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Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills Review

Dubai International Academy has a record of Firsts. It was the first IB World School authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in the UAE to offer the full range of IB programmes. It was also the first IB curriculum school in the UAE to achieve an Outstanding rating (from the KHDA, the Dubai Education regulator), which it received in 2015-16 and retained in 2016-17 when no inspection took place. It has been rated Very Good for the past two years.
Parents' Rating
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4.3 out of 5 based on 52 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
AED 57,000
Annual fees
AED 40,988 - 72,625
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2005
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
18%
Principal
Mr Ian Thurston
Owner
Innoventures
Community

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Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
AED 57,000
Annual fees
AED 40,988 - 72,625
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2005
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
18%
Principal
Mr Ian Thurston
Owner
Innoventures
Community
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Updated:
Thursday 23 September, 2021

Dubai International Academy has a record of Firsts. It was the first IB World School authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation in the UAE to offer the full range of IB programmes. It was also the first IB curriculum school in the UAE to achieve an Outstanding rating (from the KHDA, the Dubai Education regulator), which it received in 2015-16 and retained in 2016-17 when no inspection took place. It has been rated Very Good for the past two years.

The Story so Far...

Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills is a school that scored a number of firsts when it opened and in subsequent years, continued to do so.  The first school to open in the Emirates Hills area, now over fifteen years ago, it was also the first school to be awarded IB World School status and to introduce the full IB curriculum in the UAE. At the time, its biggest achievement also was to be awarded the KHDA's highest rating of Outstanding - the only full IB curriculum school to have achieved this. 

This is a school, which based on feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com through our school survey, is highly regarded by parents. With an overall rating of 4.3/5 - an approval rating of 86% - there is clearly much that DIA is doing right. 
Recent comments from parents have included:
It's inclusive and friendly. I feel they can do a lot better with student motivation and academics."
"Strengths: Helps children build up themselves socially and balances it well with academics by constant support and encouragement. Also during trying times of covid, facility management with respect to [safety operating procedures] were highly taken care of. Weakness: should reduce the class size for better interactions, and put in more assistant teachers"
"It’s an amazing school when it comes to academics, and the staff know well their roles, and are supportive. They seem to accept a very high number of students, higher than school capacity. Staff appear overwhelmed; school is busy."

If there is a concern, the size of classes and attendant pressure on teachers seems to be a recurring one.  Read further details of parent feedback here.

Located in Emirates Hills alongside the Al Khail road, DIA opened on September 10, 2005 with more than 500 students from 55 countries and an equally diverse faculty of more than 50 members of 18 different nationalities. Today the school is home to 2,290 students from over 80 nationalities, looked after by 184 teachers and 34 teaching assistants. No one nationality dominates, but reflecting the UAE, the largest single nationality of students is Indian and the largest nationality group among teachers in British.

In August 2021, the leadership of the school was handed to Mr. Ian Thurston.  Mr. Thurston was recently a member of the Senior leadership team at Dar Al Marefa School in Dubai, having previously spent a significant period at Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches - a school which although offering the UK curriculum through to Year 11, was one of the first to adopt the IB Diploma Programme and one of the most successful in terms of academic outcomes.

The school's teacher turnover, at the time of the last KHDA inspection in 2018, was running at 18%, compared with 29% three years prior to this, which was slightly below the average (at 20-22%) for Dubai.  None the less, a turnover of close to 20% means that almost one in five teachers will be new in September. The teacher to student ratio is 1:11 - a relatively low ratio which ensure that teachers are able to address individual students' needs.

Dubai International Academy as one of the first schools to be built in the then new Emirates Hills area was "thrown up", using pre-cast walls, in record time.  The buildings themselves are, inevitably, not particularly striking, but are suited for purpose.  The EY section is entirely separate, including a separate side entrance, whilst the Primary and Secondary sections are split across the two sides of the building.

What about the curriculum?

DIA was the first school in the UAE to offer the Geneva based International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, all the way from the Primary Years Programme (PYP, KG 1 – Year 6), to the Middle Years Programme (MYP, years 7-11) and finally the Diploma Programme (DP, years 12-13).

Across the programmes, provision is provided for students with special educational needs (SEND) and English as a second language (ESL) - the latter from year 2. Until this point, the school believes that separate ESL teaching is not required since children "soak up" English so quickly.  Students learn Arabic, French and Spanish as part of the core curriculum.

