Dubai National School, Al Barsha, established in 1988, is one of two branches (the second based in Al Twar) of Dubai National School, with a total of 4200 students.
Dubai National School Al Barsha has again been rated Good for the eleventh year running (since inspections began) in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full reports have been published.
The story so far...
Located in Al Barsha 1, between Al Mawakeb School and the American School of Dubai, Dubai National School Al Barsha (DNS Al Barsha), is a long-established US curriculum school that educates predominantly Arab nationals. This area of Al Barsha is a popular residential area for Emirati families, from whom the majority of students come. In common with UAE public education practice (and now regulated for all schools in Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates, though not in Dubai), teaching for boys and girls is separated once students complete Grade 3 and start Grade 4. In total 2,726 (a decrease of around 150 since the last academic year) attend the Barsha branch, a student body made up of boys and girls, aged from 4 to 18 years of age (KG to Grade 12). Just under two thirds (63%) of the children are Emiratis.
The school's opening message offers a very clear insight into its ethos "There is a strong emphasis on teaching Muslim students to live in the Islamic faith within the context of the American Education Program with a vision of internationally-minded future leaders. Traditional values such as patriotism, good discipline, respect for all and especially the elderly, respect for religious beliefs, loyalty, Silat Al Rahim (family relations) and devotion to truth are highly respected and integrated into the curricula".
DNS Al Barsha employs just over 250 full-time teachers. They are supported by 21 teaching assistants (a decrease of 12 compared with the previous year). Teachers are predominantly Jordanian nationals and are evidently satisfied with their employment at DNS Al Barsha - staff turnover for the last year was 14%, well below the UAE average of 20-22%.
The latest KHDA inspection report notes that "all teachers have a qualification in their subjects, many have a qualification in the English language, but few have teaching qualifications". The school does appear to be addressing this lack of formal teaching qualifications through the introduction of a professional development programme which is beginning to impact positively on students’ outcomes. The staff:student ratio of 1:11 should also ensure personalised attention for students as necessary.
Leadership at the school has been in a process of transition. The school's previous director, Mohamed Riad El-Merabi, had been in the role for 25 years. He has been replaced by Mr. Osama Ajoul, whilst Ms. Suad Abu-Harb was appointed Principal in September 2014. The Dubai National Schools group is led by Chairman, Mr. Marwan Ahmed Al Ghurair.
What about the facilities?
The school stands on a sizeable corner plot and, at the start and end of the day, traffic around it can be quite chaotic. Facilities of the school include classrooms which are spacious and each equipped with a multimedia projector and speakers to enable teachers to run all multimedia e-learning courses. DNS Al Barsha has seven computer labs equipped with networked terminals, all of which have Internet access through the school’s servers (although the reliability of this service is mentioned as a concern). Computers are used for Information & Communication Technology, as well as in the teaching of other subjects, and the school aims to ensure that every student becomes computer literate. There are also four science labs in the Middle and High School (as well as a general science lab in the Elementary School) and three libraries. Unusually in our experience, the school also features two Home Economics labs in the Girls' section (for cookery and sewing) and an Electronics lab for Boys. There are also five Art r ooms.
Sports facilities include three multipurpose gymnasiums, a full-size soccer field, outdoor basketball playgrounds, and three swimming pools (for girls, boys, and toddlers) with changing rooms. These facilities are used by the PE department for teaching, by the Activities program and Champions' Leagues. There have been repeated requests by the KHDA (the Dubai Schools Regulator) to improve the KG Outdoor play spaces and equipment, which the school has apparently committed to do.
What about academics?
The school follows a US curriculum, based on the Common Core for Maths and English and Next Generation Science Standards for Science. Students take the pre-college SAT tests and TOEFL (English language competency) tests. Students also take IBT and MAP tests in Grades 3 through 10. Students are organised into four phases: Kindergarten (Kg1, Kg2 and Grade 1), Lower Elementary (Grades 2-3), Upper Elementary (Grades 4, 5 and 6) Middle/Intermediate (Grades 7-9) and Secondary/High (Grades 10-12). This arrangement (which is not the norm for US curriculum schools) seems to be designed to address the separation of boys and girls from Grade 4.
DNS Al Barsha is accredited in the US via NEASC (New England Association of Schools & Colleges) and has been since 2003. The school was granted re-accreditation in April 2014, for a further next ten years.
