At a glance
Almost 70 different nationalities are represented among the student population, and according to Cambridge International School Dubai itself no one nationality dominates the student body. However, the largest single demographic is Indian.
Students are taught by 132 full-time teachers in 88 classes – giving an average classroom size of 29 plus (down from 34 plus last year – very high for a GEMS UK curriculum school). The issue is not staffing – the teacher to pupil ratio is 1:19 – but space. Plans for a new facility to address the issue of class sizes were put in place over the last academic year.
Ranked ‘Good’ by the KHDA for seven years in a row, Cambridge International has some Outstanding features according to the education regulator.
Attainment in English is outstanding at primary and secondary, as is attainment at secondary in science. The school is rated Good for maths across the board. Areas of weakness include Islamic education and Arabic where attainment and progress is largely acceptable, and at primary where performance has weakened over the last 12 months now deemed only acceptable pretty much across the board.
Cambridge has recently introduced Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) level 2 and level 3 vocational qualification in a range of subjects at secondary and post-16 phases respectively. Every year the school says it “looks to further develop the pathways that we have on offer to our students” – see the Q and A. Parental engagement is also said to be a strength of the school.
The National Curriculum for England is the school’s core curriculum. Students are entered for the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and/or GCSE examinations at the end of the secondary phase and GCE Advanced level examinations at the end of the post-16 phase. GEMS Education, the school’s owber, no longer releases the exam results of any of its schools, so it is not possible to say how well or how badly the school fares in external examinations. On average, across the board, its schools do reasonably well however.
For recommendations, the KHDA noted in 2012/13 the Primary phase needed to improve teaching methods. This is also stressed through its 2014-2016 reports, although the KHDA notes it has seen an improvement in teaching styles, leading to an improvement in pupil attainment. For 2015 and 2016 the KHDA notes the need to improve students’ attainment and progress in Islamic Education and Arabic.
The2015 report also noted the need to improve the accuracy of identification of children with special educational needs in the Foundation Stage and the quality of provision for them. It also highlighted the need to review and confirm the optimum number of students in the school to ensure all have equal access to a high quality teaching and learning environment.
The school no longer publishes the university destinations of its students. The last time it did was in 2012/13 and, perhaps reflecting the mixed nationality of its student body, the school’s alumni spread across the four corners of the world. The biggest single destination is the UAE, followed by the United Kingdom, and students end up in good quality ‘Red Brick’ schools (Manchester, UCL, Leeds) as well as more vocational former Polytechnics (Portsmouth, Kingston, etc).
No GEMS school (with the exception of the Outstanding rated Jumeirah College) publishes its results in external examinations. The last time CS did was in the 2011-2012 academic year when 79% of students from Cambridge International School, Dubai achieved A* – C (including Math and English) in their IGCSE examinations. This was almost 20% higher than the UK National average of 59.4% for the same year. In the 2011 – 2012 academic year 27% of students from Cambridge International School, Dubai obtained A –A* in their A Level Examinations. This was about 2% higher than the UK National Average of 24.4% for the same year. Results have not been published since.
There are a large range of facilities available for students of all ages to use. A large covered swimming pool, cricket nets and playing fields complement the indoor sports arena and multi-purpose hall. A separate, well-equipped, grassed playing area is available for students from Kindergarten to Year 2.
The school has five ICT labs (with over 180 computers available for students), two art studios, a music studio, two well stocked libraries, a multi-purpose sports hall, and a standard sized football pitch with all weather AstroTurf.
Feedback from parents to Which School Advisor has been mixed. The school is currently fell below average in terms of an overall recommendation from parents in the WSA School Survey. Satisfaction levels for academic performance are also below average. The school has an above average satisfaction level amongst parents with children at the school for good feedback on progress, and school discipline.
Tuition fees for the school are very affordable for a school following a UK curriculum, ranging from 17,206 AED per annum for KG grades, to 23,361 AED for Years 12-13. There are a number of other fees paid annually that cover medical, computers, etc which add another 1000 plus AED to the school fee. Fundamentally however CIS must be ranked as one of the best value, good quality UK based schools in Dubai.
The WSA Inspection: Cambridge International School (CIS), Dubai
10 am, Wednesday 27th January, 2016
A 35 year old veteran of the Dubai school scene, Cambridge International is a gem. At once cosy and friendly, its staff and pupils give off a progressive and enthusiastic vibe. Led by an approachable and open principal CIS is academically ambitious but also welcoming of diversity.
CIS is situated on a well-established site in the Garhoud area. It has a 5 foot high wall right around the campus so that you can see into the school but there is colourful bougainvillea with high trees and chain link fencing for security. The traditional white school buildings with their dark red rooves have a distinctly small-scale feel.
