Dubai Heights Academy is a relatively new school which 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. Admissions are currently open to Year 6; the school will admit students in Years 7 and 8 from September 2020, subject to KHDA approval following the first inspection due to take place in the current academic year.
Although no KHDA inspection has yet taken place, 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. Dubai Heights Academy will also seek accreditation with the Council of British International Schools (COBIS), and British School Overseas (BSO) - both of which involve inspection to UK OFSTED 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 - 'At Dubai Heights Academy 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 51 different nationalities. The largest nationality group is British. Girls slightly outnumber boys (145:116). As in most new schools, students are heavily skewed in numbers towards the younger end with two classes in FS1, Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3, three classes in FS2 and one class each in Years 4, 5 and 6. 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 20 students.
The school employs 23 full-time teachers - predominantly from the UK - providing a teacher:student ratio of a low 1:12. 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.
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.
Although the school does not have any direct affiliations with others, it does have nursery affiliations (including Kids Island Nursery and Odyssey Nursery).
DHA told us that their focus for the current 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.
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.
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. DHA is also considering including Japanese as a subject for Secondary, and an affiliation with MIT is to be introduced into the curriculum for Secondary students also.
There are after school activities available to all students which will be 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 does offer visits to Ecoventure in RAK and educational day trips across the UAE.
What about Inclusion?
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.
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.
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.
The school, as its literature explains, is putting a focus on "an excellent working environment, top international facilities, educational resources and wonderful teachers."
What differentiates DHA from other schools in Dubai?
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.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com asked the DHA team what was different about it compared with other schools in the city. They told us that the key attributes of Dubai Heights Academy are:
A Sense of community due to its size and a lot of families
Inclusion – fully inclusive not just meeting bare minimum guidelines
Facilities – the 'snoozelen' room and auditorium are unrivaled
Later start time
Not part of a chain – homegrown
Providing a pathway from secondary to higher education – “The whole educational journey” – including future affiliations with MIT and Universities at Expo 2020.
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, based on a limited number of responses from parents to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey, it appears that parents are happy with the quality of education provided by DHA.
In particular, parents agree that students feel a strong sense of belonging to their school and over 6 out of 10 children enjoy going to school 'a tremendous amount.' Nearly 9 out of 10 parents are completely satisfied with the level of academic performance that the school offers, although, curiously, half 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). And communication is clearly a strength.
Three quarters of respondents would recommend the school to others, though 1 in 10 parents were not sure. Six out of ten parents also felt that the fees they pay represent good value for money, whilst a further one in four were partially in agreement that this was the case.
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, carried out by the Dubai Schools Inspection Bureau, will shed further light on how well the school is meeting its aspirations for its students. One thing that is clear to us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com is the very real commitment to a genuinely fully inclusive school from the owners down.
What about the Fees?
As approved by the KHDA - fees start at AED 44,200 for FS1, rising to AED 58,400 for Year 6. For the 2019-20 academic year, starting in September 2019, the school has extended its founders' fees for FS1 and FS2 (discounted by 25%) to AED 33,150 and AED 37,800 respectively, whilst fees from Year 1 to Year 6 are discounted by 10%, starting at AED 45,360 for Year 1 and rising to AED 52,560 for Year 6. 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.
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