Dubai parents were delighted to learn that Dubai International Academy Al Barsha would be opening its doors in September 2018. The original DIA Emirates Hills is one of the most sought after schools in the city with parents trying and failing year on year to gain admission.
Dubai International Academy Al Barsha (DIAB) was the fifth school to be opened by the Innoventures Group, which includes the original DIA in Emirates Hills (opened in 2005 and the first IB World School in the UAE), Raffles International School and Raffles World Academy in Umm Suqeim 2 and Collegiate International School in Umm Suqeim 1. In addition, Innoventures also owns and manages the nine Raffles Early Learning Centres located across New Dubai. Currently, approximately 9,000 children from 120 different nationalities attend schools or nurseries operated by the Innoventures Group.
The five schools in the Group essentially follow two curricula, the National Curriculum for England and the IB curriculum. However, Collegiate International School, whilst offering the IB subjects and pedagogy, uses the American Common Core content and students have the option of graduating with the IB Diploma and a US High School Diploma.
DIA Al Barsha was the third school in the Innoventures group to offer the IB curriculum, from pre-KG to Grade 12 following DIA Emirates Hills and Raffles World Academy. DIA Al Barsha told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that what differentiates it from other schools is 'A sense of community founded upon strong relationships, student happiness and well-being'.
Although WhichSchooladvisor.com has received considerable feedback from parents to our School Survey since early 2023, and the comments from parents suggest that they are more than happy with their choice of this school, particularly the strong community feel which is mentioned by the majority.
Highlights include the following:
"DIAB is a very happy school, with terrific school spirit. Our two primary school aged children transitioned here from another school in Dubai with little to no adjustment. As a fairly new school that is constantly striving to create a strong, welcoming, inclusive culture and continuously improving, the Leadership team is strong and they work tirelessly at this.
Communication with parents is strong, and they are always on. They know all students - impressive. Teachers are caring, engaged and set a high bar for students too. Students feel 'seen'. We hope the school ratings will continue to improve - as a new school, they are making great strides already. Amazing choice for free-of-cost extracurricular activities run by teachers for all ages, as well as paid providers on-site."
"The school has a real community feel to it. The leadership team in the secondary school always makes time for parents - even when we arrive without an appointment. The quality of teaching in the school is very high, and my children are challenged to achieve better grades all of the time. As a parent, I receive lots of feedback on how my children are performing, how they can do better, and what I can do to help. Even though the school is relatively young, it already has a very established feel to it. The most important thing to me is that my children get up everyday and want to go to school, that they are happy, and that they get good grades which will get them to a top quality University. This school does all of those things."
"A community feel with an extremely approachable staff that instill confidence and challenges the student to the best of their ability without putting undue pressure. The whole atmosphere is friendly and so supportive not just to students but to parents as well. Beyond outstanding experience."
It’s a fairly new school that opened in 2018, and started really well. Expectations are really high from this school as it’s the sister school to DIA EMIRATES HILLS which is already an established School. One can see the hard work the whole school staff puts in to not just become successful but also to create a happy, healthy environment for children to learn and become confident."
In addition to being the first school in the UAE to offer the full range of IB continuum programmes, DIA Emirates Hills was also the first IB curriculum school to be rated Outstanding by the Dubai Schools regulator, the KHDA, from an original rating of Acceptable back in 2008. Parents, therefore, had high expectations of the new school also.
In fact, a frequent question asked by parents visiting the school is what is the difference between DIA Al Barsha and DIA Emirates Hills? The answer is that in many respects, there is none. The Vision, Ethos and Standards of both schools are the same. DIA Al Barsha does not yet have the legacy of great academic results of the original Emirates Hills school, but this is largely a question of time.
However, the facilities (and overall physical size) of the two schools are very different. Without question, the Al Barsha school is far more spacious, with enormous outside space which lies between the two buildings. Find out more about the facilities here.
In August 2023, DIAB also added an Early Childhood Centre to its provision, available for children from 45 days to 3 years. The school is now fully open from pre-KG to Grade 12.
The Vision for DIA Al Barsha is 'Providing world-class education.' Its Mission is 'To empower students with a holistic, rigorous and international education for success in an ever changing world.'
In addition, DIAB outlines its Philosophy:
Its Core Values are Achievement, Collaboration, Innovation, Integrity, Respect, and Responsibility, whilst the School Motto is Dream | Inspire | Achieve.
