With just over 2,700 students, Cambridge International School Dubai, located in Garhoud, is a well established GEMS school teaching children from FS1 to Year 13.
The story so far...
Opened in 1983, Cambridge International School (CIS) is one of the longest-established, moderately-priced GEMS English National curriculum schools in Dubai.
For many years located in one of the traditional residential areas of Deira in a school Education Zone (one of the few city centre zones), Cambridge International School has recently relocated to Al Twar. The school was originally based in Karama.
Around 65 different nationalities are represented among the student population, and according to CIS no one nationality dominates the student body. However, the largest single demographic is Indian.
Two significant changes have taken place at CIS in recent years. Firstly, the previous long-standing Principal was replaced in September 2017 by the school's current Principal and CEO, Lachlan MacKinnon. Secondly, student numbers, which reduced from 2,600 in 2016-17, to around 2,530 in 2017-18, have now started to return to earlier levels, at 2,700 in 2020.
Although not a hugely significant number, this reduction may have temporarily assisted one of the key concerns of the KHDA inspection teams, in relation to over-crowding, to be addressed to some degree. The issue is not staffing – the teacher to pupil ratio is 1:18 (on the high side, but not uncommon in affordably-priced schools) – but space.
Plans for a new facility to address the issue of class sizes were apparently put in place during the previous academic year, but no firm information had been made available and comments in the latest KHDA inspection report for 2019-20 -"They (the Governors) have not addressed the negative impact on learning resulting from overcrowded classrooms" - would suggest that no meaningful action had been taken.
However, it seems that GEMS has finally 'bitten the bullet' and been able to take advantage of the closure of a number of schools with an announcement of relocation, weeks before the start of the new 2020-21 academic year, to an existing facility on Damascus Street, Al Twar - full details can be found in our article here.
Students are taught by 147 full-time teachers in 88 classes – giving an average class size of 28 plus (down from 34 two years ago – very high for a GEMS UK curriculum school and breaching the KHDA's own regulations). Staff are mainly Indian, and are supported by a further 23 teaching assistants. Staff turnover, at 22% in 2018-19, was on the high end of average for teachers in Dubai (the average is 20-22%), and on the high side for a mainly Indian-staffed school. However, 2019-20 saw a dramatic improvement (driven presumably by the 'settling in' of the new leadership, with turnover of only 5%.
CIS offers the English National curriculum, following the EYFS curriculum in Foundation, the National Curriculum for England and Wales through to Year 9 and then predominantly the Cambridge International IGCSE qualification at O Level (although the school also offers a limited number of Edexcel GCSE subjects) and AS and A Level in Sixth Form.
In terms of IGCSE and A Level options, CIS offers a much wider range than some other moderately-priced UK curriculum schools. A Level subjects include Accounting, Applied ICT, Arabic, Art & Design, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Computing, Economics, Literature, Environmental Management, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, Sociology, Travel & Tourism, IT, Media Studies, Performing Arts and Science.
CIS has recently introduced Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) level 2 and level 3 vocational qualification in a range of subjects, including Business Studies, 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”.
Further optional subjects available to students are via the GEMS Enrichment 365 programme whereby students may pay to take additional classes and exams, including Cambridge English (English as an additional language), Modern Foreign Languages (the school offers French), Arabic (native speakers) GCSE, Digital Creativity, Cisco-CCNA, Cisco (basic)-IT Essentials, Microsoft IT Academy, Programming/Coding, Robotics, Formula 1, Photography, Music Performances, Triathlon-Club and the Duke of Edinburgh International Award.
A particular focus of CIS is the integration of technology within the school's curriculum. Students are encouraged to integrate the use of technology into every aspect of their learning. This is reflected in the five ICT labs with over 180 computers available for students and the provision of full Internet connectivity throughout the school. The secondary library is also equipped with networked computers for students and staff to use. CIS is a Microsoft Showcase Centre and a CISCO Academy, with plans to become an Apple Certified school. The school will have a whole-school BYOD policy - something that parents may not be too pleased about - with the introduction of more iPad Minis in Foundation Stage, Early Years and Primary classes. The school says it "want[s] students to be able to use engaging technologies in a collaborative, inquiry based format through a personalised learning environment".