The school is also well-known for providing a range of native-tongue programmes aimed at enabling students to continue to study and develop their native language skills. Currently the school offers two to three hours of tuition per week during school hours (in place of Islamic Studies) in Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Spanish, Swedish or Mandarin. 

What about Academic Achievement? 

According to the school its "IBDP results have been among the best in the region". The results are impressive, and, we believe, improving, although not at a spectacular rate.  DIA also offers the IB Career-related programme and the Courses programme which is a "slimmed down" version of the full Diploma programme.

In 2021, in the second year of the pandemic, when all grades were assessed as no examinations took place, a student cohort of 133 was awarded an average point score as a whole of 39 (updated from 38.5 points) with a 100% pass rate. 98.5% of entries were awarded 30+ points, 82% achieved 35+ points and 48.1% achieved 40 points or more. Five students achieved the maximum 45 points. IB CP and Courses results were not published.

In common with almost all UAE schools whose students were registered for the IB Diploma, the average score was significantly higher than that of 2020, and 4.5 points higher than the average score for 2019 when exams last took place.  We would advise all parents to bear in mind that there has generally been significant grade inflation as a result of the Centre Assessed Grades process and corrections are to be expected when students sit examinations again post-Covid measures.

In 2020, a total of 127 students participated in the full Diploma programme, scoring an average of 35 points and securing a 100% pass rate. A further six IB Courses students and seven IB Career-related Programme students also participated as the first cohort to take this programme. From the school’s Diploma students, 21 (16.5%) scored 40+ points out of the total 45 points, 47.2% scored above 35 points and 89% achieved over 30 points. Its top-scoring student was Jiya Rughwani, who scored 43 points.

The DIA Emirates Hills class of 2020 IB Diploma students secured admissions to top ranking universities such as University of Cambridge, University of California - Berkeley, Duke University, University of Michigan, Georgia Tech, Carnegie Mellon University, Imperial College, Kings University, University College London, Erasmus University, University of Toronto, University of British Colombia, McGill University, University of Melbourne, Hong Kong University and University of Amsterdam.

DIA’s first cohort of Career Related Programme students also excelled with 100% pass rate and received their first choice University places. Six students achieving the highest possible grade of D*D* in their BTEC. All 7 graduating students have received offers for under-graduate courses from institutions such as Middlesex University Dubai, Brunel University London, Deakin University, ESIC Madrid Business and Marketing School, American University in Dubai and Heriot Watt University.

The Middle Years Programme (MYP) team at Dubai International Academy also announced its MYP results. DIA had 154 students registered for the May 2020 examination session and obtained a 99% passing rate for the MYP Certificate students which is the highest ever at DIA.  Seventeen out of twenty-one subjects were above world averages. Students also achieved outstanding results in the Personal Project with an average score of 5.43 against a world average of 3.86. 

Sixteen DIA students obtained the top score of 7.  Students also scored the highest ever subject averages over the past five years in Spanish, French, Arabic B, Physical & Health Education and Drama.  Top achievers were Sneha Sahay with 55/56, Anusha Alam and Nour Hedna, who each scored 54/56 and Raghav Chutani with 53/56.

The school also published its MYP results for 2021, informing us that one student had achieved the perfect score of 56 points, whilst 25% of students achieved 50+ points, and 78% 40+ points.  The Mean Average score was 44 points (out of 56), whilst the Median Average score was 46 points.

In 2019, DIA revealed that 154 students had taken examinations and completed their core subjects for the IBDP, and a further 10 students had taken the IB Courses examinations. 45 students achieved a score of 38 points or more, and 81% of the graduating class exceeded the world average of 30 points. 30% of students achieved a score of 38 and above and the overall average for the school was 34.5 points. In addition, 11 students gained a Bilingual Diploma in 8 different languages. Two students, Carl Vinter and Lilith Mayer achieved the coveted 45 points. Carl will be joining Copenhagen Business School to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics and Lilith will study Business Management at Warwick University, UK.

In 2018, following the May exam session, DIA revealed that the average points score for their IB Diploma students was 34 points - compared with 33.7 in 2017.  However, given that the IBO permits schools to round up to the next figure if they score 0.5, it is not possible to know how close to 2017's figure the 2018 one is.  However, irrespective of the accuracy of this number, we do know that compared with the average UAE score for 2018 of 31.41 points, and the global average of 29.78 (down from 29.9 in 2017), that the overall average at DIA was well above these comparative figures. 