In July 2022, it was announced that Ian Thurston, Principal at Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, would be taking over the leadership of DIA Al Barsha. Mr. Thurston had clearly impressed in his period of only one year at the Emirates Hills branch, which he joined from a leadership position at Dar Al Marefa School following a period of 12 years at Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches (JESS) as Deputy Headteacher and Head of Sixth Form.
JESS Arabian Ranches has been among the most successful inclusive IB Diploma Programme schools in the UAE and has consistently been rated Outstanding by the KHDA. Mr. Thurston led Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills school to its best ever IB Diploma performance in May 2022, and is expected to provide the Al Barsha school with similarly positive leadership as its first cohorts of IB Diploma students graduate. Mr. Thurston is supported by Head of Primary, Candice Combrinck, and Head of Secondary, Sean Quigley.
The school is expected, at capacity, to accommodate between 2,500 to 3,000 students- the exact size to be decided "depending on feel". As at November 2023, DIAB had attracted 1,700 students, a figure that is expected to grow in light of the fact that the Emirates Hills sister school remains at at capacity. The move to DIA Al Barsha by Mr. Thurston should encourage further interest in the school.
Inevitably, in what is a relatively new and growing school, student numbers are higher at the lower end, with 1,000 students in the Primary section and the remaining 700 across the Secondary school. Intake at the lower end of the school has been expanded to offer approximately 150 places in KG2. Class sizes are, on average, between 21 and 22 students, with a maximum permitted of 26, providing a low teacher:student ratio of 1:11. In addition, each class in Primary from EY1 to Grade 2 has a teacher and a teaching assistant (more generous than many schools provide), and from Grades 3 to 5, a teacher plus a shared teaching assistant between two classes.
Senior Secondary school classes in Grades 11 and 12 currently have around 30 students per cohort, but are expected to expand rapidly, with the current Grade 9 (2023-24) cohort having close to 140 students.
Students come from a very wide range of nationalities (90 in total), with a split of approximately one third each between Asian, Arabic and Western passport holders. These figures are not too different from the situation at DIA Emirates Hills. There are 17 Emirati students who participate in an individual mentoring programme.
Students are supported by a teaching team of 137, all native English speakers from 25 different countries including the UK and Ireland (the highest contingent of staff at the last count), and South Africa predominantly, together with native Arabic speakers. The Mother Tongue language programme offered by the school means that native language teachers include those from China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. There are a further 35 teaching assistants and two counsellors to support students.
DIAB seeks a range of core skills among its very diverse staff including "wisdom, experience, energy, enthusiasm, support, and collegiality". All are qualified with a Bachelor of Education degree or a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (or are working towards the PGCE in exceptional cases). Teachers participate in regular training, including specific IB training. In addition, professional development at the middle leadership level has been further developed and teachers are able to receive training for the UK-based National Professional Qualifications which can lead to expedited promotion.
In 2022, we raised concerns about the the relatively high teacher turnover at 31% (compared with a UAE average of 22-24%). To be fair, the method of calculation used by the DSIB includes additional teachers as part of the turnover figure. In any growing school, this inevitably skews the figure. On inspection in March 2023, the KHDA confirmed that this figure had fallen to 20%.
DIAB had 124 students on its SEN register at the time of the first KHDA inspection in March 2022 and this figure had grown significantly one year later to 173. The Inclusion team has a Head of Inclusion who manages the Primary and Secondary inclusion teams who support students with a range of additional needs from Level 1 to 3. There is also a team of learning support assistants, who are mainly used to support English as an Additional Language students.
Where SEN students require 1:1 support, parents cover the costs; otherwise no charge is made for in class or pull out support. EAL students are supported with both in class and online learning support.
The overall rating for the Provision and outcomes for students of determination was rated Good, with the inspectors finding that:
- "Leaders, supported by parents and staff, have a vision of a school which meets the needs of all students. The inclusive admissions policy allows a diversity of need to be accommodated within the mainstream classes.
- "Effective procedures involving teachers and parents are in place to identify and provide for students of determination. The school identifies students and provides immediate additional support to overcome their barriers to learning. Support includes individual education plans (IEPs) with appropriate personal and academic targets.
- "Parents of children of determination are highly appreciative of the work of the school. They say that the school gives their children’s wellbeing a high priority. They feel well informed about how to support them and are delighted with their progress."
