Canadian International School (CIS), located in Khalfa A, Abu Dhabi, offers an Alberta based curriculum to its 59 different nationalities of students, of which Canadian (23%), Emirati (13.5%), and American (13.5%) are the largest contingent.
The story so far...
Canadian International School, founded in 2007, offers the Alberta based curriculum, which is attractive for some parents with its very child centered approach to learning. The school largely competes with the capital's North American schools for the affections of parents and students. One other directly Canadian school is the Abu Dhabi Grammar School (offering the Nova Scotia based HS Diploma), and its renamed branch, Maplewood International School also offers the Alberta curriculum. All three Canadian schools are, in terms of fees, generally more competitive than the majority of the US curriculum based alternatives.
CIS currently has approximately 1,000 students of whom Canadians represent about 20%. They are followed by Emirati students (13%), US nationals (11%) and Egyptians (5%). Some 10% of students have SEN requirements. Students are supported by 75 teachers and approximately 20 teaching assistants, providing a teacher:student ratio of 1:13 - a number that should allow staff to provide individualised attention and curriculum adaptation to students. The KG and Primary phases account for around 60% of students, with the Secondary school having around 30% and the High school section just over 10%.
The school is rated Good by ADEK. Standards and achievement in English, Maths and Science are high - and the Alberta based curriculum is praised for its encouragement of independent thinking.
What about the curriculum?
The Alberta curriculum is focused on student centered inquiry learning, which teaches students to be independent, be critical thinkers and possess skills to cope and adapt in different situations. Core subjects include English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, English Social Studies, Physical Education, Art and Music, Health, Drama, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and French.
Early Childhood Education is focused on “Purposeful Play” as a means of developing children’s love for life long learning. Given the opportunity to explore their environment through purposeful play, children acquire important life skills that meet their social, physical, intellectual, cultural, creative and emotional needs. Kindergarten is a transition period as children move from the home to the “outside world.” CIS is committed to providing a caring, nurturing environment that assists children in developing the confidence and skills necessary to become independent learners.
The Elementary curriculum is taught by class teachers through Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL). The emphasis is on teaching students the process of learning so that they gain not only knowledge but also an understanding of the process as well as their own individual learning style. Class teachers cover the core subject areas of English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. In addition to increasing students’ self-confidence and rapport with their teacher, the class teacher facilitates the IBL approach. By spending more time with one group of students, the class teacher knows their strengths and weaknesses and can build on their knowledge base more easily as they incorporate cross-curricular objectives. CIS also recognises the interrelationship between positive self-esteem, academic success, and physical fitness. Accordingly, Physical Education promotes daily physical activity as well as teaching basic knowledge of nutrition and healthy lifestyles. All students also participate in Art and Music and may join the School's Band from Grade 6.
The school provides extremely detailed curriculum handbooks for Grades 7-10 and Grades 11 and 12. Core subjects cover the same areas as the Elementary School, with a range of options that include subject areas such as Career and Technology Studies, Fine Arts, Languages, Environmental and Outdoor Education, and Ethics, as well as the Ministry of Education required Arabic, Islamic and Social Studies.
The Alberta high school diploma is based on a credit system. To obtain the diploma senior students must be awarded 100 credits. Students are awarded credits for each course they pass. In addition, Grade 12 students must write and pass diploma examinations in core subject areas to graduate. Diploma examinations are provincially administered and account for 50 percent of the students’ final grade in the course. The Alberta Diploma is recognised by universities around the world.
The school says it puts emphasis on producing well rounded individuals through both its curriculum and its extracurricular activities. These "can" include: Football, Basketball, Swimming, Tae Kwon Do, Mad Science, Chess Club, Art Club, Photography Club, Drama Club, Golf, Music Lessons, Language Lessons, Experiential Field Trips, School-Wide Celebrations and Student Council.
The 2017-18 ADEK report notes that "the Alberta Diploma, taken at the end of Grade 12, shows that students are consistently above the Alberta average in mathematics, science and English. Trends in attainment in the Diploma are improving year on year".
What about the facilities?
The school's modern purpose built compound in Khalifa City A, 30 km from the denser Abu Dhabi city centre itself, affords it a relatively high level of facilities - praised in large part by students and their parents.
