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.
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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