Seen by many as the best UK curriculum school in the capital, non-profit British School Al Khubairat, located in Al Mushrif, Abu Dhabi, serves approximately 1,900 students from 50 nationalities, from the ages of three to eighteen years old. The school was established in 1968, making it one of the oldest schools in the Emirate.
The story so far...
Established in 1968 as a not-for-profit, UK curriculum Primary school, The British School Al Khubairat is one of the longest established and, probably the most popular, UK curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi. Having expanded into Secondary school in 2000, adding a new Secondary building in 2005, BSAK offers a through curriculum from Foundation 1 (Nursery) to Year 13.
The school's website includes its Vision, Mission and Values:
Vision: Building on our unique local heritage, we will provide a world-class British education, inspiring all our students to exceed expectations.
Mission: Providing the best teachers, leadership and support in a not-for-profit environment, we nurture a genuine passion for learning.
Values: Empathy and Care; Respect and Inclusion; Honesty and Integrity; Endeavour and Resilience.
BSAK is mixed gender with a fairly even split between boys and girls. In 2018, the breakdown was 380 pupils in Foundation Stage younger than five, 670 in the Primary school and 860 are in the senior school.
At BSAK, sixty-seven percent of students are British, Emiratis account for 13% of the school's population, 3% are Australian and 2% Canadian - students from a total 50 nationalities making up the student body. Some 6% of students (approx 115) receive some form of learning support. In addition, a significant number of students are recognised as Gifted & Talented.
The school employs some 164 teachers and 49 teaching assistants, offering a staff:student ratio of 1:8 in the Foundation Stage and 1:11 through the remainder of the school. This ensures very personalised attention for each child. Staff turnover, at 19%, is average for an international school in the UAE.
In 2014, the British School Al Khubairat appointed Mark Leppard is its principal. For seven years prior Mr. Leppard had been principal of Doha College, shortlisted along with three other schools, for “Best International School” in the UK Independent School Awards. At Doha College, Mr. Leppard received the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). Since his arrival at BSAK, Mr. Leppard has injected some much needed stability after two previous heads in quick succession - Elaine Rawlings (as acting head, who remains the Head of Primary) and Dr. Christopher Ray.
Mr. Leppard did take over an institution built on very solid foundations. According to the school's previous ISI report, the "quality of governance [at the school] is excellent.... With outstanding strategic vision and astute financial planning, governors have masterminded the school’s growth into an all-age school which acts as a focal point for the British community and enjoys Emirati support".
What about the curriculum?
BSAK follows the EYFS curriculum in the Foundation Stage, and the National Curriculum of England for Primary children, adapted to the specific educational setting in the United Arab Emirates. Student performance in academics is underpinned by innovative teaching of 21st Century skills and competencies, and the promotion of strong morals and values across the school. The subjects of the National curriculum and the UAE Curriculum are intertwined to provide a rich and rounded experience. The effective use of digital resources in many guises and across all departments provides opportunities for students to learn in scenarios beyond traditional expectations.
From years 7 to 9, students continue to follow the National Curriculum of England, together with the Ministry of Education requirements for the teaching of Arabic, Islamic Education and Social Studies. Core subjects are Maths, English and Science, with language options of French or Spanish and Arabic, Humanities subjects of Geography, History and Social Studies, and Art, Technology, Drama, Music, and Computer Science. In years 10 and 11, students typically study 9 GCSE subjects and have a wide range of 22 options open to them. The less usual among these include Food Technology and Nutrition, and Media Studies.
For years 12 and 13 - Sixth Form - students can choose from 23 A Level options and the BTEC Level 3 Diploma (A Level equivalent qualification) in Sport, Business Studies and Engineering. There is also a wide range of academic enrichment opportunities available throughout the school. Whilst the expected range of traditional academic subjects are included, BSAK students may also choose options such as Fashion and Textiles, Psychology, Drama, Product Design and Photography.
The school claims to be a "centre of excellence for music and performing arts in the region". It offers lessons in more than 20 instruments as well as voice coaching; has "numerous instrumental ensemble and choral groups meeting weekly"; and collaborates with some of the world’s leading musicians and orchestras who visit Abu Dhabi throughout the year. BSAK is also "committed to becoming" a centre of sporting excellence for the region, offering specialist sports coaching in rugby, netball, cricket and football, with a team of leading sports coaches from the UK. Its growing success in the field of competitive sports has recently seen our sister website - www.schoolscompared.com - include BSAK among its list of the Best Schools for Sports in the UAE.
