Dubai parents were delighted to learn that Dubai International Academy Al Barsha would be opening its doors in September 2018. 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), Raffles International School and Raffles World Academy in Umm Suqeim 2 and Collegiate American School in Umm Suqeim 1. In addition, Innoventures also owns and manages the 8 Raffles Nurseries located across New Dubai and the newest addition to the portfolio, the Burj Daycare Nurseries. Currently, approximately 7,700 children from over 100 different nationalities attend schools or nurseries operated by the Innoventures Group.
Each of the five schools in the Group follows a separate curriculum, with the original DIA being the first school in the UAE authorised to offer the full International Baccalaureate World School continuum programmes.
DIA Al Barsha is 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 whilst Collegiate American School also offers the IB Diploma as an option to its students. DIAB is currently open to Grade 11 and will reach full opening with Grade 12 in September 2021.
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, (although this was reduced to Very Good in 2017-18) from an original rating of Acceptable back in 2008. Parents, therefore, have high expectations of the new school also.
According to the school's detailed website, its Vision 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 also offers thoughts on its Philosophy:
Its Core Values are Achievement, Collaboration, Innovation, Integrity, Respect, and Responsibility, whilst the School Motto is Dream | Inspire | Achieve.
Led by Founding Principal David Hicks, the school certainly seems to have attracted a substantial number of students compared with many new openings over this same period. Two years after opening, and in a rather different economic environment, DIAB has attracted close to 1,000 students.
It is expected, at capacity, to accommodate around 2,000. Students come from a very wide range of nationalities (133 in total), with Indian passport holders being the highest proportion at 28%. This is not too different from the situation at DIA Emirates Hills.
Students are supported by a teaching team of 82, all native English speakers from the UK, Ireland and South Africa predominantly, together with native Arabic speakers. DIAB seeks a range of core skills among its 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.
Students are organised in classes of between 18 and 25, with a teacher:student ratio of 1:11 - similar to expectations for a premium fee school and designed to ensure that students receive individual attention and curriculum adaptation as required. The school also 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.
Class numbers per grade vary - inevitably with smaller numbers of students and classes the higher up the school - but these range from 6 classes to 2 depending on the grade.
The school is fully co-educational, with a slightly higher ratio of boys than girls at 5:4.
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. It is not, at this point clear, whether DIAB will also offer the IB Career-related programme, but students will have an option to opt for the IB Courses Programme, which is a pared down version of the Diploma, requiring six subjects of which English and Maths are compulsory.
DIAB expects to receive full IB authorisation for the three programmes by the end of 2020, having completed a rigorous three year candidature process at this stage.
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. Due to demand, this programme has since been expanded to offer probably the widest range of additional mother-tongue languages in the city, and now includes Hindi, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish. Additional fees are payable for participation. Arabic for native and non-native speakers, Social and Islamic Studies are incorporated into the curriculum per Ministry of Education requirements.
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.
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. This 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. The school also offers a variety of international trips though these are all on hold at present due to COVID 19.
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.
As yet, DIAB has not been inspected by the KHDA as part of the annual DSIB inspection programme, but is expected to receive their first visit in the 2020-21 academic year.
According to the school, 'DIA Al Barsha students’ attainment is benchmarked against international standards. Our focus upon strong academic outcomes will also underpin our educational philosophy at DIA Al Barsha.'
As yet, no students have taken the final IB Diploma Programme examinations; this will take place only in May 2022, when the first Grade 12 cohort completes its studies. It is not clear whether Grade 10 students will participate in the increasingly expected, but optional (for schools) MYP e-assessment. 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.
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 DIA Al Barsha 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 Elementary School at the rear of the site and the Middle/High School at the front. The two buildings are separated by a large outdoor sports oval.
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.
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, 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.
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.
There is - as required by the KHDA - a Board of Governors, which is largely made up of the owners and managers of Innoventures Education, There is, however, only one external representative who also has a background in education, and who is a parent at DIA, Emirates Hills.We would not be surprised to see the KHDA urge wider parental involvement.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor parent survey responses for DIAB are largely positive based, however, on a limited number of reviews. Children feel a strong sense of belonging and enjoyment of the school. 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 but also agree that the school is among the top 10% of schools from a competitive sports perspective and is also highly inclusive in this context.
The majority of respondents agree that fees represent at least partially (44%) or fully (45%) value for money. The majority of parents (78%) would also recommend the school to others, though 11% would not and a further 11% were not sure. We assume that these parents also make up the 22% who have considered moving their child to another school.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at DIA Al Barsha and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our survey here.
Dubai International Academy Al Barsha has clearly made an impression since its launch two years ago. Whilst it may, initially, have benefited from the waiting lists at the Emirates Hills sister school, to have grown student numbers to around 1,000 today, at a time when all schools - no matter how highly regarded - are increasingly having to compete for students, suggest that parents and students are satisfied with their choice.
Of course, having the experience of two other IB continuum schools - both rated Very Good by the KHDA - can only have been a benefit in enabling the team at DIAB to "hit the ground running". The real proof of their success will be seen in 2020 in terms of their first inspection results - and no Dubai school has ever achieved a rating higher than Good on their first inspection - so this must be the target.
More importantly, the first cohort of IBDP and IB Courses students will sit their final exams and graduate in 2021. This will be an opportunity for DIAB to highlight just how well it is able to achieve its Mission and Vision.
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'. Our sense is that in focusing on these three core goals, academic attainment for the school's students will naturally follow.
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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