Towards the Meydan Street end of Al Quoz, in an unassuming and quiet residential area, you'll find one of the most interesting and special schools in Dubai. Its name is Clarion.
From the earliest days when Clarion was initially announced as the third school to join the Scholars International Group (alongside Dubai Scholars School and Scholars International Academy in Sharjah), it was clear that this was a school being developed because of the passion of its owners for progressive education. Their desire was to see a one-of-a-kind building and campus to support what is a one off curriculum, based on the US common core, but with an approach unique to teaching and to the cultural context of the UAE and Dubai.
Progressive education is fairly new to the UAE, and is definitely not for all parents, especially those wedded to traditional schooling techniques. It is essentially based around experiential learning - learning from doing. This is a school that needs to be visited, and based on our Parent Survey, where 88% of parents say that they would unreservedly recommend Clarion School to others, it is a must-see! Read more about what Clarion parents think here.
Launched in 2016, Clarion is a progressive American curriculum school at its core. The program was developed in collaboration with one of the foremost US Graduate Schools of Education (Bank Street College of Education), and spearheaded by the co-author of the IB PYP framework, Dr. Paul Lieblich, who was also the Executive Principal of the school for its early years.
Clarion says "We have gone beyond the norms of a UK National Curriculum education or even the more holistic IB framework to deliver a program that is rich, rigorous and relevant to supporting children to be future ready".
Schooling will culminate in an American High School Diploma, and the option of the IB Diploma. The school is currently up to Grade 6, adding a new grade as demand warrants to become a full Pre K – Grade 12 school.
The current Principal is James Pastore, who is supported by long-term member of the Scholars International Group - Ms. Suzanne Roderick - who has joined the school as Vice Principal from Dubai Scholars School where she was a member of the leadership team for six years.
Mr. Pastore's own education started in a Montessori school and in many ways that has been his foundation for his life as a progressive educator, leading International Baccalaureate (IB) schools worldwide. After obtaining his BA in English at the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Pastore taught in Latin America teaching English literature in accredited American Schools. Upon completion of his Masters in Educational Administration, he worked immediately in the first IB school in the state of Pennsylvania as an Assistant Principal, and from there moved to Rome, Italy, as Middle School Principal at Marymount School, Rome, also an IBDP school.
Since then Mr. Pastore has held leadership positions in public and private IB schools in several different languages and cultures. He came to the UAE in 2015, as Principal of the ADNOC school in Abu Dhabi. From there he went to Ras Al Khaimah where he led the Emirates National School to full IB Authorization in the PYP, MYP and DP in only two years as opposed to the usual three year period.
Ms. Rodricks has worked in education for over 30 years and joins Clarion from sister school, Dubai Scholars, where she had been Head of EYFS/Lower Primary since 2016. Her mission at Dubai Scholars was to challenge the status of teaching and learning in the EYFS/Lower Primary program, which has successfully resulted in the rise of the KHDA rating to “Very Good”.
Clarion says it aims to engage children in “intentional and meaningful learning” built on a solid academic foundation. The school’s Mission is “to ignite and keep alive each child’s endless quest for discovery”. The school believes that a child with a curious mind “will forever be empowered for the possibilities of an undefined future”.
At the time of the school's second KHDA inspection which took place in January 2020, shortly before the suspension of face-to-face inspections as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, Clarion was still a small school with just under 300 students from pre-KG to Grade 4. Since this time, the school has expanded to Grade 6 in the current year. The largest nationality group of students was, perhaps unsurprisingly, also American.
Find out about the look and feel of Clarion School by reading our Experience Visit report.
Students were taught by 34 teachers - almost all from the US - supported by a further 15 teaching assistants, providing an incredibly low teacher:student ratio of 1:8. If there has been a concern, it is potentially the high turnover of teachers, which at 38% in 2019, was well above the UAE average for international schools of 20-22%.