Although we also do not know the number of students who sat the exam, and nor do we know the overall pass rate, DIA informed WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that 18% of students achieved 38 points or more, and over 75% scored more than 30 points.  The highest achieving student, achieved 45 points - a perfect score - and will be studying Medicine at the University of Nottingham in the UK.

DIA published that in May 2017, its pass rate of 94% was well above the world average. Though initially reluctant to publish the average point scores for the school, DIA subsequently revealed that students achieved 33.7 points - which they are permitted to round up to 34.  The top score of 44 was achieved by Rohan Goel with 10 further students securing between 40 to 42 points. In the MYP e-Assessments the top score of 54 (of 56) was achieved by Shreyas Raman with 9 further students achieving between 48-52 points. All graduates secured college placements across 17 countries, which included the world’s top universities: Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Cambridge, and London School of Economics. 80% of students received acceptances from their first choice university.  

What About Facilities? 

As mentioned in our introduction, DIA lacks perhaps some of the more distinguishing architectural and design features of many newer premium-fee schools but facilities at DIA are good. They include:

  • A Networked Library
  • Specialist rooms for music, music technology, art, dance, drama and language learning
  • Fully equipped science labs, computer labs and a Robotic lab
  • Four climate-controlled multi-purpose halls for a wide range of sports and other activities
  • Two covered swimming pools
  • A fully grassed outdoor playing field and several shaded play areas - smaller ones with play equipment, and an impressively large one above the Kindergarten section of the school.
  • Shaded outdoor basketball and tennis ball courts
  • A music and movement sprung-floored room for kindergarten students.

The school has a very decent range of after school activities - which as an IB school you would expect. DIA offers the International Award (Duke of Edinburgh) and the Model United Nations, staples, it seems, of IB schools as the means to participating in the Creativity, Activity and Service element of the programme. One of the school's students recently won the poetry recitation competition at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. The school was one of the first schools in Dubai to become an Eco Flag school.

What the Inspectors Say

Having initially achieved a first rating of Acceptable back in 2009, and six subsequent ratings of Good (the second highest rating at that time), in  2015-2016 achieved the highest rating of Outstanding, which was repeated for the 2016-2017 year. The downgrade from Outstanding to Very Good in 2017-18 will no doubt have come as an unwelcome result for Dubai International Academy.  However, the school can console itself with the news that it was not alone in this results - two other Outstanding schools, Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches, (which has subsequently returned to Outstanding in 2018-19) and the Indian High School Dubai, also moved back to Very Good in the 2017-18 inspection round, albeit apparently for different reasons. 

In 2018-19, DIA was again rated Very Good for the second year. In line with an announcement made by the KHDA in late 2019, as a school rated Outstanding or Very Good, no annual inspections now take place. Instead an annual Review visit - for which no report is issued - now takes place. With the suspension of all visits and inspections in early 2020 as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, no subsequent reports have been issued.  However, Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills did participate in a Distance Learning Evaluation in June 2020 and was awarded the highest rating of Developed.  The report can be read here.

The 2018-19  report found the the strengths of the school to be the "Outstanding attainment and progress in English in the MYP and DP phases; Outstanding maturity, independence and awareness of their own preferred modes of learning displayed by students throughout the school; Excellent after school activities enriching an outstanding curriculum provision; Outstanding arrangements for health, safety, care and support and for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND); and Highly supportive, engaged and involved parents and governors.

Students' achievement is also highly rated in many areas "Throughout the school, students demonstrate very good or outstanding attainment and progress in English and Mathematics. Students are highly motivated and engaged in their own learning. Diploma Programme (DP) students’ attainment in Arabic as a first language has improved. Students in the Middle Years Programme (MYP) achieve outstanding attainment and progress in science, but outstanding progress is not consistent across all subjects". 

This comment is reflected in the ratings in the Primary Years for Islamic Studies and Arabic as a Second language, where progress had dropped from Good to Acceptable, with similar reductions in English progress and in Science for both attainment and progress.  A similar reduction in Science ratings was noted for Sixth Form (IB Diploma) students.

