Citizens School Dubai is a new British curriculum school that opened in August 2022 in the City Walk area of Jumeira with a specific focus on individualised learning.
Initially mooted in November 2021, and then subsequently launched in February 2022, Citizens School is a new English National Curriculum school that opened in August 2022. It is open from FS1 to Year 7 for the 2023-24 academic year.
The school is believed to have just shy of 700 students at the start of its second academic year.
Citizens is described by its owners, Al Zarooni Emirates Investments as,"a brand-new visionary school designed to present learning through a new lens; the Citizens schooling experience focuses on the whole growth of a learner and is built around each child’s unique requirements, empowering them with choices to explore themes, expand interests and determine the routes that they want to go on to reach their full potential."
The school is part of a number of institutions that will operate within the Citizens Education Hub, an educational project that intends to bring to the UAE a unique offering consisting of four complementary education establishments: a primary and secondary school, an Early Childhood Centre, a Wellbeing Centre for Child Support, and a research and teacher training academy.
The school has a capacity for 2,600 children between the ages of three and 18 years.
Citizens School is non-selective, offering open entry to a wide spectrum of students, reflective of its community and catering to its diversity. There is no classification of students as children with additional needs, 'normal' needs or gifted and talented. Instead the school aims to focus on each child's strengths, interests and passion.
Al Zarooni Emirates Investments initially partnered with Blenheim Schools, the consultancy arm of the Chatsworth Schools group – one of the leading school groups in the UK - which has experience in nursery, primary and secondary education, including supporting overseas investors wishing to invest in schools in the UK, and offering consultancy to schools based outside the UK. However, the relationship seems to have broken down prior to launch - although there has been nothing officially released about a break up.
After a late change of leadership plan, Tracey Moxley was announced as Executive Principal. Ms. Moxley is no stranger to leadership in innovative schools, having previously been Associate Principal and subsequently Acting Principal at GEMS Education's much lauded GEMS Nations Academy - a school that opened in 2014 with great ambition (and fees), and subsequently closed in 2017. Its state of the art campus is now occupied by GEMS Dubai American Academy.
Somewhat surprisingly, Ms. Moxley's eighteen month tenure, leading up to the opening and first year of operation of the school, appears to have been a stop-gap. She left Citizens, in July 2023, to join New Century Education as Executive Director of Schools.
Citizens' subsequently announced Ms. Moxley's successor as Mr. Colin Sinclair. Mr. Sinclair, a new-comer to the UAE, has 25 years of educational leadership roles in East England, Ibiza and latterly, as CEO of a group of 18 schools in the West of England. Mr. Sinclair holds a Bachelor of Education from De Montford University and a Master of Education from Suffolk Anglia University.
Supporting Mr. Sinclair as Leader of Primary is Ms. Kephren Sherry, who was formerly Head of School and Deputy Principal at the highly regarded Arcadia School Dubai. Ms. Sherry returned to Dubai for her role at Citizens School following a one and half year leadership role in a school in Malaysia.
In January 2023, the school announced that it had opened a new Early Years Childhood Centre for children from 6 months to 3 years of age, following the UK Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum.
According to Citizens, as at May 2022, it was already on target to reach its enrollment goals for its first year of operation with almost 200 children enrolled. At the start of its second year it had seen substantial growth with almost 700 students in its care.
As a result, the school has already recruited between 24 and 26 teachers (referred to as Mentors), teaching assistants and Learning Support Assistants, in addition to Heads of Department. Most teachers are experienced practitioners with an average of 10 years experience, and come from a wide range of countries. The school anticipates two to three classes per year group initially, and is aiming for a teacher:student ratio of 1:10/12 and average class sizes of 24 to 26 students.
Citizens promises to provide an "experience-based, inclusive British International curriculum bespoke to each child’s strengths and approach to learning.... At Citizens, we believe in the power of questioning things and challenging the world continually. Because just like our students, we believe that with every question comes a lesson. And ultimately, that’s the only way to keep growing and progressing."
The curriculum will be enhanced by a strong focus on the exposure to technology from an early age. Students in the Foundation Stage will use devices provided by the school. Devices are designed to be a Support to Learning and NOT a Basis of Learning. From Year 1, technology will be further integrated into student learning and the school will operate a Bring Your Own Device policy.
The team behind Citizens believes that the use of technology is already a major component of today's life and will take a bigger function in the years ahead. As such, Citizens believes that they have a responsibility to integrate technology into learning in a positive way. However, this does not in any way take away the need for students to develop their fine motor skills and the ability to write will remain front and centre of the school's learning ethos.
Using the UK National Curriculum as its basis, the Citizens’ Tapestry is described as 'a first-of-its-kind, custom-built curriculum' that focuses on six key areas designed to form the pattern for a comprehensive, holistic, inclusive, and fun education:
Mindset - We build mindsets to ensure learners are positive and resilient. By enabling cooperation and diversity, we encourage all children to develop as confident, ambitious and lifelong learners.
Well-being - We develop understanding about physical and mental health, and give learners the tools and character development to equip them with the knowledge and skills to ensure healthy lives.
Digital Literacy - We effectively use technology alongside traditional methods to enhance learning and realise the role of technology in the future.
Entrepreneurship - We foster entrepreneurial spirit to empower every child with vital transferable skills in entrepreneurship and innovation.