Aligned to meet the highest tier of US Standards, including the Common Core, Clarion School offers learning that is designed to be interdisciplinary, engaging and challenging and taught by highly qualified Master Educators. Each class has two teachers who are experts in identifying a child’s interests and learning styles and then providing learning opportunities to develop each student’s individual potential.
The same educational approach adopted by the top private schools in the US is used at Clarion, adapted to the UAE requirements.
The school believes that the foundation skills of literacy, numeracy and science are very important for children, but not enough for them to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world.
According to the school vision, the school starts with a fundamental question:
How do we prepare our children to take full advantage of life’s opportunities as collaborative, productive and responsible members of a global community?
Clarion defines the answer as "developing active learners who are passionate, curious and can think critically so that they can continuously evolve, adapt and contribute in a rapidly changing world". When a child asks a question, s/he is not provided with the answer; rather the teacher responds with “Good question, now, how can we find out the answer?”. Fundamentally, the approach is not only one of inquiry, but one of discovery. This inquiry-based approach to learning is very much in line with the International Baccalaureate program which will be offered at post-16 to IB Diploma students.
The Clarion School curriculum aligns with the New York State Common Core + 15. The curriculum is also aligned to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning for the development of competencies and character traits. Clarion follows the ISTE Standards (International Society for Technology in Education) and the National Core Arts Standards. A STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) focus runs through the school. The curriculum is compliant with KHDA requirements for Arabic and Islamic Studies. French is offered as an additional language from Pre-K.
The school aims to be a “haven for inquiring minds”. Classrooms are spacious, with access to large outdoor learning spaces, wide learning corridors with student engagement areas and organic play stations, which have been specifically created to stimulate self-driven, deep learning.
The curriculum is designed to nurture intellectual curiosity through an innovative and experiential learning process. Children 'plan, make, and share'. Creation is at the heart of learning and technology is used in support. The curriculum also highlights the arts, with a Visual Arts and a Music Program, along with an integrated approach to design and technology, media arts, and performance arts. All classes participate in visual art and music specials at least once per week and are involved in inquiry-based interdisciplinary projects throughout the year.
Technology is defined as any tool that advances the application of knowledge, which includes computers, paintbrushes, musical instruments, pencils, hammers, robots, and clay. All classes have an Innovation period at least once a week where teachers and students can learn new skills and apply those skills in student-led creations in the dedicated maker space, ateliers (including a wood shop, art studio and music studio), or classroom maker spaces. Teachers are trained to integrate technology and the arts into their lessons and are coached in developing innovative curriculum; they receive at least 30 hours of training in integration throughout the year.
The Early Years curriculum focuses on social skills as well as learning through play and experimentation. Classroom teachers design ways for students to understand the design process and experiment with a variety of materials, while engaging with appropriate technology. Children participate in activities such as woodshop for group projects, to learning basic fundamentals of computer programming through the use of programmable robots, to creating their own inventions using recycled materials.
In the Elementary years, learning is enhanced through making and students are "creators, innovators, and collaborators". Technology is integrated into the curriculum. The arts, robotics, slideshows, spreadsheets, and other data processing and presentation tools, are all used for learning.
In addition to the core curriculum, Co-Curricular activities are held after school for students in Pre-K onwards. Programs include academic, athletics, Performing and Visual arts and Community. KG activities include Dance, Gymnastics, Soccer, Lego, Art & Crafts, and Adventure playground. Grade 1-3 students can participate in Music, Art & Crafts, Soccer, Tennis, Robotics, Puzzle Club, Strategy Games, Book Club, Yoga and Gymnastics.
Plans for the Middle and High school at Clarion are advanced, with curriculum plans already in place. As students move to Middle school, there is greater complexity and depth in subject matter and there is more time allotted to the discrete subjects to ensure meeting subject specific standards. An additional language elective is also chosen upon entering Middle School.