The school employs a team of 9 Learning Support Teachers and Assistants to work with students of Determination. No additional fees are charged for Students of Determination where students are supported by this team.
In common with the original - and pioneering - Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, DIAB also offers the full International Baccalaureate continuum. Developed originally in Switzerland for children of UN staff, the curriculum is designed to be "transportable" around the world - although individual schools have a wide say in how they teach, and more particularly, in what resources they use. However, all IB students take the same examinations in one of the three approved languages, wherever in the world they may be.
The IB continuum curriculum is separated into three phases, starting with the Primary Years Programme (PYP) from KG to Grade 5, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) from Grades 6 to 10, and the highly-regarded IB Diploma Programme (IBDP), which is viewed as the Gold Standard among the most prestigious universities globally. In September 2023, DIAB introduced the IB Career-related programme, and existing Grade 10 students also have an option to opt for the IBDP Courses Programme, which is a pared down version of the Diploma, requiring six subjects, of which English and Maths are compulsory.
Offering "broad and rigorous" programmes at DIAB, the IB curriculum is particularly highly regarded because of its focus on cross-curricular learning and an inquiry/project-based approach, allowing students to make links between subjects and with a strong focus on individual research. These are trends now being followed by almost all other international curricula.
DIAB offers a wide range of 21 IBDP subjects, in addition to Mother Tongue language provision - similar to that originally pioneered by its Emirates Hills sister school. To help students retain a connection with their home language and culture, the school offered initially three hours of language instruction a week for children with Dutch or French as their mother tongue. Arabic for native and non-native speakers, Social and Islamic Studies are incorporated into the curriculum per Ministry of Education requirements.
Due to demand, the Mother Tongue programme has since been expanded to offer probably the widest range of additional mother-tongue languages in the city, and now includes Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and Urdu. If there are sufficient students, Mother Tongue language teaching takes place during Islamic Education classes. Where numbers are too small, they are offered as After-school activities. Additional fees are payable for participation.
In addition, as part of the focus of the IB curriculum, all students from Grade 2 onwards have the option of French or Spanish language lessons as part of the Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) programme. 90 minutes of MFL instruction is provided per week. Students continue with French or Spanish from Grade 6 onwards through the Middle Years Programme.
With a highly diverse parent and student body, there is also a strong focus on contribution to, and involvement in, activities that promote personal health, creativity, challenge and community support, through the CAS programme which is a requirement for all students. As a result of parent and student feedback, Sports and Performing arts options, and school trips have been expanded to take into account this focus.
This focus is supported by an extensive Co-curricular Activities programme which takes place every day after school. Most CCAs are free with some specific payable options to complement the in-house programme. One less usual opportunity for students at DIAB is to participate in its Certified leadership programme for sports leadership and curriculum leadership.
At the IBDP level, not only is a depth of study required (as in the UK curriculum A Levels for instance), but also a breadth of study with a minimum of six subjects, one of which must be a modern language. The combination of breadth and depths of study, together with the requirement for an extended essay to be written on a student's specific subject of choice, means that IBDP students are highly valued by universities for the tertiary level skills they have already developed.
In May 2022, the first cohort of IB Diploma students took their final examinations. In common with all Innoventures schools, results are shared with WhichSchoolAdvisor.com as part of our annual results round up.
In July 2023, the second cohort of DIAB students took their IB Diploma examinations.
With an average point score of 33 points and a pass rate of 96.4% in a year when the mark scheme for the IB Diploma reverted to pre-Covid 19 levels (with a drop in the average point score and pass rates globally), the cohort of 28 students were rewarded for their efforts with 75% achieving 30 points or more, 36% receiving 35 points ore more and 11% receiving 40 points or above. The highest scoring student achieved 42 points - just three away from the perfect score of 45 points.
By contrast, the UAE average score and pass rate were 31.97 points and 89.7% respectively - results that DIAB students exceeded significantly - as they did also the global average Diploma Programme score of 30.24 points, and the global average pass rate which fell to 79.3%.
DIAB also shared its MYP results for 2023. There were a total of 44 candidates in this year's cohort who an average score of 5.6 compared with the world average level of 4.7. With the MYP marked out of a total of 56 points, DIAB students achieved an average of 45 points (compared with a global average of 37.6). The highest individual score at DIAB was 53 points, with 87% of students achieving 40+ points, 60% achieving 45
+ points and 14% achieving 50+ points - a considerable improvement over the results for 2022.
