small classes offering a high level of support and pastoral care.
Core Subjects include English, Maths, Science, Arabic, Islamic Studies, Social and Civics, Computing, Citizenship, and Personal, Social and Health Education (PHSE).
Foundation Subjects include History, Geography, Physical Education (including Swimming), Computing, French, Art & Design, Design Technology, and Music.
Key Stage 4 students (from Year 11) will have the option to select options for further study leading to GCSE/ IGCSE examinations. It is expected that the school will offer A Level at Years 12 and 13.
Throughout the whole school, students are exposed to a wide range of learning apps using iPads and tablet technology, augmented reality (AR), and control technology.
A wide range of enrichment activities are offered to help students cultivate individual interests and talents and develop social skills, including football, science, badminton, dance, drama, swimming, basketball , gardening, painting and Arabic.
Aspen Heights British School is an inclusive school for gifted students and those with special educational needs. The SEN department supports students across the school and also offers a specialized Inclusion class for children aged 3 to 7 years. The ADEK inspector report noted that 'systems to identify students with special educational needs (SEN) and those who are gifted and talented (G&T) are well developed. Specialist teachers develop thorough individual education plans and the school’s inclusion team support students in classes and in specialist rooms. Teachers know their students’ individual special needs and provide additional support where needed'.
What About the Facilities?
As Aspen Heights British School is a new school, it has brand-new purpose built facilities which include:
In addition to a large multi-purpose hall/ gymnasium, Aspen Heights students have access to an outdoor sports court and astro pitch, an indoor 25m swimming pool, and age-appropriate shaded outdoor playgrounds and gardens.
The schools says that it is constantly investing in new technology to enhance teaching and learning. There are Chromebooks and tablets available in every classroom in order to enhance learning across all curriculum areas.
There is also an animal centre, used as part of the environmental learning programme, together with a hydroponics greenhouse where students are able to cultivate fruit and vegetables.
Aspen Heights British School underwent its first full ADEK inspection in 2018-19 and was rated Good - one rating better than the minimum expected of schools in the UAE, and a sign of the quality we would expect of an ISP school.
Summarising the views of the inspectors, the report notes that 'The overall performance of Aspen Heights British School is good. Students’ progress is good in all subjects and they are gaining English language skills quickly. Teachers plan and deliver interesting and engaging lessons. Leaders ensure that the school is a safe and caring community and students’ personal development is very well supported'.
The introduction notes also that AHBS had grown from 50 students on opening to the 410 who attended the school at the time of the inspection less than eighteen months later. It is often when schools grow rapidly that there is a tendency to lose sight of priorities. AHBS has done very well to achieve a Good rating under such circumstances. Furthermore, the school should be congratulated on achieving two Very Good ratings on the key performance standards of Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation Skills, and the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students.
Overall, the inspectors found the school's strength to be:
As far as areas of improvement are concerned, the inspectors found that AHBS should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Aspen Heights British School says that it communicates regularly with families through parent portals, and families are invited to assembly every Thursday morning, with coffee provided afterwards. The school also runs a series of Family Workshops to involve parents in their children’s learning, and to encourage their support.
The ADEK inspection team noted that a successful ‘Friends of Aspen’ and parents’ association, allied with regular surveys of parents’ views, provide an effective means for parents to communicate with the school. Innovative online communications and the school’s portal enable parents to receive detailed information about their children’s education and academic progress.
ADEK did publish a number of Parent Surveys conducted during the 2017-18 inspection round, but Aspen Heights was obviously not included in this process. The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received only a very limited number of responses, but those parents who did participate were highly positive about the school.
If you are a parent, student or teacher at Aspen Heights British School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.
There is no question that Aspen Heights British School has made a successful entry into the British curriculum education market in Abu Dhabi. It has clearly benefited from the experience of an especially capable Principal and the support of a strong investor and management team at ISP.
The challenge for AHBS will be to continue to develop all aspects of the school whilst managing significant growth in students and staff. We will be very interested to see the 2020-21 ADEK inspection report in this context. However, based on what we know so far, we fully expect Aspen Heights to continue to deliver a high standard of education to its very broad base of families.
What About Fees?
School fees for Aspen Heights British School can be paid in full or in three instalments. Fees start at AED 35,000 for FS1 through Year 1 and rise to AED 45,000 for Years 2 through to Year 7 and AED 50,000 for Years 8, 9 and 10 respectively.
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