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Dubai International Academy Al Barsha Review

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.
Parents' Rating
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3.6 out of 5 based on 19 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
AED 59,500
Annual fees
AED 41,500–75,470
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2018
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr Ian Thurston
Owner
Innoventures
Community

Nearby nurseries

0.4km • EYFS curriculum
0.6km
1.8km
2km • EYFS curriculum
2.7km • EYFS curriculum
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Dubai International Academy Al Barsha
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
AED 59,500
Annual fees
AED 41,500–75,470
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2018
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr Ian Thurston
Owner
Innoventures
Community
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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.

The story so far...

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 International School in Umm Suqeim 1. In addition, Innoventures also owns and manages the eight Raffles Nurseries located across New Dubai and the newest addition to the portfolio, the Burj Daycare Nurseries.  Currently, approximately 7,500 children from over 120 different nationalities attend schools or nurseries operated by the Innoventures Group.

The five schools in the Group follow various curricula, including English National Curriculum, US curriculum and the IB 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. Collegiate International School also offers the IB programmes with the option of a US High School Diploma to its students.  

Although WhichSchooladvisor.com has received relatively limited feedback from parents to our School Survey, 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:

"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"
"The administration and the teachers show less regard for commercialism and focus more on the growth of your child. Parents's needs are catered to and addressed asap and an open door policy encourages everyone to be free to have their voices heard in a fair environment. Couldn't hope for a better school for my 3 boys."

For further insight into parents' views of the school, read the Buzz.

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:

  • To be recognised by the success of our students in achieving their personal goals.
  • To make student development the centre of all school decisions.
  • To aspire to the highest internationally recognised performance standards.
  • To build and celebrate a culture based on internationalism.
  • To enable staff to become life-long learners through the development of their professional practice.

Its Core Values are Achievement, Collaboration, Innovation, Integrity, Respect, and Responsibility, whilst the School Motto is Dream | Inspire | Achieve.

Led by Principal Rod Boswell, and supported by Head of Primary, Candice Combrinck, and  Head of Secondary, Sean Quigley, the school certainly seems to have attracted a substantial number of students compared with many new openings over this same period. In its third year of operation, and in a rather different economic environment, DIAB had attracted around 1,300 students. 
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 (JESS) as Deputy Headteacher and Head of Sixth Form.  JESS has been among the most successful IB Diploma programme schools in the UAE and has consistently been rated Outstanding by the KHDA.

It is expected, at capacity, to accommodate between 2,400 and 2,700 students - the exact size to be decided "depending on feel".  Students come from a very wide range of nationalities (80 in total), with Indian passport holders being the highest proportion at 28%. 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 118, all native English speakers from 30 different countries including Ireland (the highest contingent at 20% of staff at the last count), the UK 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. If there is an area of concern, it would be the relatively high teacher turnover at 31% (compared with a UAE average of 22-24%).

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. A further 8 teaching assistants and two counsellors support students.

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.

What about support for students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents?

DIA AB had 124 students on its SEN register at the time of the first KHDA inspection in March 2022. According to the inspection team, "Students with additional needs are appropriately identified and supported." 

The overall rating for the Provision and outcomes for students of determination was rated Good, with the inspectors finding that  "Together, the inclusion leaders and governors have created policies that are welcoming to all students of determination. There has been considerable investment in appointing well-qualified staff with skills to plan provision for, and to support teachers, consistently across the school. Most students of determination make good progress from their individual starting points. KG children are encouraged to learn independently. This quality contributes to collaborative skills and responsible attitudes that prepare older students of determination to achieve their progress targets."

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.

What about the curriculum?

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. 

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.

What about academic achievement?

In May 2022, the first cohort of IB Diploma students took their final examinations.

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.  

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.

What about the facilities?

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.

What the inspectors say

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 line with all UAE schools, however, DIAB did participate in the Distance Learning Evaluations which took place in 2020 and 2021.  Although result of the latter have not been released, the school achieved the highest Developed rating in the 2020 round. The report can be read here.

DIAB achieved solidly Good ratings in almost all areas.  The exceptions were in Arabic and Islamic Studies (a mix of Acceptable and Good), students' personal development which was rated Very Good across the school, and for the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students - again rated Very Good across all indicators.  In addition, the two criteria of Parents and the Community, and Management, Staffing, Facilities and Resources were also rated Very Good.

The inspection team defined the strengths of DIA Al Barsha as:

  • The vision and sense of purpose
  • Students’ good progress in almost all areas of the curriculum
  • Students’ high standards of behaviour and the quality of their personal development and relationships
  • The partnership with parents and the quality of care
  • The well-equipped campus which provides a spacious and healthy environment for learning

Whilst students' progress is clearly positive, the inspection team noted that critical thinking and problem-solving are less developed than other learning skills.  Inspectors were positive about the teaching staff, commenting that teaching quality is consistent across the school. Teachers plan purposeful lessons and make effective use of the available resources. They interact well with their students. In the best lessons, teachers incorporate activities to promote critical thinking, problem-solving and independent learning.

The curriculum was also found to be well aligned with the core vision of the school and the values of the International Baccalaureate (IB). Ongoing curriculum reviews, and collaborative planning, result in a broad and relevant curriculum that underpins students’ good academic progress. An extensive range of extra-curricular activities enhances students’ skill development and contributes well to their health and well-being.

The inspection team also found that Senior leaders understand their school well and provide it with a strong sense of purpose and continual improvement. Relationships and communication are strong throughout the school. Parents are well informed and are effectively involved in supporting their own children’s learning. Middle leaders have a varied range of previous experience but all work effectively within their areas of responsibility - a number of recommendations address the potential development needs of teachers as the school's growth continues. 

In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team recommended that DIAB should:

  • Extend the role of middle leadership in the school by:
    - providing professional development that develops their expertise;
    - mentorship from senior leaders, including the consistent use of data;
    - supporting middle leaders in differentiating between the features of good and very good or outstanding lessons;
    - developing the range of strategies that leaders use to spread the best practices within their areas of responsibility, including sharing between phases in Arabic.•
  • Increase the proportion of lessons which:
    - feature a high standard of problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis;
    - provide challenges that facilitate rapid progress for the most able and lower achieving students;
    - analyse assessment data skillfully to identify and target different student needs.
  • Develop the final phase curriculum pathways to ensure that provision meets all student needs.

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 Buzz

The WhichSchoolAdvisor parent survey responses for DIAB are largely positive based, however, on a limited number of reviews. Respondents have rated the school 4.2/5 - a positivity rate of 84%. 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 (with 77% fully satisfied and a further 15% partially satisfied), but over one if five feel that additional tuition outside of school is necessary. We assume that these parents also make up the 23% who have considered moving their child to another school. Parents agree that the school is among the top 25% of schools from a competitive sports perspective and is also highly inclusive in this context.

The vast majority of parents (84%) would also recommend the school to others, though 8% would not and a further 8% were not sure. As is usual, if there is a niggle in relaiton to DIAB it is the level of school fees. The majority of respondents agree that fees represent at least partially (39%) or fully (46%) good value for money.  However, a significant 15% (1 in 6 parents) 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. 

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.

Our View

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 1,400 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 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 should have been seen in 2020 in terms of their first inspection results, but with the advent of the Covid 19 pandemic, this has been postponed to an unscheduled date.  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 2022. 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.

What about the fees?

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.

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

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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