In addition to the academic side of the school, CIS offers a somewhat limited range of Extra-curricular activities including drama, choir, computers, art and design, a variety of sports activities such as Swimming, Gymnastics, Hockey, Basketball, Cricket, Badminton, Football, Netball, Athletics, Rounders, Volleyball and Handball, a number of school clubs and Arts, Drama, Dance.
What about Academics?
GEMS Education, the school’s owner, no longer releases the exam results for many of its schools, but WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is pleased to see that CIS is prepared to issue its results on its website. Whilst we fully appreciate that schools should not be judged by results alone, they are none-the-less a key measure of performance and we believe that parents are entitled to transparency in this regard.
Although CIS does not publish the results in full - which would enable comparison with peer schools - the data it does provide allows some conclusions to be drawn.
The most recent results to be published are for 2018-19. Given the cancellation of examinations for 2019-20 as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, and the provision of teacher-assessed grades (which tended to be higher than historical data), it is perhaps a good decision by the school in terms of data for future comparison.
For IGCSE, the school advised that 42% of student entries obtained were A*/A. The additional data appears to be in relation to individual student attainment rather than examination entries (the more commonly used measure). 71% of students gained A*/B grades (in one or more subjects), 87% of students gained A*/C (in one or more subjects) .84% of students gained 5 A*/C. The overall pass rate at Cambridge International was 99%.
For comparison, the 2019 results for UAE schools overall can be found here.
For AS Level, the school advised that 35% of students obtained Grade A, the highest grade, whilst 50% of students achieved Grades A - B. The overall pass rate at Cambridge International was 84%, whilst 60 % of entries were graded A-C.
A Level results showed that 14% of student entries obtained A*, as compared to the UK National Average of 7.7%, 33 % of student entries were graded A*-A, as compared to the UK National Average of 25.5% and of the 116 students who took three or more A level exams, 23% of these students achieved 3 A*-A. 54% of students achieved A* - B, while 77% achieved A*-C. The overall pass rate at Cambridge International was 98%.
For comparison, the 2019 A Level results can be found here.
There is no doubt that these are results of which Cambridge International School and its students can feel deservedly proud.
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’ universities (Manchester, UCL, Leeds) as well as more vocational former Polytechnics (Portsmouth, Kingston, etc).
What about facilities?
The Garhoud site enabled each school section to have its own facilities, flanked by the administration wing. In addition to the substantial number of classrooms, the school had two well stocked libraries, one for the Primary school and the other for the Secondary school. Two art studios and a music studio provide students with a wide array of resources.
According to the website of New World School (the campus that has been taken over by CIS), facilities are a world away from the previous school at Garhoud.
They include a school building consisting of two separate sections with dedicated entrances for each set on an area of 200,000 sq ft. Facilities include an 800-seater auditorium equipped with the latest technologies to host high-level events.six computer labs, five high-quality science labs equipped, two music rooms, and two art rooms. Sports facilities include an air-conditioned multi-purpose indoor sports set up for a range of indoor sports activities including football to basketball, handball, volleyball, Badminton, and gymnastics.
There are also two indoor swimming pools: a 4-lane community pool and a learner pool, both fully equipped with toilets, showers and separated changing rooms for male and female students. Outdoor sports facilities include a Soccer pitch covered with artificial grass and lit with spotlights and an Outdoor Basket Ball court.
What the inspectors say
Ranked ‘Good’ by the KHDA for eleven years in a row, Cambridge International has some Outstanding features according to the education regulator.
The report notes that "The principal has a clear vision for improvement which is implemented through effective action plans" and this is reflected in the strengths of the school.
In terms of the school's strengths, the KHDA Inspection report found these to be:
In many respects, Student Achievement at CIS can be differentiated directly based on the section of the school. There are very clear strengths in English, Maths and Science across both the Foundation and Secondary sections of the school, where progress and achievement were all found to be Very Good, whilst in Primary these measures were rated Good. In the Sixth Form, English and Science are Very Good, but Maths is less strong at Good.
In the core Arabic-taught subjects of Islamic Education and Arabic as both a first and additional language, attainment is largely Acceptable. Progress is Good in Islamic Studies, but with the exception of Primary Arabic as a first language (rated Good), all other measures are Acceptable. Compared with many international schools that are still measured Weak in aspects of these subjects, CIS students are performing comparatively well, but certainly not well enough to meet the KHDA's requirements.