The school is 35 years old – although was originally situated in Karama, so this is not the original building. It is close to the Metro and many pupils travel that way to school, including some students who venture from as far as Emirates Hills – a sign that CIS is both something special, but also has a strong alumni of students who now have children of their own.
The security staff that greeted us were friendly and we were asked to provide picture IDs to enter. In the entrance there’s a cabinet packed with cups and trophies. The school has a welcoming feel. At the entrance is a parent/teacher café where casual meetings take place. On the left through a large glass window is a library where tables of students were quietly beavering away at their school work.
While we waited for the Head three small pupils with clipboards were being led around by their teacher and they asked if WhichSchoolAdvisor was grouchy or friendly, a survey the trio were obviously conducting around the school.
One person who clearly is not grouchy is the enthusiastic headmaster, who greeted us with a great deal of warmth before inviting us to his office to discuss the school. Craig Lamshed is from Australia and has been head for three and a half years. He was extremely enthusiastic about his role and the establishment claiming it was a “great school” with the children and the school community being chief strengths. He added that the student body is “driven and ambitious” and that the parents as well as staff provide “dynamism”.
Mr Lamshed was keen to explain that the school is always seeking ways to improve. For example it is adding International Baccalaureate to its curriculum (it currently teaches A Level and BTEC).
Mr Lamshed was also eager to stress that at CIS, students provide the leadership. Some 185 children have leadership roles he told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, with a Head Boy and Girl with around 70 Prefects.
An example of forward thinking, innovative decisions made by students is in the use of Snapchat to get information to students, parents and teachers. This was a request made by students, that has proven remarkably effective.
On the staffing side there are six senior members of the leadership team, and five middle leaders (heads of years and departments). Students speak highly of staff, describing them (to WSA) as “very experienced”, some having taught for 15 to 20 years at the school.
That strength is carried through to Special Needs provision. Mr Lamshed told WSA that the school has “a strong focus on SEN” and that it has put in place an experienced team to deal with Special Needs requirements through the school.
The school has an anti-bullying campaign and policy, and Mr Lamshed described the atmosphere at CIS as “happy and joyous”.
The school is said to have very few behavioural or safety issues.
All this fuels the school’s academic successes which, says Lamshed are “amazing… outshining some other well-known and much more expensive schools in Dubai.” Lamshed we believe was referring to this WSA article. The school has been awarded many top Cambridge examination awards. One student last year came top in the world within the system.
As a result students from CIS attend some top universities around the world, heading to the UK, Canada, Australia as well as studying at UAE universities.
On our visit we met with student leaders including the Head Boy and Girl. We asked them why Cambridge was unique, “what made it special?” One student raved about its “friendly atmosphere”, another new to the school this year told us how quickly he felt accepted and part of the school. One student praised the “sense of community” as the school is “not so big” while another spoke of how CIS “gave everyone the chance to express themselves”.
And there are apparently many opportunities for self-expression – not least in the debating club where opinions are really listened to and discussed. However the arts in general is an important part of the school and we were shown the main hall where choirs, bands and actors perform on stage. On our visit the school was preparing for its very own Oscars, an evening where staff and pupils compete in singing and dancing performances. Miss India, a former pupil, is to be involved in judging and handing out awards.
There are many ways that the school serves the community. As part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme students work with special needs children, some of whom were taken on a recent school trip.
There are also many extra-curricular activities. Sport is taken seriously. CIS plays in all the major school leagues in Dubai. There is a large Astroturf sports field, tennis courts, a covered swimming pool and areas for general play. As we were present at break-time we were impressed by how active most students were. Football, cricket and plenty of running around was happening.
There are several open courtyard areas with shading where children can eat, chat or play. There is a separate sixth form courtyard where students can socialise and play table tennis etc.
There is a decent canteen serving healthy food at a reasonable price. No fizzy drinks or chocolate here!
The lower school is colourful and most walls have murals inspired by nature. Its courtyard has plenty of fun play areas with lots of supervision. Students, from over 70 nationalities, seem very happy and mix well.
CIS is a selective school but SEN students are welcomed and supported.
Compared to the shiniest new schools being built in Dubai there is no doubt Cambridge International can look a little frayed around the edges. Wise parents however will look beyond that and see a school which is very well managed and led (by both staff and students), confident, vibrant, happy with itself, and fundamentally, one that is hugely successful meeting its own goals and aspirations. If as a parent you buy into these, it is unlikely you will be disappointed in choosing CIS.
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