In July 2022, the school celebrated its first IB Diploma results. 26 students participated in the examinations, of whom 24 were successful in achieving the Diploma with an average score of 33.2 points - above the global average of 31.98 points, but slightly below the UAE figure of 34.03. 69% of candidates achieved 30+ points, whilst 35% obtained 35+ points and 3% obtained over 40 points - with the highest being 41 points.
At MYP, students are required to submit a Personal Project, and Grade 9 students are required to submit a Community Project. It is obligatory for students to complete the Community and Service elements of the CAS programme.
2022 MYP results showed a cohort of 46 students achieved an average level of 5.3 compared with the global average of 4.7. The average point score for the cohort was 43/56, compared with a global figure of 37.8, with the highest score achieving the full 56 points score. 72% of entries achieved 40+ points, whilst 44% were awarded 45+ points and 14% received 50+ points.
Students are offered dedicated career and subject counselling beginning from Grade 9.
In line with the requirements under the UAE National Agenda, DIAB students will participate in a number of international bench-marking tests including PISA and TIMMS.
The DIAB site is an expansive one - considerably larger than the DIA campus in Emirates Hills. Unlike the single building at the original school, the Al Barsha site has two quite separate buildings, with the Primary School at the rear of the site and the Secondary School at the front. The two buildings are separated by a large outdoor sports oval, and there are entirely separate recreational outdoor spaces for students from the Primary and Secondary sections.
The school offers all the usual facilities expected of a premium school in Dubai, including a Networked Library, specialist rooms for Design Technology, Computer Technology, Art, Drama, Music and Language learning, a Music and movement sprung-floored room for kindergarten and fully equipped science labs, computer labs and design technology labs. The school has recently added bee hives as part of their sustainability curriculum - with honey already being produced by the DIABees!
In addition, the school features Outdoor learning areas, an Exam Hall, an Auditorium, three climate-controlled multi-purpose halls for a wide range of sports and other activities, two swimming pools (one each for Primary and Secondary students), a Running track, Tennis courts and Cricket nets. There is also a full outdoor football playing field and shaded play areas (offering plenty of outdoor space for younger children and more chilled seating areas for older ones), as well as shaded outdoor basketball courts and two cafeterias serving hot food.
Most recently, upgrades have been made to the laboratories, sports facilities and auditorium.
DIAB was due to receive its first annual DSIB inspection in the 2020-21 academic year. However, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, all inspections were postponed. It did finally receive its first inspection in March 2022, and achieved a Good rating overall - the highest rating yet achieved by a school on first inspection.
In March 2023, the school received its second DSIB inspection and was again awarded an overall rating of Good. However, as is so often the case, this overall rating does not in any way show the full picture in terms of improvement.
A total of 44 improved ratings were awarded (half of the total performance measures evaluated), of which two were improvements to Good, 41 were improvements to Very Good, and the first Outstanding rating appeared in the report.
Summarising their findings, the DSIB inspectors noted that "there is a significantly improving picture in all subject areas and across the school, but especially in Kindergarten. Students are respectful and tolerant towards others. They have positive attitudes and a good work ethic. They have an effective understanding of Islamic values and respect for the UAE. They show enterprise and a willingness to take part in different activities, including taking on responsibilities and leadership roles. This is an improving area of the school."
Commenting on Teaching and the Curriculum, the inspectors found that "Teaching for effective learning is at least good in all phases. Teaching has a positive impact on students’ achievement. Assessment processes are effective. The school’s analysis of data provides a comprehensive overview of students’ achievement. The curriculum provides for a broad, balanced and age-appropriate range of learning experiences. Additional choices are added at the upper end of the school."
Health and safety and the protection of students were found to be very good. Inspectors said that "They support the wellbeing practices across the school. Overall, support and guidance for students are strong. For students of determination, they are good."
Finally, the inspectors noted that "The principal and senior leaders have a strong vision and direction for the school, focusing on students and the wellbeing of all. School development plans are prioritised and aligned with that vision. Communication within the school is open and respectful, as is the partnership between the school and parents."
