Dubai Scholars Private School is a private UK curriculum FS1- year 13 school located in Al Ghusais, Dubai, educating children from 3 to 18 years of age. It has consistently been rated Good by the KHDA over the past ten years.
Established in 1976, making it one of the oldest international schools in the country, Dubai Scholars (DS) was the first of three schools founded by Scholars International Group under the leadership of Aparna Verma, each of which has been developed to meet a specific demand for excellent education at a moderate price.
Scholars International Academy, Sharjah, also UK curriculum, and the most recent new school in the group, Clarion School, offering a progressive US curriculum, have all been developed through the single-minded commitment of Mrs. Verma. A recent KHDA report notes that "leaders, with the support of governors, seek innovative and effective ways to pursue the school’s priorities". Innovation seems to be a hallmark of SIG and its the schools.
Starting from a villa in Deira, Dubai Scholars expanded as the demand for more classes grew. It moved to two villas and eventually to seven. By the early nineties, Dubai Scholars moved into the purpose-built facility at its current location. State of the art facilities were incorporated to create an environment that is conducive to dynamic learning.
The vision for Dubai Scholars School is "to provide a student centered learning environment where our children are authors of their own learning and become authors of their own futures".
The school's vision is further elaborated in it Mission statement which is:
"to prepare our students for the challenges of life, with the critical skills and communicative abilities to tackle those challenges that have yet to manifest, in this rapidly evolving society. Our goal is to lead students to be confident individuals who are comfortable in taking risks but have the values to act with thoughtfulness and humility.
As we guide our students on their education journey, our mission is to teach tolerance regardless of culture and beliefs, impart the importance of life long learning, inspire happiness combined with academic achievement to each child as he steps into his or her future".
The school has just over 1,820 students. It employs 113 full-time teachers, mainly from India (the predominant nationality of students) together with 28 teaching assistants, giving a mid range teacher to student ratio of 1:15. The popularity of the school has been marked by an increase in students numbers over recent years of approximately 250 - a strong achievement, given the reduction in numbers at many schools. Staff turnover, at 25% in 2017-18 and 29% in 2019-20, is on the high side (the Dubai average is 20-22%), and more so in an Indian-staffed school.
Dubai Scholars Private School follows the English National Curriculum with both IGCSE and A Level programmes available for senior students. As a sign of its commitment to deliver a genuine British education, DS is a member of British Schools of the Middle East, an accrediting association for British Schools in the region which organises inspections and aims to ensure that schools follow specific codes of professional conduct and growth.
Children joining the school in the Foundation Stage follow the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum (EYFS) which DS describes - "children are eager and determined to understand how their world works. They explore, discover, search for, and stumble upon ideas and principles that surround them. And the best tool they use for this is Play. At the Foundation Stage in Dubai Scholars Private School, we call this, Purposeful Powerful Play."
Children at this stage are socially and cognitively ready to develop critical thinking processes such as problem-solving, abilities to sustain attention, abilities to plan and lead activities, and even develop primary abilities to monitor their own behaviour. And this is where play comes in. Purposeful play, kindles children’s learning abilities by encouraging creativity, building critical thinking, sparking curiosity, and in doing so it facilitates learning by doing.
The children's education is focused on seven areas of learning and development within the EYFS which are equally important and inter-connected. Three areas are particularly crucial for igniting children’s curiosity and enthusiasm for learning, and for building their capacity to learn, form relationships and thrive. These three prime areas are Communication and Language, Physical Development, and Personal, Social and Emotional Development. The four specific areas of learning, through which the three prime areas are strengthened and applied, are Literacy, Mathematics, Understanding the World and Expressive Arts and Design..
As students move onto the Primary stage of their education, they follow a programme of study which is aligned to the National Curriculum of England and provides opportunities to students to become critical and independent thinkers confident in their ability to move to the next level of education. It is broad, balanced and meets the needs of all learners. Assessment is both formative and summative allowing teachers to educate the entirety of a student’s wide range of talents, curiosity and proclivities. The school provides opportunities for students to develop problem solving, research, inquiry, collaboration and creativity.
Core subjects include English, Mathematics, Science, Arabic, Islamic Studies/PSHE, Humanities (History and Geography), UAE Social Studies and Moral Education. Additional subjects include Art, Music and Dance, Physical Education and ICT. A second language option is introduced from Year 4 where students choose from either French or Hindi.
In lower Secondary school Years 7 and 8, the programme builds on the learning from Upper Primary and prepare students for the IGCSE courses. Students study the following subjects - English (Language & Literature), Second Language (Hindi/French), Mathematics, History, Geography, UAE Social Studies, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Arabic, Islamic Studies (Muslim Students), PSHE (For Non-Muslims), Physical Education, and ICT,
At this stage, (sadly in our view) access to more creative subjects such as Art and Design, Performing Arts and Music are no longer included in the core curriculum and accessible only through after-school activities.
According to the school, the aim of the Year 9 to 11 (IGCSE) curriculum is to provide a comprehensive course of study that encourages students to develop critical thinking skills beyond rote learning, together with research and writing skills in order to expand their own academic and developmental progress.