During High school, the subjects will take on greater rigour as students embark on their different academic pathways including electives. The main form of learning continues to be based on discrete subject learning, but as many cross-disciplinary links as possible are maintained, to create a contextual and authentic application to learning. The selection of subject course offerings and electives will reflect the school’s emphasis on STEAM and Entrepreneurial Studies, but will be broad enough to cater to other students’ interests.
To graduate from high school, all students will be expected to successfully complete and pass a minimum of 22 credits. They will also be required to complete 80 hours of community service. Students entering Grade 11 may choose to pursue the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, in addition to an American high school diploma.
The school website makes no mention of support for SEN and G&T students. According to the KHDA's 2019-20 inspection report, "The owners, governors and senior leaders demonstrate a commitment to an inclusive ethos. There is increasing investment of resources in the school. Efforts have been made to recruit qualified staff, and to allocate appropriate space within the school. Many staff avail themselves of opportunities for professional training".
The rating for the provision and outcomes for students of Determination was acceptable, with inspectors noting that modifications to the curriculum for students of determination were appropriate. Support for students of determination was deemed to be good, but for those with gifts and talents less so. This is evidently an area where Clarion needs to develop further.
Clarion School achieved a Good rating in its first KHDA inspection in 2018-19 and achieved the same outcome in the second inspection in 2019-20. This is the minimum target for all Dubai schools as far as the regulator is concerned, although the rating of Acceptable means that the school has achieved the minimum rating required. Having been awarded the Good rating on their first inspection was, therefore, a real achievement.
With no face-to-face inspections held in 2020-21 due to the Covid 19 pandemic, Clarion School did participate - together with all UAE private and public schools - in a Distance Learning Evaluation, and achieved the highest Developed rating. Go here to read the report.
On its second inspection, the DSIB inspection team found that the strengths of the school were:
Whilst overall attainment and progress in English, mathematics and science were found to be good, attainment in mathematics in the elementary phase was acceptable. Students’ enterprise, innovation and creativity are well supported across the curriculum, so that learning skills overall are good. However, in common with many international schools in Dubai, - particularly in their early years of operation - attainment in Islamic education and Arabic were weak. Progress in Islamic education was acceptable, but weak in Arabic. There is no question that the school will need to place particular focus on improving this situation if it wishes to progress further overall in terms of inspection rating.
Students’ personal development, attitudes and behavior, social responsibility, and skills of innovation were both found to be very good. Their attitudes towards school were found to be positive, and their understanding of UAE heritage, Islamic values and world cultures acceptable. Students also had a very strong appreciation of environmental issues, which they apply to their lives in school.
The quality of teaching was also found to be good across the school, though it was better in the Kindergarten (KG) than in the elementary phase. Lessons were well planned, though learning outcomes were not always clearly expressed or linked to common core standards. Teachers know their students well and relationships were found to be positive and supportive.
However, assessment, a key requirement in order to ensure that students are being taught at the correct level and appropriately challenged, was found to acceptable. Information from assessments was not sufficiently analyzed or used effectively to influence teaching and the curriculum.
The inspection team noted that "Senior leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of the school and address them appropriately in the extensive development plan. Relationships throughout the school are strong. Morale is high. Partnerships with parents and the community are very good".
In terms of areas for improvement, the inspectors identified the need to:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to read the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
What about facilities?
There is no doubt that the Clarion campus is one of the most attractively designed in Dubai. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a mix between a large modern family home and an art gallery, surrounded by expansive outdoor space with use of many natural materials for both landscaping and play including bamboo and other South East Asian materials. Facilities also include an indoor swimming pool and a large multi-purpose gymnasium.
Find out more about the facilities and teaching at Clarion School by reading our Experience visit report here.
Oversized classrooms are open to the outdoors in the cooler months creating a large and natural learning space. The extra-wide corridors have been designed as an extension of the classroom to engage the students and illustrate to them that the whole campus is a place of learning. Extended outdoor learning spaces to wide hallways support opportunities for varied learning centres and one-to-one learning. The Clarion library is a real source of pride for the school and uses a range of multimedia opportunities to extend and promote independent learning.