Accreditation through NEASC is now a requirement for US curriculum schools in Dubai, in order to ensure that the curriculum being delivered meets the requirements for a recognised High School Diploma that will enable college or university entry in the US. UK and IB curriculum schools follow a curriculum largely laid down by the regulatory authorities (the UK Department of Education and the International Baccalaureate Organisation respectively) with external examinations at the end of school which provide university entry qualifications. Such a national curriculum with public external exams is not implemented in the US. Until recently, DNS Al Barsha was one of a handful of US curriculum schools in Dubai to have obtained such accreditation.
High School Diplomas are awarded to students upon successfully completing Grade 12. A student’s High School diploma may be equalized to Al Thanaweiah Al Ameh (National Secondary Certificate) if that student has passed the examinations required by the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Education for Arabic and Islamic Education, in addition to completing successfully the TOEFL Test with a minimum score of (500) or (171) computer based and the SAT1 for Mathematics Sections with a minimum score of (400).
The most recent KHDA inspection report is particularly positive about the curriculum offered at DNS Al Barsha, noting that "an imaginative and dynamic curriculum offers high phase students opportunities for innovative projects, enterprise and independence. Cross-curricular links are developed between subjects and provide an opportunity to address real world issues. The KG curriculum is modified to provide high quality learning experiences. Many enrichment and extra-curricular activities ensure engagement and success beyond the school".
What the inspectors say
The school itself consistently makes the grade: as of 2017-2018 the school received the KHDA inspection rating of Good - the tenth year in a row it has achieved the Dubai education regulators' now third highest rating (after Very Good and Outstanding). Good is the minimum rating that the KHDA targets schools to achieve - and this has proven to be something of a challenge for US curriculum schools due - as previously mentioned - to the lack of a common curriculum and accreditation requirement.
The most recent inspection found the strengths of DNS Al Barsha to be:
Academically, the school is rated Good, across core subjects, for both attainment and progress, across all phases of the school. In Elementary, Arabic as an additional language is rated Very Good, and there have been some improvements in progress in KG English, Middle School Maths and High School Science to the same rating. Learning skills in the High School have also improved to Very Good. However, inspectors commented that "the disparity between boys’ and girls’ outcomes remains, especially in the elementary phase".
An absolute strength of the school are the Personal and Social Development and innovation skills of the students across all phases. The report notes that "students display a positive work ethic. Their empathy towards others illustrates their heightened awareness of Islamic values and supports learning in most areas. Students are developing strong innovation skills. Older students are role models, demonstrating entrepreneurial skills in supporting charities". Nine of the twelve measures for this key indicator are rated Outstanding, with the remaining three Very Good.
Teaching and Assessment are rated Good across the board. Whilst most teachers were found to have a thorough knowledge of their subject, their assessment of students' work (including marking and feedback) was found to be less secure. Inspectors commented that "teachers are beginning to understand assessment processes, but the impact on lessons is limited. Marking has improved, but there are few examples of developmental guidance for students". This is a key area of focus for the KHDA, since understanding students' capabilities and level of achievement by external assessment measures, and then planning lesson content and feedback accordingly, is a fundamental requirement. It is one that staff at DNS Al Barsha will need to focus on.
The design and implementation of the curriculum and its adaptation were rated Very Good in KG and High School, and Good in the other sections. The inspectors noted that "MAP and CAT4 data are used to identify strengths and weaknesses in skills as well as knowledge. As a result, the data are beginning to inform curriculum development".
The protection, care, guidance and support of students were rated Very Good in relation to protection (including health and safety) and largely Good for care and support (Very Good in KG). Inspectors found that "inadequate behavior management is an obstacle to learning during some lessons in the elementary boys’ section" and that although most staff provide some support and intervention for students with Special Educational Needs, this was found to be inconsistent as others "have little understanding of students’ specific needs". Given that close to 200 students have been identified with SEND requirements, this should be a concern. Positively, the school has taken some steps to meet the needs of the gifted and talented.
Overall, the inspection team found that "senior leaders promote a clear vision of the school’s priorities. Parents are highly engaged and very strong community links impact positively on students’ outcomes. Input from experienced educators and students has strengthened governance, and governors are challenging school leaders on the journey to improvement. They are committed and have invested in human and structural resources". This is very good news for students at DNS Al Barsha, since it is evident that in order to improve, the development of the school's staff is fundamental to the achievement of its students. The obvious commitment of the Governors to address these requirements and to engage experienced educators in support is a positive step, but will clearly take time to have significant impact on educational outcomes for students.
The main recommendation for improvement made by the inspection team were to:
The majority of parents and students see the school in positive terms, although concerns were raised about the opportunities for independent learning and the technology infrastructure.
Tuition Fees are mid-range, starting at AED 21,896 per year for KG pupils rising to AED 35,928 for Grade 12 students. An AED 500 seat reservation fee (which is non-refundable) is also paid annually.
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