The Australian School of Abu Dhabi is located in one of the newer areas of Abu Dhabi - Khalifa City B - close to Abu Dhabi airport. This is a largely Emirati community, and the majority of students naturally come from the local population. The school follows a largely international curricula, and is one of the cheapest IB DP schools in the whole of the emirate. Unfortunately, for it to be considered good value, it would also need to step up its delivery.
Rated Acceptable in the 2016-17 ADEK Inspection round, the latest available, the Australian School of Abu Dhabi, has now made the grade in terms of providing an adequate level of education that meets the minimum requirements of the Abu Dhabi schools regulator. While the school is Australian in name, its curriculum is international and IB based, while in terms of student body it is distinctly UAE. Three out of four students come from the local Emirati community, with a further 7% of students originating from Egypt, 3% from Yemen and a further 2% from Jordan. Some thirty nationalities are represented in total however - including some Australians.
Students are supported by a team of 90 teachers and a further 10 teaching assistants. The staff to student ratio is 1:18 in the KG section and 1:12 in the other phases of the school. Staff turnover, at 28%, is definitely on the high side, compared with an average 20-22% in international schools in the UAE. This should be a concern to both the school and its students, since losing over a quarter of staff - and having to replace them - annually, means a lack of continuity and an inevitable period of settling in for those new teachers. The inspection report notes that "Governors hold leaders accountable, and have had a positive impact on improvements since the last inspection. This has been limited by frequent changes in senior leadership."
The Australian School of Abu Dhabi (ASAD) opened in 2005, offering KG‐Grade 3 in temporary accommodation. In 2007, the school moved to a permanent building at Khalifa City B and offers education up to Grade 12. It is is one of 4 member schools of the Australian International Academy; the other three are located in Australia. The school is an authorised International Baccalaureate World school and offers the three IB Programmes - PYP for Elementary, MYP for Middle School students and the IB Diploma programme for Grades 11 and 12.
The IB programme has a reputation of being tough academically, and in its ten years of operation ASAD has yet to get to the point of being able to match the best IB schools in the UAE. According to its latest report, the strengths of the school are "students’ progress, in some core subjects, and personal development, and effective teaching and use of assessment in the high phase; the sustained progress that girls make throughout the school; the learning environment in the KG; [and] the effectiveness of middle leaders in the day-to-day running of most aspects of school life". The report also notes that "IB external data for all subjects for Grade 12 shows acceptable attainment, with most students achieving the IB diploma qualification".
Closer examination reveals that progress and attainment for both Arabic and non-Arabic core subjects are rated broadly Acceptable across three of the four sections of the school. Highlights include Arabic as first language and other non-core subjects (Art, Music and PE) in the High School which are rated Good for both attainment and progress. However, these positive ratings are counterbalanced by Weak attainment in Arabic as a second language, and Weak attainment and progress in English, Mathematics and Science and other subjects throughout the Middle School. Only Arabic as a first language, Islamic Studies and Social Studies are rated Acceptable - a real concern for such an important point in students' education, in advance of them moving on to take school leaving qualifications in High School.
Learning Skills (including innovation, creativity, critical thinking, communication, problem solving and collaboration) are rated Acceptable in KG and Elementary School, Weak in Middle School and Good in the High School. The High School consisted over only just 77 students at the time of the last inspection. The ADEK report notes that "Progress is good overall in the high phase because of effective teaching and assessment. Girls make sustained progress throughout the school. School leaders have had limited impact in improving the achievement and behaviour of a large minority of boys in the middle phase". This is clearly a key factor impacting the performance of this section of the school.
Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills are rated Acceptable in KG and Primary, a mix of Weak (for Personal Development) and Acceptable in Middle School and Good (for Personal Development) in the High School. Inspectors found that "Personal development is good in the high phase where students are more self-reliant. Most students have responsible attitudes towards learning. Behaviour overall contributes to a safe and orderly learning environment, but poor behaviour of the large minority of middle phase boys disturbs their peers in lessons and assemblies. Relationships amongst most students and staff are respectful." In addition, inspectors noted that although "Students hold responsibilities in the school community, their involvement as volunteers within the local community is irregular. Students are aware of environmental issues and demonstrate concern for their surroundings. Innovation and higher level learning skills are not yet strong, particularly those of the middle phase boys."
