Dubai Heights Academy opened in September 2017, located in Al Barsha South, following the English National Curriculum.
The story so far...
Opening in 2017, Dubai Heights Academy (DHA) set out from the beginning to be a model for inclusion in Dubai. The school embraces Inclusion in the fullest sense of the word, attracting students from a wide range of abilities across the academic spectrum, from those with Gifts and Talents to mainstream students and those with additional learning needs, providing a curriculum based on the English National Curriculum for all students able to access it, and the ASDAN curriculum for students of Determination who are unable to access the full UK curriculum.
Admissions are currently open to Year 8; the school having started to admit students in Years 7 and 8 of Secondary from September 2020, and will continue to grow annually opening Year 9 in September 2021. The current capacity of the school is 940, but with the growth of the Secondary school and Sixth form progressively, the overall final figure is expected to be 1,800 with facilities designed for this number. With current student numbers, DHA offers an unusually spacious environment for its students.
The school's first KHDA inspection was due to take place in March 2020, but postponed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in line with the requirements set by the Ministry of Education and the KHDA, DHA did participate in the 2020 Distance Learning Evaluation, achieving the highest rating of Developed. A summary of the outcomes can be found here.
DHA is accredited with BSME (British Schools in the Middle East), an organisation which aims to support schools through professional development programmes and relationship building across the Middle East, and membership of which requires commitment from the school to adhere to UK based standards.
Principal, Alison Lamb's introduction states 'At Dubai Heights Academy we provide educational excellence alongside a quality inclusive education system. We aim to inspire students to dream more, learn more, do more and become more; through positive energy, vision and unity.'
The school's vision and ethos is clear - 'we believe in Every Child, Every Mind and Everybody so that every student's talents are recognized and they can thrive in their school environment.'
Its Mission is evident - 'Our mission is inclusivity. We believe in helping every child to realise their full potential, making the most of their individual abilities and personalities. This embraces children across the full spectrum of educational needs. Our Vision is a school designed around every child, every mind and everybody'
Having opened with relatively small numbers of students, DHA now has some 280 students from 40 different nationalities. The largest nationality group is British. As in most new schools, students are heavily skewed in numbers towards the younger end. Class sizes are low by most standards with a maximum of 22 in FS and 24 in Years 1 to 6. Average class sizes currently are 16-18 students in the Primary school, to 10-12 in Secondary, meaning that students receive considerable individual attention.
The school employs 27 full-time teachers - predominantly from the UK with the balance from Ireland other than for Arabic and Islamic Studies - providing a teacher:student ratio of a low 1:12 (1:11 in FS). Teachers are required to have a UK Teaching Qualification and degree and a minimum of two years’ experience. Teachers at DHA appear to be happy with their employment - not one left the school in the last academic year. Teachers are supported by a further 15 Teaching Assistants and two specialist SEN staff.
All classes in FS1 to Year 4 will have a Learning Assistant and in Year 5 to Year 8 the classes will have a shared assisted as the children are much more independent at this age.
In January 2020, the school announced a significant new hire, Mr Rob Hitchings, Vice Principal and Secondary Leader. Mr Hitchings, a school leader with more than 24 years experience joined the school from Al Rabeeh Academy, Abu Dhabi.
DHA told us that their focus for the 2019-20 academic year is "on all students' reading and math abilities. Increasing our National Identity profile. Sports, drama, environment and technology are important for us to grow as well. Opening our Secondary".
What about the curriculum?
Dubai Heights Academy offers the English National Curriculum. A definitive decision has not yet been made with regard to the post-16 curriculum (due to open in 2024) and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com understands that, in common with some of the most academically successful schools in Dubai, consideration is being given to the IB Diploma programme for this final stage of the school.
In the Foundation Stage, the school follows the key outcomes and objectives outlined in the Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework. However, in order to provide an all-inclusive curriculum, DHA ensures that it is delivered in a way that is meaningful and challenging for all of children.
In FS, the curriculum is delivered thematically to ensure the children apply their knowledge to real life contexts. The children learn through exploratory, hands on play as they are encouraged to take their learning in whichever direction they desire. All teachers in FS provide a safe setting, where children feel confident to take risks, share their ideas and be creative in an exciting, warm, and friendly environment.
The Primary Curriculum at Dubai Heights Academy encompasses the core subjects at the heart of the UK curriculum; Literacy, Maths and Science. The curriculum is further enriched with Geography, History, Design Technology, Art, PSHE, Computing, and includes UAE Social Studies, Arabic and Moral Education from Years 1 – 6.