It is in the key indicators of Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills that the largest number of Outstanding measures are to be found. Social responsibility and innovation skills achieve the highest rating across the school, as do Secondary and Sixth Form students' understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures; both the Foundation stage and Primary students are rated Very Good in this regard. Personal development also achieves the highest rating in the Foundation stage and Sixth Form, whilst this indicator is rated Very Good in Primary and Secondary.
The design and implementation of the curriculum and its adaptation to meet the varying needs of children was another key indicator that was rated highly by the Inspection team, being found to be Very Good in Foundation and Primary and Outstanding in Secondary and Sixth Form. A range of improvements in Primary, involving the provision of specialist subject teachers for languages, music and art, and the development of extra-curricular activities were particularly singled out for praise.
However, the key measure of Teaching and Assessment is one where CIS still needs to make progress. The inspectors found that "Teachers’ subject and curriculum knowledge, and their understanding of the learning processes, are highly evident in the FS and post-16. In other phases, the effectiveness of teachers’ planning and questioning is inconsistent. In the FS and post-16 phases, assessment systems give consistently clear and robust measures of attainment and progress. This is not the case in the primary and secondary phases."
Inspectors also commented that "the curriculum follows closely most of requirements of the English National Curriculum and UAE statutory requirements. Cross-curricular links are increasing and are meaningful, especially in the FS and post-16 phases. Adaptations to the curriculum have improved transition from FS into Year 1. Opportunities for enterprise and innovation are strongest in the secondary and post-16 phases."
The protection, care, guidance and support of students were generally rated Very Good, with Care and Support for Sixth Form found to be Outstanding. Whilst systems for identifying students with special educational needs and those who are gifted and/or talented were found to be comprehensive and thorough, support for these students, especially those in the secondary phase, was inconsistent in quality. Given the focus on Inclusive Education by the KHDA, and the school's overall rating of Good in this context, CIS will doubtless focus further effort in this area.
The final key performance indicator of Leadership and Management retained the same rating as a year ago. The effectiveness of leadership and the school's self-evaluation and improvement planning, Governance and the management, staffing, facilities and resources remained rated Good, and the relationship between the school, parents and the community remained Outstanding.
Inspectors noted that "Parents support the school very well. They encourage their children to undertake projects at home which will extend their research and presentation skills. Reports on students’ progress and achievement are detailed. The school communicates extremely well with parents, using an effective communication system and a face-to-face approach. The school has very strong links with the wider community, which enhance learning."
Once again, however, the inspectors noted that "The Board has not sufficiently supported the school in ensuring that the size of classes is appropriate to ensure high-quality learning."
It is to be hoped that the relocation to Al Twar will finally allow the school to provide its students with the space, facilities and resources that it clearly needs.
In terms of areas for improvement, the inspection team recommended that CIS should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to better understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Parental feedback from the KHDA's pre-inspection survey, to which 342 replied, indicate that 90% of the respondents were satisfied with the quality of education provided by CIS. Almost all parents who responded to the survey commented positively about the effectiveness of the school principal and the leadership team. They were satisfied with the quality of education provided, and with safety in the school. They felt that their children are happy at school. However, a few parents expressed concern about the impact of overcrowded classrooms on their children’s learning.
Over 1,200 students responded to the KHDA Well-being survey. Students who responded to the survey were more positive than the Dubai average, in terms of their levels of happiness, emotional well-being,engagement with teachers, and friendship with fellow students. They had positive feelings about the school, and were optimistic about their futures.
Feedback from parents to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Survey has been mixed. 70% of parents would recommend the school to others, which is slightly below the UAE average of 72%. Satisfaction levels for academic performance are below the UAE average of 63% at 50%. Although parents do seem to have some concerns, they are not apparently sufficient to warrant a change.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Cambridge International School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.
With the arrival of a new Principal and Vice Principal a year ago, it is evident that change is afoot and it will be interesting to see the further impact of the new leadership has on CIS - a long established, and a traditional school in many ways. If the focus on technology is anything to go by, CIS may be moving more quickly to a more modernised style of pedagogy.
And if finally the change of campus allows the school to address the long-standing issue of demand versus space, we can see CIS remaining one of the most popular affordable, and successful, British curriculum schools in the city.
Tuition fees for the school are very affordable for a school following a UK curriculum, ranging from AED 22,000 per annum for FS grades, AED 25,000 to AED 27,000 for Primary and AED 30,000 to AED 34,000 for Years 7-13 (depending on Year group).
Cambridge International School Dubai 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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