The school runs more than 100 clubs, and over 85 per cent of secondary students taking part in at least one after-school activity a week. These include a wide range of academic, recreational, instrumental and sporting clubs for the students to choose from each term; developing skills such as team building and confidence in a positive learning environment, outside of the normal classroom setting. Some activities are ‘invite only’ or through selection by ‘trials’. All students are encouraged to participate in the co-curricular programme throughout the year, as it is viewed as part of the ‘BSAK experience’. Other opportunities for students to be a part of include sports, music, arts, the Duke of Edinburgh award, Model United Nations (MUN) and Trips and Visits.
What about facilities?
Facilities at the school are excellent. It has a purpose-built theatre opened in September 2005 and seats up to 340 people; a large auditorium that can seat up to 600 people; a full-size synthetic-turf pitch on campus, as well as exclusive use of a high quality grass pitch adjacent to the school. It also has two well-equipped libraries. The Foundation Stage was redeveloped and upgraded in 2012 and the school has undergone extensive redevelopment in the last decade both to modernise its facilities and to meet the changing requirements of Abu Dhabi. The phases of development have been entirely financed by the school itself, reflecting its principle as a not-for-profit organisation that re-invests all of its income back into the school for the benefit of the students.
What about academic achievement?
The school fully publishes the results of its external examinations - something that we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com urge all schools to do. This provides an opportunity for parents and students to celebrate their achievement and, importantly, enables parents to understand how well students perform at the school. Academic results are by no means the be-all and end-all, but they are inevitably an important factor.
For A Level results for 2018, the school received 34 percent A* to A grades and 69 percent A* to B grades. 21 students received 3 or more A*- A whilst 53 students received 3 A*- Bs or more - this from a total cohort of 115 students. Although this represents a drop of six percentage points in its A* to A grades compared to 2016, when 40 percent were A* to A grades, this is also a reflection of changes made to the A Level curriculum. This now provides for a two year linear approach to the examinations, as opposed to the previous AS/A Level structure, which enabled students to resit exams and improve their grades at the end of the first year.
GCSE results for 2018 were also consistently of a high standard with all 126 students achieving pass grades in the exams. In addition, some 34% of results were at the new A*/9 grade, 56% at the A*-A grade (9-7), and 83% at A*-B (9-6). 95% of students achieved 5 A*-C grades (9-4), including Maths and English. Both sets of results were well ahead of average UK standards.
In April 2016, the school made headlines when one of its students, Derek Lee, 18, its Head Boy, was accepted to 17 elite universities such as Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Browns. Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Stanford, and Princeton among others. Derek received full merit scholarships from Boston University and Fordham University for undergraduate studies, winning an aggregate scholarship amount of $705,000 (AED 2.5 million approximately). Derek finally decided to study Economics at Harvard University. He is the first in his family to go to university.
In addition to its academic results, as importantly, in our opinion, BSAK also measures the progress that its students make against base-line tests when they join the school - this is one measure that demonstrates the value the school has added to students' attainment, compared with their starting points.
The results of external data and testing shows that whole school student progress is more than three times the UK national average. The recent ADEK inspection of 2018-19, in reviewing the data, agreed, and the inspection report gives an Outstanding judgement for each subject and phase of the school for both subject attainment and progress for all students - including the 6% who are registered with SEN (Special Educational Needs).
In addition, the CEM University of Durham Value Added measurement - one of the most recognised institutions researching Value Add - shows that, over a significant period of time, BSAK has achieved ‘significant value added effect’ adding, on average, over half a grade to every student in every subject.
You can find highlights of school results here.
What the inspectors say
In the 2018-19 academic year, following its ADEK inspection in October 2018, BSAK finally achieved the Outstanding rating that many felt it had long deserved.
The school had consistently been rated Very Good by the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department (ADEK) since the 2015 inspection. As with most schools across the UAE, the teaching of Arabic and Islamic Studies were singled out as areas for further attention.
The school has also been inspected by the British Schools Overseas and its latest inspection report rated it Outstanding (2019).
In the 2018-19 ADEK inspection, not only did BSAK achieve an overall rating of Outstanding, but it achieved the highest rating for each of the six key performance standards. The introduction to the report states that:
"An extended senior leadership team has recently been introduced. Since the last inspection the school has grown in all phases. To improve the standard in Arabic, leadership of this subject has moved to modern foreign languages. Recently, BTEC vocational courses have been introduced to widen choices in the Sixth Form".
The overall performance of The British School Al Khubairat is outstanding. Students' attainment in British Curriculum subjects is exceptionally high in international examinations. Most students speak Arabic as a second language, and their attainment and progress in Arabic has improved to good overall. Students’ achievement and their personal development are outstanding, as a result of excellent teaching, a rich and innovative curriculum, and the highest standards of protection, care and support. Outstanding leadership is based on accurate and rigorous self-evaluation and support for teaching".