The students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills remained rated Outstanding. As the report notes, "Excellent personal development is a very strong feature across the school. In lessons, PYP students demonstrate the highest levels of self-discipline, even when lessons are not long enough. Almost all students have very positive and responsible attitudes and demonstrate strong self-reliance. They respond very well to others and have excellent relationships".  Innovation was found to be systematic with DIA - "Leaders are enthusiastic in promoting a school wide culture of innovation. They provide extensive student leadership roles and activity groups to develop the skills of innovation".

The other key area of Teaching for Effective Learning and Assessment were found generally to be of a high standard, both rated Outstanding across MYP and DP students, but appear to have fallen back in KG and Primary where teacher planning and "collaboration, critical thinking, and the development of innovation skills are less well promoted by teachers". However, assessment  (a key focus of inspectors)in KG has moved up again to Outstanding, and this is now the rating across the school. 

The other two key indicators of Curriculum, and the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students were rated Outstanding.  However, Leadership and Management were adjusted to Very Good in respect of The effectiveness of leadership and School self-evaluation and improvement planning.  Inspectors noted a "lack of rigour in monitoring result[ing] in some inconsistencies in the quality of teaching" and commented that "School self-evaluation is aspirational; some judgements are overly optimistic".

The areas which the school needs to focus on seem to have been clearly identified by the Inspection team. However, based on the overall indicator ratings across the school, the key would seem to be bringing the progress in the core subjects back up to their previous Outstanding levels and ensuring that progress is seen in Arabic and Islamic Studies (where no improvement was noted this year).  The increasing emphasis on assessment will also need to be a focus for the school.

If you would like to read the inspection report and recommendations in full, and we strongly suggest that you do, please go here.

The Buzz

Despite the changes in KHDA ratings noted, so much of what Dubai International Academy is providing to its students is still deemed outstanding, that it hard for us at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com to conclude that this is anything other than an outstanding school.

Feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com on DIA is generally positive. Most parents like the school's IB programme, and the fact that the school is required to maintain the Geneva based organisation's IB standards.

The school does well in the ongoing WSA School Survey. Most parents would recommend the school, all are happy with the academic performance of the school, and approximately half believe the school offers good value for money. Parents believe the school ranks well compared to international peers, with the majority thinking the offering is on a par with "the level of education offered in their home countries".

The school embraces and celebrates the diversity of its multinational student population, running mother tongue language programmes in several languages, such as Dutch, Spanish and several others. There is a small Dutch library amongst other things.

If you are a parent, student or teacher at Dubai International Academy, please share your experiences with other potential members of your community by taking part in our survey here.

Parent feedback to the KHDA's pre-inspection report in 2019 was extremely positive with close to 600 parents responding. Of these 94% felt that DIA provided a satisfactory quality of education. Parents perceived that their children feel safe and happy and were positive about their children's wellbeing.  There was some criticism of communication from the school and a lack of opportunity for parental involvement.

Almost 500 students participated in the Student Wellbeing Survey, with the majority stating that they were happy at school, optimistic and able to persevere with tasks. All students felt that they had some connection with teachers at the school and have a high level of engagement in their studies.

Our View

Despite recent concerns raised by some parents in relation to class sizes and teaching standards, there is no question that Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills is an exceptionally strong school in almost all aspects.

At the time of the last KHDA inspection, Student Achievement for English, Maths and Science was rated Very Good or Outstanding across the school. Unfortunately, in common with many UAE schools, Arabic for both native and non-native speakers remains a challenge and, in our view, has unfairly skewed the overall rating of the school. This seems particularly evident when one notes that only four of the remaining 45 key performance indicators are not rated Outstanding, instead being rated Very Good. 

We would certainly encourage parents to look beyond the overall rating - which has not been reviewed for over two years - and the relevance of those weaker subject areas to their children's individual needs.  This is an Outstanding school in almost all aspects.

What About Fees? 

Fees at DIA are premium - but relatively good value for an IB school, especially such a highly regarded one. They start at AED 40,988 for KG1 per annum and rise to just over AED 72,625 for Year 13.

There are additional fees on admissions. There is an entrance test fee of AED 500, an annual re-enrollment fee of 5% (adjusted against term one fees - actually quite reasonable compared to peers), an enrollment fee of 10% of the annual fees (deductible from the first term's fees) for new students (again comparatively reasonable), and a AED 4,500 fee if the student is identified as needing English as a Second Language (ESL) support. 

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

Dubai International Academy Emirates Hills is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:

If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.

Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information

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