Global - We encourage every child to streghten global partnerships by demonstrating tolerance, inclusion and respect, with an understanding and emphathy for all cultures and communities.
Sustainability - We enable our learners to develop a deep understanding of global issues and to combat climate change, conserve resources and protect ecosystems.
Citizens School says that it will celebrate and build-on each students’ individual strengths to ensure that their individual needs are met. The curriculum has been co-developed and influenced by some of the world’s leading researchers on education, motivation and mindsets, as well as cognitive scientists including Dr Carol Dweck, Matthew Syed and John Hattie, Guy Claxton, and Graham Powell.
Students will learn in a non-typical classroom setting. Instead, they will have access to Learning Environments, Flexilabs (specialised labs) and Learning Studios which they will move between, depending on the area of learning. In addition, although there will be a Home Mentor for each class, children will also be exposed to other teachers and indeed, to children from other Year groups. Children in FS1 and FS2, Years 1 and 2, Years 3 and 4, and Years 5 and 6 will participate in mixed learning across the two Year groups affording a different developmental time-line and style of learning dependent on each child's individual needs and ability.
In April 2022, the school announced it will be joining forces with leading global education platform 8billionideas to build a unique programme centered around developing the entrepreneurial skillset for children, providing them with the opportunity to create and develop new ideas.
This collaborative initiative with 8billionideas is a step forward in building the second pillar of the Citizens Tapestry. Students will get to work on an invention every week, have access to an entrepreneurial mentor, experience lessons and experiences in the field, as well as take advantage of a Citizens Ventures funding programme. Students will be able to share their learning among a close-knit community, offering them a real-time insight into future ways of working and enabling them to be equipped with the necessary skill sets to achieve success in their adult lives.
With recent statistics showing that around 40% of nursery school children today will need to be self-employed to have any form of income in adult life, Citizens School believes that there is a requirement to re-imagine learning to meet 21st-century needs.
Commenting on the collaboration, David Harkin, CEO, 8billionideas said, "We are so excited to be working with Citizens School to help bring to life the vision of the entrepreneurship strand of the Tapestry. We are big believers that the focus for children should be learning about real entrepreneurship, and they must be able to have confidence in articulating and developing their ideas."
It is clear that considerable thought has gone into the design of Citizens School, which will cover a substantial 24,500 square-meter built up area, and which is designed to used by, and accessible to, students of all abilities, including those with additional physical or learning needs, enabling them to participate in events and activities taking place at any location in the school. The school will have a simple and clear layout that is well labelled (including braille and colour schemes) for all to access and understand.
At the heart of the design, it is clear, is the intention that the facilities should be used by, and accessible to all students.
The entire school building, including classrooms (learning environments and studios), Flexi-labs (specialised laboratories including science laboratories and ICT rooms), resources rooms, hallways, P.E. areas, and the swimming pool, have been designed and built with the intention that students of all abilities, including those with physical challenges, are able to use them. The school also intends to ensure ease of access to the buildings with adequate parking and drop off areas. All escape and access routes in the school are designed to take account of students’ diverse needs.
The Citizens School campus, at 43,000-square-meters, is double the size of other schools in the same catchment area and includes a 2,900-square-meter open playing and recreation area, a 1,250-square-meter multi-purpose performing arts and activity hall, a six lane semi-enclosed swimming pool and learning pool, football and rugby pitches adhering to FIFA and World Rugby standards; as well as a dedicated dining area for primary school students.
Although there has been much talk about Citizens, its innovative approach and curriculum plans, just how much of that has translated to children joining the school remains unclear.
Some parents may be 'put off' by such a strong focus on technology from an early age. The merging of classes across year groups may also raise concerns - although, in reality this is a tried and tested approach to teaching that was very common in smaller schools where it simply did not make sense to employ multiple staff for less than optimum class sizes.
Some parents may also be put off from the frequent changes regarding leadership and management - it is hoped that this will calm down as the school beds in and it gets some operating years under its belt.
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There is no question that Citizens School promises to offer a unique environment and learning methodology - very different to the rigid structure operated by the vast majority of schools in Dubai. The blending of different age groups, enabling students to learn at an individual pace across a broader mix of abilities and ages, harks back to the way that country Primary schools in England with low student numbers operated for many years - with teachers adapting the learning to the needs of the individual children, irrespective of their chronological age, and based instead on their ability, interests and passions.
Whilst the curriculum may be more up to date and future-focused, if Citizens can succeed in providing this personalised approach to learning for all its students, with each child valued for his or her abilities, and teachers focused on developing these at each child's own pace, it will indeed make a significant impression on education in Dubai.
Official KHDA approved tuition fees for the new school, described as affordable by the owners (although most-definitely mid-range to premium based on our criteria), range from AED 45,000 for FS1, AED 55,000 for FS2 and AED 65,000 for Years 1 to 6.
A non-refundable, non-transferable Registration payment of AED 1,000 (deductable against the first term's fees) is required on offer of a place. A sibling discount of 5% is available and fees are expected to be paid in three termly payments. Some parents, at the school's discretion, may seek to make 10 monthly payments by automatic direct debit or post-dated cheques.
The fees are described as inclusive of all educational resources, but parents will be required to provide a device for each child from Year 1, for field trips and for Extra-curricular activities.
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