The ADEK inspection team defined the strengths of BSAK as:
In terms of Student Achievement, the ratings for English, Maths and Science, together with other subjects (including Art, Music and PE) and Learning Skills were Outstanding across the entire school. The majority of other ratings (for Islamic Education, Arabic as a first and second language, and Social Studies) were largely Good, whilst Arabic as an additional language achieved a Very Good in the Foundation Stage. Only attainment in Islamic Education and Arabic as a first language saw Acceptable ratings for attainment.
Students' personal and social development and their skills to be innovative were found to be Outstanding and have improved since the last inspection. Inspectors noted that "Students are highly responsible and independent learners. They welcome feedback and almost all take independent steps to improve their achievement". They also found that "Students are highly creative and innovative. They make extensive use of technology to advance and enhance their learning and are skilled and proficient in its use. Outside lessons, students are entrepreneurial and take part in competitions to run businesses".
The key performance standard of Teaching and Assessment - vital to Students' Achievement - was also rated Outstanding across the school. The report states that "Teaching and assessment are outstanding and have improved since the last inspection. Teachers’ very strong subject knowledge and excellent pedagogical skills lead to exceptional learning in most subjects". Progress is still required for Arabic medium teaching. In addition, inspectors commented that "Extensive external benchmarking using GCSE criteria and other standardised tests provides a very clear picture of the progress of individuals and groups in subjects taught in English. Careful modifications to support and challenge individuals is highly effective in promoting learning in these subjects".
Again, the design of the curriculum, its implementation and adaptation to meet the needs of individual students was deemed to be Outstanding. The inspection team reported that "The quality of the curriculum is outstanding and has improved since the last inspection. It is carefully aligned to the English National Curriculum and the UAE national vision. It is highly effective in delivering knowledge, skills and understanding and promoting students' personal development".
The key measure of the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students is also Outstanding. The report notes that "Systems to identify and support students with additional learning needs are highly effective. SEN students receive well-targeted support both in classrooms and in specially resourced rooms. G&T students are very well supported by the Academic Scholars Programme and receive additional specialist guidance from mentors. Subject leaders and senior leaders personally mentor G&T students to provide extra challenge and support". In addition, inspectors noted that staff provide highly effective academic guidance and personal development support to students through structured programmes.
The five criteria for final key performance standard for Leadership and Management were all also rated Outstanding. In particular, inspectors singled out the quality of leadership, noting that "Leaders at all levels communicate high aspirations for students' achievements and provide exceptional support for students and teachers". In addition, they praised the improvements to governance since the previous inspection, commenting that "The Governing Board now has extensive systems in place to enable it to understand the school's strengths and stakeholders' views. As a result, it has an accurate understanding of where further improvements are required. The Board robustly holds school leaders to account for the delivery of improvements and this has contributed significantly to the rapid improvements in provision since the previous inspection".
BSAK will not, however, rest on its laurels. There are a number of recommendations throughout the report, but the inspection team identified the following key area for improvement:
It is rare that a school is left with only one key area of improvement and BSAK has clearly made significant progress over the past two years since its previous inspection, and very significant progress indeed since 2014, to raise standards across the school.
With the evident commitment of the leadership, governors, parents and students, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com fully anticipate that the required improvements will be part of a process of continuous improvement which is clearly embedded within the school.
Perhaps unsurprisingly this is a school that has a reputation of being incredibly difficult to get into, although its website states that applications are being accepted at all levels. If you're on this track, other highly regarded British schools in Abu Dhabi include Al Yasmina School, The British International School Abu Dhabi (BISAD) and Brighton College.
Also unsurprisingly, parents who have completed our Parent Survey are generally satisfied with their choice of school with 90% saying that they would recommend the school to other parents - compared with a UAE average of 72%. 70% also feel that the standard of education delivered by BSAK is above the standards of their home country. If you are a parent at BSAK, please provide your feedback by completing our survey here.
This may be a not for profit school, but those facilities and high quality staff clearly cost. Fees at the school are top end for Abu Dhabi - though good value compared with equivalently ranked schools in Dubai. FS1/Nursery fees start at AED 37,600; from FS2 to Y6 fees are AED 48,700 yearly while secondary fees are AED 65,400.
ADEK has described the fees as "Good Value", an unusual comment by the education authority, and also for the premium nature of the fees (they are top-end), but no less true given the quality of education on offer, and what you get for your money.
British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi 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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