The ratings for Student Achievement showed significant improvement, with almost all ratings for English now rated Very Good across the school (only attainment in KG remained Good), whilst for Mathematics, the ratings in KG and PYP also improved to Very Good. For MYP and DP, Maths ratings remained Good. In Science, all ratings in KG, PYP and MYP (with one exception, again in KG) had improved to Very Good. DP remained Good. Improvements in Arabic and Islamic Education were less strong, with a mix of Acceptable and Good across attainment and progress.
Improvements in Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum were impressive! Teaching and Assessment are now rated Very Good across KG, PYP and DP, with only MYP retaining the Good ratings from the first inspection. Curriculum design, implementation and adaptation similarly had improved to Very Good with one exception for adaptation at DP. These two key performance standards are at the core of, and underpin, Student Achievement.
Nine of the twelve measures for Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills, received improved ratings with all but one measure being rated Very Good. Students' personal development in the DP is now rated Outstanding! The protection, care, guidance and support of students retained the Very Good ratings from last year's report.
Finally, Leadership and Management is now rated a mix of Good and Very Good, with the effectiveness of leadership improved to Very Good.
In terms of the strengths of DIA Al Barsha, the inspectors found these to be:
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team recommended that DIAB should:
Given the relatively short space of time between the establishment of a new leadership team and the inspection, DIA Al Barsha has clearly made significant progress. The clear recommendations from the inspectors will serve to focus staff on the further steps required. Based on achievements since last year, we would expect to see a potential improvement in the overall rating for the school in the next inspection round.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor parent survey responses for DIAB - a total of just over 70 to date - are largely positive, although we would like to see a higher level of participation.
Respondents have rated the school 4.1/5 - a positivity rate of 82%. Children feel a strong sense of belonging and enjoyment of the school (well above UAE averages). Parents appreciate the communication from school to home and are confident in the ability of DIAB to meet their children's academic needs.
Parents are predominantly satisfied with the academic performance of DIAB (with 76% fully satisfied and a further 20% partially satisfied), but seven in twenty feel (35%) that additional tuition outside of school is necessary. We assume that these parents also make up a proportion of 26% who have considered moving their child to another school.
The vast majority of parents (84%) would also recommend the school to others, though 7% would not and a further 9% were not sure. As is usual, if there is a niggle in relation to DIAB it is the level of school fees. The majority of respondents agree that fees represent partially (44%) or fully (44%) good value for money. However, a significant 12% disagreed with this statement.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at DIA Al Barsha and would like to share your experience and opinions with other potential members of your community, please complete our survey here.
As a positive sign from the outset, DIAB has been keen to engage with parents and introduced PADIA - the Parents' Association of DIA Al Barsha. This is mainly a fund-raising organisation run by volunteers, aimed at building a sense of community and supporting school priorities.
The inspection team noted that "The parents, especially members of the parents’ association, are active. They are engaged both as partners in their children’s learning and as supporters of the school. Reports to parents about their children’s academic and social development are very detailed. The school is re-establishing links with the local and wider community to provide participation in sports, arts and additional academic activities".
In a new initiative by the KHDA which integrated feedback from parents, students, teachers and management of the school, all Dubai schools were evaluated on the Quality of Wellbeing provision and outcomes which were found to be at a High Level.
Inspectors found that:
Dubai International Academy Al Barsha has clearly made an impression since its launch. Whilst it may, initially, have benefited from the waiting lists at the Emirates Hills sister school, to have grown student numbers to around 1,700 today, at a time when all schools - no matter how highly regarded - are increasingly having to compete for students, suggests that parents and students are more than satisfied with their choice.
Of course, having the experience of two other IB continuum schools - Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills, rated Outstanding, and Raffles World Academy rated Very Good by the KHDA - can only have been a benefit in enabling the team at DIAB to "hit the ground running".
The success of the first cohort of IBDP and IB Courses students who sat their final exams and graduated in 2022, having been spent their DP years learning in the midst of Covid 19, is a testament to the team at DIAB's ability to achieve its Mission - 'To empower students with a holistic, rigorous and international education for success in an ever changing world.'.
Fees for the school are definitely not inexpensive - starting at AED 41,500 for pre-KG (reduced from the original fee level of AED 48,188 and now in line with the Emirates Hills school) to AED 75,470 (reduced from AED 87,382) for Grades 11 and 12.
These are in line with fee levels for IB curriculum schools in general, where the cost of staffing tends to be higher than all other curricula.
Dubai International Academy Al Barsha 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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