A new initiative that the school has rolled out for the 2020-21 academic year is free access to Chromebooks for children in Years 3 to 7. In this digital age, DHA believes that it is imperative that students learn to be confident using technology from an early age, even if their parents are not particularly tech savvy. Chromebooks are simple, secure, and shareable, web-based devices, that can be used to create and collaborate.
According to Principal Alison Lamb, “Technology has an essential role to play in the development of our curriculum and can offer students an enjoyable and engaging experience, which helps to enhance achievement. So, to ensure that our students benefit from this, children in Years 3-7 can use our Chromebooks free of charge and simply return them at the end of the school year, alleviating the cost for parents.”
In an alliance designed to place further very specific and tailored emphasis on technology, DHA has created an affiliation with world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with whom the school is working in partnership to create a tailored AI curriculum for Secondary students. The intention is that the curriculum will be developed further for introduction to the Primary school in due course with robots to aid learning.
Across all phases of the school, teachers strive to teach subjects in an integrated way to provide a high standard of teaching and learning which is enjoyable, purposeful and memorable for all children. All children from FS1 have weekly music lessons and the school has a peripatetic music programme, providing individual music lesson in a range of instruments.
Extra language provision is provided for students whose first language is not English and additionally, students study French and Arabic.
There are after school activities available to all students which are run by teachers and held at no additional cost. These span across arts, leadership, academic, a myriad of sports, craft and construction. Examples include tennis, football, swimming, netball, karate, ballet, typing/coding club, sewing, music, construction, yoga and mindfulness, drama club, magazine club, math’s puzzle club and performing arts. Some additional activities supported by outside providers do attract a fee and include karate, performing arts, ballet etc
The school does not yet offer international trips but intends to offer visits to Ecoventure in RAK and educational day trips across the UAE once Covid 19 restrictions are eased.
DHA strives to be a fully inclusive school. It aims to support a wide range of needs through adapting the curriculum to suit individuals and modifying teaching strategies and resources to ensure that every child can reach their full potential. Students with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and Aspergers syndrome (among other needs) will be supported by the school.
The Inclusion Team consists of the Head of Inclusion (Masters in Special Education), an Inclusion Teacher (Qualified SENCO, Bachelor of Education, training to qualify as a Dyslexia specialist) and two Inclusion Teaching Assistants. The Inclusion team support inside and outside of class and provide training for classroom assistants to carry out interventions in the classroom.
The school features an Enrichment Zone which is dedicated to supporting all learners, and specifically students of determination. It consists of a Snoezelen room, Fun Junction Sensory room and therapy support classrooms. The school works closely with Sensation Station (owned by the same group) and has a Speech and Language Therapist and an Occupational Therapist on site twice a week to provide group therapy support in classrooms. Physiotherapy is also available.
Currently there is no additional cost for this specialist provision. Some students may require a 1:1 Learning support assistant, and, in this case, the school will support the parents in interviewing and hiring a suitable candidate which is paid for by parents.
With the return to school in September 2020 after the closures as a result of Covid 19, DHA planned a range of measures to ensure that students and families feel supported. These will include social distancing, measuring temperatures, carrying out tests especially in FS, increasing nursing staff and wearing masks, will be mandatory. In addition, a wellbeing support network will be set up in-house so that parents, staff and in certain cases students, can reach out anonymously, should they witness or indeed suffer from any anxiety returning to a busy school environment, after such a long absence.
What about the facilities?
The campus is state-of-the-art with separate buildings for FS1 and FS2 as well as a green space, a multi-purpose hall and auditorium, and a swimming pool. On top of the FS swimming pool, there are two other temperature controlled swimming pools, fully equipped science and computer labs, specialist rooms for art, music and language, a library, two multipurpose sports halls, a full size football pitch, an outdoor sports court, a variety of outdoor play areas, and a spacious canteen.
With expansion of the school to encompass Secondary students, additional facilities to include Food Technology, specialist Art and Design and Design Technology and a Black Box theatre are being added.
The relatively low number of students - compared with the capacity of the school and the facilities that have been created with this in mind - means that specialist facilities such as the Sensory Room, Climbing Walls and Outdoor learning areas can be shared more broadly than might ordinarily be the case.
The school, as its literature explains, is putting a focus on "an excellent working environment, top international facilities, educational resources and wonderful teachers."
The campus, which can be accessed via the school's website, allows both parents and children interested in DHA to explore the school and its state-of-the-art facilities. To complement this, physical onsite tours of Dubai Heights Academy have been approved to start again and will give families the option of a more in-depth feel of the campus and its facilities.