In common with a number of UK curriculum schools attended by predominantly Asian families, students commence what is usually a two year IGCSE programme in Year 9, extending the learning period leading to the exams by an additional year.
Also in common with other UK curriculum schools catering largely for the expat Indian population, Dubai Scholars aims to ensure that students are qualified for the professions and for commerce.
Clearly the school does not cater for students with a stronger predilection for the humanities. In fact, the school website notes that "Sports, languages, performing arts, multi-cultural interactions, and community service are but a few of the numerous programmes that balance our academic core to promote well-rounded student-leaders."
Students in Year 8 make their subject choices for Year 9 in preparation for the IGCSE examinations in Year 11 programme (EdExcel Board). DS students follow eight courses at IGCSE of which four are compulsory, together with four optional subjects (the choice of which is dependent on parent approval).
Compulsory Subjects include English Language, Second Language Hindi/French, Mathematics, Arabic (following the Ministry of Education guidelines and curriculum), Islamic Studies (for Muslim students following the Ministry of Education guidelines and curriculum) leading to IGCSE Islamic Studies; Non-Muslim students have a choice of Environmental Management or History. Optional Subjects are two be chosen between pairs of subjects - either Biology or Economics, Physics or Business Studies, ICT or Psychology, and Chemistry or Accounting.
Finally, on moving into Sixth Form, students are offered "a focused range" of A Levels: Accounts, Business Studies, Economics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics, together with more recently increased options, with ICT at both IGCSE and A Level, and Psychology (A Level).
The school's Sixth Form section on its website includes a very detailed analysis of the differences between exam boards, equivalencies and study options. It can be found here.
DS offers a somewhat limited range of After School Clubs which include Dance, Chess, Fitness, Video Gaming Club, Music/Guitar, Art & Design, Cookery and STEAM, together with Sports Clubs that included Basketball, Hockey, Cricket and Football. One student, Ahmed Salman, Head Boy of the primary phase, and Captain for the U12 boys Football team, was recently selected for the DU LaLiga HPC Team in Dubai. He was scouted for a selection trial during the DU Football Championship U12 category, held in March 2018, where the DS team played.
In addition to academics and after-school activities, as a part of community service, Sixth Form students teach English to labourers at a labour camp and also conduct entertainment programmes at the labour camps, including a cultural night and a cricket match. In school, Sixth Form students support and teach the younger year groups through the Math PALS and Buddy Tutoring Programme. Sixth Form students also lead story reading in the Foundation Stage and the lower Primary. The focus is not solely on the academic, but on providing a well-rounded education - but one that clearly meets the aspirations of students' parents too.
What about academic achievement?
Unfortunately, Dubai Scholars does not routinely publish its exam results. However, in 2016, the following results were achieved at IGCSE by 66 students who sat the examinations:
71% students scored A*-A’s in Maths
64% students scored A*-A’s in Economics
56% students scored A*-A’s in Physics
50% students scored A*-A’s in Chemistry
33% students scored A*-A’s in Biology
24% students scored A*-A’s in English
This data does not reveal the number of students who passed the exams, nor those who achieved 5 A*- C grade passes, which is used as the norm for comparison across many UK curriculum schools. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com hopes that Dubai Scholars will provide further details in the future.
The school did not reveal its A Level results, but provides a comprehensive list of universities attended by DS Alumni. These include Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Dartmouth College, Georgetown University, Imperial College, Indian University of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, Kings College London, London School of Economics, McGill University, New York University, Oxford University, University College London, University of Cambridge, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto and University of Wollongong.
What about facilities?
Situated on a 200,000 sq. ft. site in the Al Qusais area, Dubai Scholars was specifically designed to ensure that students had access to appropriate facilities, whether in class, on the sports fields or in arts studios. Sections of the campus are zoned for Early Years, Primary and Secondary students in order to provide the optimal setting for learning at each year and key stage. Facilities include a Swimming Pool, Multi-sports field, Basketball Courts, zoned playgrounds for Foundation Stage and Primary, a Junior Science Lab, Senior Science Labs including Physics, Chemistry and Biology, a Junior Library, a Senior Library, two ICT Labs and an Auditorium.
Find out more about the campus and facilities by reading: What is the Dubai Scholars experience?
What the inspectors say
Dubai Scholars is a school that is clearly "on the up" from the information contained in the 2019-20 inspection report. Dubai Scholars currently holds an inspection rating of Good from the KHDA, Dubai's education regulator, which notes its strong performance in external examinations. The school has now held the Good rating from the KHDA for ten consecutive years.
However, as is so often the case, Dubai Scholars' overall KHDA rating really does not tell the full story. In many respects, this is a school that should have already been awarded the next higher rating of Very Good - the rating awarded to the vast majority of key performance measures.
The school's strengths include:
In terms of student achievement, the majority of measures for the core subjects of English, Maths and Science are already rated Very Good. Only post-16 Mathematics remains rated Good. However, as is so often the case in international schools, the strengths shown is these subjects are not reflected in Arabic, though Islamic Education is largely rated Good. Unfortunately, Arabic as an additional language (there are no native speakers in the school) is rated Acceptable for the most part, but in the last inspection, progress in the Secondary section was downgraded to Weak - definitely not a positive step and one that DS will need to address rapidly.