It seems that the qualifications and abilities of teachers are not the main issue. The quality of teaching and assessment was found to be acceptable overall, but with significant variability across the middle and high phases. "Teaching is acceptable in the KG and primary phase, weak for boys in the middle phase and good in the high phase. Most teachers have secure subject knowledge and deliver their subject appropriately. Student-centred, stimulating learning involving a range of strategies and challenging questioning is planned, but not yet used consistently well across all lessons. Middle phase lessons often fail to hold boys’ interest. Teaching is effective in the high phase where students are presented with open-ended, interesting activities."
Although the quality of the curriculum was found to be Acceptable and in line with the requirements of the Ministry of Education and the IB, the school was found to be in breach of has several requirements for the delivery of its licensed curriculum. For example, boys and girls are taught together in Grade 8 Social Studies for non-Arabs, and Grade 11 and 12 lessons. Provision of Arabic instruction for non-Arab students does not comply with regulations in Grades 1 and 2, and in Grades 6 to 10. On the plus side, balance, continuity and progression were found to be Acceptable. Cross–curricula themes, such as community projects, link students’ learning across a few subjects. Curriculum review has improved students’ achievement and the KG learning environment. Opportunities to develop independent enterprise and innovation skills are planned, but not always delivered, except in the high phase. Additional choices such as French and business studies in the high phase add breadth.
Inspectors also noted that learning activities are not yet sufficiently differentiated to fully support lower achievers or challenge more-able students. The curriculum was found to be insufficiently modified to engage a large minority of middle phase boys. Opportunities for creativity, innovation, and collaboration are not yet consistent across subjects and are particularly limited for middle phase boys although Extra-curricular activities and community links, such as scouts and Model United Nations (MUN), broaden the curriculum.
In terms of the protection, care and guidance of students, provision is again rated largely Acceptable by the inspectors. School buildings are noted as well-maintained and and accessible for students with additional needs and provide a fit‐for‐purpose learning environment. Learning areas and specialist facilities are of adequate quality and suitable resources are available to support learning. Adequate science and ICT laboratories, as well as music and art rooms, are provided and the internal facilities, including the swimming pool, provide well for physical education. The school shows commitment to improving facilities.
The overall quality of care and support was found to be generally acceptable, although several aspects have yet to be strengthened, especially in the middle phase where it is weak. Staff and students’ relations are generally respectful in the KG, primary and high phases. Relationships are at times strained in the middle phase due to the poor behaviour of a large minority of boys. Procedures for managing these students’ behaviour and their guidance and support are not yet effective.
Leadership and Management of the school were deemed to be Acceptable across all 5 key indicators. However, inspectors noted the following areas for improvement: the effectiveness of teaching in raising the achievement of all students, (notably in relation to students with SEND or Gifts and Talents, and) particularly boys in the middle phase; the impact of senior leaders in improving the management of the behaviour of a large minority of boys in the middle phase; support for students who have special educational needs and who are gifted and talented; [and] the management of students’ punctuality to school and the conduct of a minority of students in assemblies. In particular, the Leadership and Management of the school have been asked to [set] high expectations for the behaviour of all students through clear routines and rigorously monitoring and supporting all staff in their consistent implementation.
It seems that the Australian School of Abu Dhabi has a range of challenges on its hands if it is to make the improvement beyond Acceptable that it assuredly would wish to do. Much of this will require the support not only of staff, but of parents and students. However, the inspectors noted that "The views of parents are generally considered when shaping school policies. Their involvement in the work of the school is acceptable, but not yet strong enough to enforce punctuality. Reporting is regular and includes information about students’ performance. The school has adequate links with the local community. Leaders have yet to develop these further through activities and events for all students."
Fees at the Australian School of Abu Dhabi range from AED 14,957 to AED 35,334 - mid range for the emirate. The school is however, one of the cheapest IB school in the whole of UAE, although its delivery, if measured by successful outcomes at the Diploma, is not yet anywhere near where it should be.
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