With no current KHDA inspection report, there has been no formal feedback from parents at Dubai Heights Academy - an important part of the inspection process. However, the Distance Learning Evaluation of the school held in March 2020 received the highest Developed rating with the following outcomes:
Positive features of DLE
1. Leaders' agility and their commitment to surveying families leading to continuous improvement in provision
2. Planning for breadth and balance of learning experience with a notable attention to equity of access to quality distance learning provision
3. Assessment systems and developmental feedback to students
Areas for development in the Distance Learning Profile
1. Ensure that all parents are updated on their children's learning over time ,and that they are clear about their own roles and responsibilities in supporting their children.
2. Revisit and amplify the guidance to students on cyber-safety, to ensure that all students know and understand the actions to be taken when needed.
3. Develop increasingly strategic and detailed contingency planning for the longer term, based upon the identified scenarios.
The full report can be found here.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com hope that Dubai Heights Academy will be able to show the KHDA's DSIB inspection team what a strong school this is across all performance standards, through the participation in the full inspection process in the 2021-22 academic year.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asked the DHA team what was different about it compared with other schools in the city. We were informed that the relatively small numbers and family ethos of the school enable a focus on well-being and personalised attention that it would be hard to find in a larger environment. Many parents choose the school on the personal recommendation of existing parents.
A further important factor for parents is that the school day at Dubai Heights Academy runs from 8:30am to 3:30pm for Years 1 - 6. This later start time was mindfully chosen to take some of the pressure off of families who often find themselves rising early, even before daybreak, to get everyone ready for school. The school hopes that the slightly later start time means that parents can drop their children off at the school on their way to work.
Other key attributes of Dubai Heights Academy are:
Based on a limited number of responses from parents to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, it appears that parents are generally happy with the quality of education provided by DHA.
In particular, parents agree that students feel a strong or considerable sense of belonging to their school and over 8 out of 10 children enjoy going to school. Nearly 9 out of 10 parents are fully or largely satisfied with the level of academic performance that the school offers, although, curiously, 40% of respondents felt that they needed to supplement their child's education with additional outside tutoring (this may be a function of families whose children have additional needs).
We were also surprised to see that a sizeable 48% of families had considered moving their child to another school - though this is not too unusual in a new school with possible teething issues in its early days (and a change of Principal may have added to disquiet). The school admits that it was also a little slow to introduce fee reductions in light of the Covid 19 pandemic when many parents were struggling. This may well explain why 26% of parents were not in agreement with the statement that the fees represented value for money.
It would seem that these concerns have also impacted the confidence that parents have in recommending DHA to others, with 22% saying that they would not do so. However, it should be borne in mind that for every parent who would not recommend the school, four others definitely or probably would.
If you are a parent or teacher at Dubai Heights Academy, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.
Overall, it seems that Dubai Heights Academy is on the right path in terms of its parents' perceptions. The first KHDA inspection process to be carried out by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, which will hopefully take place in the 2021-22 academic year, will shed further light on how well the school is meeting its aspirations for its students.
We like the fact that DHA is, and will remain for the time being, a relatively small school. We have the sense that there is a real community at the heart of the school which we expect to see grow and develop - the inclusion of a parent on the Board of Governors is a clear indication of the school's commitment to ensuring that its parent body is represented. There is also a parent-teacher association.
One thing that is clear to us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is the very real commitment to a genuinely fully inclusive school for children of ALL abilities from the owners down.
As approved by the KHDA - fees start at AED 44,200 for FS1, rising to AED 58,400 for Year 6 and AED 66,900 for Year 8.
For the 2021-22 academic year, starting in September 2021, the school has reduced its fees for new students. Fees for FS1 start at AED 37,570, rising to AED 63,555 for Year 8.
The FS1 discount is a continuing discount applicable for 2 academic years:
- Academic year 2021 - 2022: 15% discount on KHDA approved tuition fees for FS1
- Academic year 2022 - 2023: 10% discount on KHDA approved tuition fees for FS2
The FS2 discount of 10% for existing students is the continuing discount that was applicable to all FS1 students in 2021 - 2022.
The above discounts cannot be used in conjunction with the Sibling Discount which is a stand alone discount.
The Sibling Discount for the year 2021 - 2022 are applicable on KHDA approved fees and are as follows: Eldest child - zero discount, Second eldest child - 10% discount, Third eldest child - 15% discount, Fourth eldest and subsequent children - 20% discount.
Parents will now be able to spread the cost of tuition across all three terms, meaning essentially that their total annual fees can be paid in equal monthly installments over ten months.
There is a registration fee of AED 500 and a deposit of AED 8,000 payable at the time of the acceptance of an offer which is deducted from the first year's tuition fees.
Dubai Heights Academy 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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