The campus rests in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa with the stunning back drop of the high rise buildings on Sheikh Zayed Road, yet the school is only a short distance from Safa Park. Dubai's unique landscape, incorporating traditional Arab building styles and practices together with some of the most iconic buildings in the world, provides the perfect extended learning environment to support the rich and meaningful experiences that enhance the deep learning of children.
Some 164 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey. Almost all parents who responded to the survey (96%) were satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. Most said that their children were happy and that they felt safe in school. Most parents agreed that school leaders and staff listened to them and acted on their views. Brief comments written by parents did, however, express concerns over the teaching of Arabic and reading. However, many parents commented on their confidence in the leadership of the school and the provision of a progressive curriculum.
The inspection team found that students were happy, and that the school kept them safe. The team agreed with parents’ concerns about Arabic, but found evidence to suggest that the school was working hard to develop students reading literacy skills.
The inspectors also noted that "School leaders and staff have established positive partnerships with parents. They value parents’ views. Parents appreciate leaders’ openness and the accessibility of class teachers and senior leaders, who are attentive to their queries. They are kept well informed about their children’s progress".
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has also received very positive feedback. 26 responses have been received from parents who awarded an overall rating of 4.2/5 - an approval rating of 84%.
An average of 70% of parents believed that their children enjoyed going to school and felt a sense of belonging 'a tremendous amount' compared to an average across all UAE schools of just under 50%. Whilst approximately 3 in 10 parents had considered moving their child to another school at some point, a resounding 7 in 10 had not. 92% of parents were either wholly (77%) or partially satisfied (15%) with the academic performance of, and level of feedback from, the school. 96% of parents believed that their child's confidence had been improved by the school.
And in terms of the two key measures that attract the highest response rates to our surveys, not only did 88% of parents say that they would unreservedly recommend Clarion School to others, but they also expressed positive opinions around the always thorny issue of fees, with 42% agreeing that these represented value for money, and a further 54% partially in agreement.
If you are a parent or teacher at Clarion School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey.
One enthusiastic parent, on the Facebook-based Dubai Schools Guide, said, “You should definitely visit Clarion school, it’s a progressive school that relies on progressive education and integrated learning, it is very different, works a lot on the kids' abilities and unique curious minds.
"My son is there and I couldn’t be happier, though I have to warn you, progressive education isn’t for every parent, it is flexible and mind blowing, and it needs someone up for experimenting and pushing limits.
"It is completely out of the box...”
There is much to admire about Clarion school. It is one of only a small number that have chosen an innovative curriculum which until now (despite its long history in the USA) has not been offered in the Middle East. This is a school that was imaginatively designed, with teachers and children who seemed to really be enjoying the setting that they have been given, with up to date and modern resources and facilities, and work and activity on display which clearly underlined the academic focus of the school.
The fact that Clarion School achieved a Good rating from the KHDA on its first inspection in 2018-19, and retained this rating in 2019-20 is also evidence that the Dubai Regulator also sees the benefits of this curriculum.
It is the delivery of the curriculum-with its truly hands-on approach which is so different. The teaching methodology may not appeal to all parents who are used to a more traditional teacher led learning environment, but may well have much appeal for those who want to see a more innovative approach to learning.
It is also a school that is clearly gaining credibility with some international companies based in Dubai, including Boston Consulting Group, Pepsi, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Google, Emaar and Microsoft. The companies listed have all approved discounts for staff who place children at Clarion.
Given the teaching model and investment in highly qualified staff, with two teachers per classroom, fees are in the premium plus range. They start at AED 43,000 in Pre-KG, rising to AED 55,000 in KG1 to AED 64,500 in KG2. Elementary school fees are AED 76,500 from Grade 1 to Grade 5 whilst Grade 6 fees are AED 57,375, discounted from the approved fees of AED 76,500. There is a 10% discount for siblings.
Clarion School 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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