With just over 2,500 students, Cambridge International School Dubai, located in Garhoud, is a well established GEMS school teaching children from FS1 to Year 13. Opened in 1983, it also one of the longest-established, and moderately-priced GEMS UK curriculum schools.
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 (CIS) stands on a large, established plot. Originally, Cambridge High School, the school was originally based in Karama. CIS offers the UK 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. It also currently offers one BTEC subject in Business Studies.
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 the past academic year. Firstly, the previous long-standing Principal was replaced in September 2017 by the school's new Principal and CEO, Lachlan MacKinnon. Secondly, student numbers have reduced from 2,600 in 2016-17, to around 2,530 in 2017-18. Although not a hugely significant number, this reduction in student numbers will enable 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 – but space. Plans for a new facility to address the issue of class sizes were put in place over the last academic year, but to-date, no firm information has been made available.
Students are taught by 142 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 21 teaching assistants. Staff turnover, at 22%, is 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.
What about facilities?
The current site enables each school section to have its own facilities, flanked by the administration wing. In addition to the substantial number of classrooms, the school has 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. There is no doubt that CIS is an aging building and this has been noted by previous KHDA inspection teams. Recently there has been a number of substantial improvements to the premises with the addition of fire safety systems, rewiring of the electrical system, refurbishment of washrooms and improvements to the auditorium, furniture and fittings.
Outdoors, a large covered swimming pool, cricket nets and playing fields are available, in addition to an 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 a standard sized football pitch which is astroturfed. Interhouse and Interschool matches are conducted on this field.
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.
2016-2017 results at IGCSE showed that 42.1 % of all exam entries were graded A*/A, 13.61% of students gained straight A*/A, and 70 % of students gained 5 A*/C.
At AS Level, 24.2 % of exam entries were graded A, and 41.4 % of students achieved A - B.
The overall pass rate at CIS was 90.7 %, with 60.2 % of entries graded A-C.
In terms of A Level results, 25.2 % of entries were graded A*-A, as compared to the UK National Average of 26.3 %. Of the students who took three or more A level exams, 12.7 % of these students achieved 3 A*-A. 45.8 % of students achieved A* - B, compared with 53.1% of their peers in England. The overall pass rate at Cambridge International was 98.8%, 73.6 % of entries graded A*-C.
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.
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 the inspectors say
Ranked ‘Good’ by the KHDA for nine years in a row, Cambridge International has some Outstanding features according to the education regulator. Among these are the relationships with parents and the community as detailed by the inspection team in their comments on the leadership and management of the school "The school has a new leadership structure. A new principal and vice-principal were appointed at the beginning of this school year. The new leaders have a clear vision for the school. The leadership is supported by an effective governing body who acted positively on the previous recommendations. Relationships with, and support from the parents are outstanding".
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. The school should, however, be very pleased with the achievement of Primary school students, for whom almost all measures have moved up from Acceptable to Good this year.
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. Inspectors noted that "Students’ responsible attitudes, especially the senior student leadership team (SSLT), their participation in community services and their implementation of innovative ideas are outstanding features of the school".
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 "The quality of teaching is very good in the post-16 phase [and] in the FS. Teaching is acceptable in the Primary and good in Secondary". Inspectors found that "Teachers in the Foundation Stage have a secure understanding of how children learn and plan engaging activities. In the post-16 phase, teachers have strong subject knowledge and are skilled in using probing questioning to promote deeper thinking. In other phases, especially in Arabic, questioning does not sufficiently develop critical thinking". Inspectors also commented that whilst most lessons were planned carefully with intended learning outcomes and success criteria matched to students’ different needs (and made reference to the development of critical thinking skills) in practice, not all lessons were successful in challenging all groups of students. They also found that although the Foundation Stage had very good processes for the continuous assessment of children’s skills and development, assessment practice in the other phases, especially primary, was less well-developed.
The protection, care, guidance and support of students were generally rated Very Good, with Care and Support for Sixth Form found to be Outstanding, although the same measure for Secondary had been down-graded to Very Good. 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 in the majority of lessons. 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 also saw some improvements in rating. The effectiveness of leadership and the school's self-evaluation and improvement planning remained rated Good, and the relationship between the school, parents and the community remained Outstanding. Both Governance and the management, staffing, facilities and resources improved to Good from a previously Acceptable rating. These improvements appear to be as a direct result of action on the part of the governors to see that adequate funds are available to ensure "appropriate staffing and resources". As a result the school has appropriately qualified teachers and support personnel who are well deployed, although "the school infrastructure remains a limiting factor". However, class sizes for younger students have been reduced and the school provides a range of resources for effective teaching and learning.
Parental feedback from the KHDA's pre-inspection survey, to which a significant 574 replied, indicate that 90% of the respondents were satisfied with the quality of education provided by CIS. Feedback from parents to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been mixed. 69% 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 average at 48% compared with a UAE average of 63%. Despite these concerns, well over 60% of parents would not consider moving their child to another school, broadly in line with the UAE average. Although parents do seem to have some concerns, they are not apparently sufficient to warrant a change.
With the change of Principal and Vice Principal, it will be very interesting to see what impact 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. Reactions from students, parents and the KHDA inspectors should make interesting reading at the end of the 2018-19 academic year.
Tuition fees for the school are very affordable for a school following a UK curriculum, ranging from AED 17,825 per annum for FS grades, AED 20,332 for Primary and AED 24,202 for Years 7-13. There are a number of other fees paid annually that cover medical, computers, etc which add another AED 1000 - 1,500 to the school fee.
Fundamentally however CIS must be ranked as one of the best value, good quality and improving UK based schools in Dubai.
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