A clear strength of Dubai Scholars is the Personal and Social Development and the innovation skills of its students. Primary, Secondary and Sixth Form students are rated Outstanding across all three key measures, whilst Foundation is rated Outstanding for personal development and Very Good for the other measures.
One key performance standard that has evidently held the school back from the achievement of the Very Good overall rating has been Teaching and Assessment - rated Good across the board at the 2018-19 inspection. Clearly progress has been made, at least in the Foundation section, where ratings for both Teaching for Effective Learning and Assessment improved to Very Good in the 2019-20 inspection. The challenge now if for DS to achieve the same improvements in the other sections of the school.
The measures for the Curriculum and its adaptation are rated Very Good across all sections of the school.
The protection, care, guidance and support is another key indicator which is highly rated by the inspection team at Very Good across all sections of the school, although the support of students with Gifts and Talents and with SEN requirements retained the Good rating from previous years.
In the five key performance areas related to Leadership and Management, there were no changes to the ratings awarded with the effectiveness of leadership, the relationship with parents and the community and governance all rated Very Good, whilst the other two key indicators of School self-evaluation and planning, and Management, staffing, facilities and resources retained their Good ratings.
Areas the school has been recommended to focus on for further improvement by the KHDA are to:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to gain a better understanding of the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
A whopping 639 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey, and of these 91% professed themselves satisfied with the quality of education provided by the school. A very high percentage of parents who responded to the survey were happy with the education of their children and readiness of staff to listen and act on parents’ views. A small number of comments criticised the cleanliness of the washrooms and overcrowded classrooms. Inspection findings agreed with the need to organise teaching spaces better.
The majority of parents believed their children are taught the right skills to learn effectively. Whilst there were a significant number of parents negatively commenting about online learning and the use of computers, the inspection findings judged these activities to be enhancing students’ education. Many other parents believed these activities motivated students to work harder. All parents who responded thought their children were safe at school. A few written comments made reference to bullying. Similarly, a few said there is a need for adults to whom girls especially can share personal issues.
Some 586 students responded to the KHDA's Well-being Survey. Results showed that compared to the Dubai average, more students at Dubai Scholars had higher levels of happiness and optimism about life in general. The large majority regarded themselves as students who work hard and persevere when work or life presents challenges. Overall, they feel they do a good job at school.
Forty-two students commented that they would be happier with an identified and significant adult they could share issues with. However, nearly all stated they get on well with their teachers and that they feel safe at school. Similarly, high numbers were overwhelmingly positive about the caring ethos at their school.
Students were equally positive about the lack of bullying at the school. They believed there are few incidences of cyber-bullying. Attitudes to health and exercise are positive and most take part in organised activities outside of the school day.
We were also very touched to read a comment posted by a current student of the school recently who, in response to our Student Survey question "What are the key things you want prospective students thinking about joining to know about your school?" replied "It's not the most flashy and eccentric school out there, but what you will get coming here is a quality education". We think that this is not inconsiderable praise!
Unsurprisingly, the school is very popular, especially in the Asian community for parents who want a British education for their children. There have even in the past newspaper reports of queues forming overnight to get children into the school. This will no doubt be helped by its tight knit group of parents who clearly value the school and what it offers.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a relatively low number of responses. The majority of parents (75+%) agreed that their children enjoyed going to school and felt a strong sense of belonging. Close to 90% were at least partly or completely satisfied with the academic performance of the school and none felt that additional external tuition was required. Parents were largely satisfied with communication and disciplinary policies.
Close to 70% would fully recommend the school to other parents, whilst a further 16% would probably do so. As is often the case, fees seem to be a cause for some discontent, with 53% agreeing that they represented value for money, whilst a sizable 21% disagreed with this statement. How much of this is reflective of the move to on-line learning for students as a result of Covid 19 is difficult to judge.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Dubai Scholars School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.
There is no question that Dubai Scholars is a school that is popular with parents, students and - increasingly - the KHDA's inspectors, and with good reason. There is so much that makes the school an obvious choice for families seeking a high standard of education at an affordable price.
Our sister site, SchoolsCompared.com does add a strong caveat in relation to the school curriculum at the Secondary level, that this will not be a school for all children, in particular those with a tendency to rely on the right (creative) side of the brain. However, one can argue that Scholars is merely giving its stakeholders - ambitious Indian parents and children - what they want: A strong focus on science and business over the arts and humanities in general. This is a situation by no means unique to Dubai Scholars but a fairly common experience among schools offering a UK curriculum directed largely at Asian families.
Fees are very accessible for a UK curriculum-based school, ranging from between AED 14,638 per year for FS1 students to AED 29,500 for A-level students. It should be noted that whilst fees for students from FS1 to Year 10 may be paid in three termly installments, fees for Years 10-13 are payable in two installments.
Dubai Scholars Private School 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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