Its main building has four wings: one for KG, one for grades 1 and 2, one for grades 3 to 6 and one for the Secondary school. It also holds a library, science labs, a computer lab, and an elementary art room. Most classrooms come equipped with interactive smart boards. Classroom design incorporates day lightening and warm colours for a positive learning atmosphere. KG Indoor and outdoor play areas allow for a balance of quiet and loud play spaces; for games, sand, water, and pretend fun. CIS also features a large indoor air-conditioned hall for purposeful play. A cafeteria is available for older students.
The school's annex houses a gymnasium, a newly renovated 25-foot indoor pool, a music room, a dance studio and "an enormous art studio" where students have the space to" create amazing works of art". The campus also includes a grass soccer field, a central turf playing field, a separate elementary school playground and an indoor, air-conditioned KG playground.
What the inspectors say
Having been rated Very Good for two inspections in 2013 and 2014, CIS has been rated one grade lower at Good for the past three ADEK inspections with the most recent 2019-20 rating have again achieved a Good rating. The six key performance standard ratings are something of a mixed bag. Whilst Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, the Curriculum and the protection, care, guidance and support of students are rated Very Good, Students' achievement, Teaching and Assessment, and Leadership and Management are rated Good.
Student Achievement was found to be Good. In fact, many of the ratings for the core subject of English and other subjects including Art, Music and PE are Very Good, whilst Maths and Science are largely Good across the school (Maths in KG is also rated Very Good). Arabic core subjects are a mix of Acceptable and Good, and it seems that this an area on which the school is required to focus.
Closer examination suggests that a lack of rigour in the application of assessment data to ensure that students are receiving the individualised support they require by a minority of teachers, is responsible for the Good rating in respect of Teaching and Assessment. Inspectors commented that "The school has made good strides in developing better assessment systems to track students’ progress and to use the information for future planning. These systems are not fully embedded and a lack of historical data means that the school is not yet able to form a reliable picture of the progress of students over time".
Leadership and Management, rated Good overall, though the partnership with parents and the management of facilities and resources are Outstanding. The Good rating is driven largely by the requirement for effective systems which have been introduced to monitor teaching, but have not yet established full consistency. The tier of middle leadership is not yet fully developed in supporting the improvement of teaching. However, the inspectors note that "self-evaluation and improvement planning are good. Leaders know the school’s strengths and what needs to be improved. They have largely tackled the issues for improvement identified at the last inspection". These are all very positive signs of the progress that CIS is making. The key to progress will be the improvement in Student Achievement as a result of the changes in assessment and teaching practices that will result.
The inspectors identified the strengths of CIS as:
The main focus for improvement needs to be to:
There is much that is positive about the latest ADEK report. CIS now has two further years in which to implement the improvements that it is already making, with the improvement in Student achievement the required outcome. It will be very interesting to see how much more progress has been made, and whether it will be sufficient to see the school back with the Very Good rating of which is evidently capable.
Parents at the school seem largely satisfied at the CIS offering, although not so clearly expressed as those attending the Abu Dhabi Grammar School. Students tend to be the most positive of the triumvirate of stakeholders (teachers, parents and pupils). From the feedback we have received there is a genuine attempt to tailor each programme to the progress and abilities of each student, and teachers are said to be warm, caring and highly approachable. The latter seems to be a draw for parents, who appreciate the contact the school affords. The least contented of the three appear to be the teachers with the fairly typical grumbling over salaries and accommodation (always a difficulty in the capital). Some parents have complained over a relatively high turnover of staff - although this is believed to have improved over the last two years. In 2017-18, this was 13% - well below the average 20-22% of most UAE international schools.
Fees for the school are mid-range, starting from AED 35,590 for KG1 up to AED 47,197 for Grade 12, which does not include transportation, uniform, field trips and special student activities. Fees increase by an increment of approximately AED 2,000 between KG and Grade 5, Grades 6 to 9 and Grades 10-12 - so parents need not fear substantial additional fees as children move from one grade to the next, but only from one section to the next (i.e. KG to Primary, Primary to Secondary and Secondary to High School). An increase in fees for 2019-20 has already been sought and improved - details can be found under the Fees & Availability tab above this review.
There is also a non-refundable AED 500 application fee. Note, the school admission starts with a test to check ability to succeed at the school.
If CIS is on your shortlist, the school has an excellent parent handbook which may be downloaded here.
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