Dunecrest American School opened in 2018 in what is probably Dubai’s ‘leafiest’ neighbourhood, Al Barari. Owned by Esol Education, the school is now the group’s flagship school in the UAE. Dunecrest initially opened from Pre-KG through to Grade 10 and has grown organically to include Grades 11 and 12.
Dunecrest American School opened in 2018 with a stated mission is “to provide a holistic American education that inspires students to discover their talents, pursue their passions, and make a positive impact on their communities and the world beyond.”
The school is located close the Al Barari development on Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed highway, opposite the IMG development. It is within easy reach of Dubai Silicon Oasis, Arabian Ranches, the Villa, Motor City and Mudon and the only US/IB curriculum school within this immediate area.
Dunecrest aims to achieve its mission by "living our principles every day and in every endeavor, by being active participants in our vision to be a vibrant learning community that nurtures global leaders”.
High ideals indeed, and with the school now having been open for a little over two years, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com felt it was time to revisit our first review of the school and see if and how the school and community are beginning to align with these lofty aims.
Parent feedback to us has been very positive. Parents speak of "A very happy school. Best place to grow with confidence. Developing kids' creativity, hands on highly skilled teaching staff that engage parents regularly for updates on children's progress." They praise the school's "Personalised attention to children due to low student teacher ratio, its community feel, and wonderful leadership."
Overall parents commented on the "Very motivated teachers and staff, positive attitudes towards students and the learning experience, mutual respect given and expected, international environment, IB curriculum, holistic view and approach to students and education"
Several parents mentioned that they would like to see Arabic and Islamic Education classes start earlier in the student's time at Dunecrest - ideally in the KG section.
Dunecrest is led by Director Jeff Smith, not an American, but rather a British passport holder, originally from Manchester, United Kingdom, with 18 years of leadership experience in international education, and a solid track record of spearheading high-performing school teams towards successful and sustainable growth and advancement. Mr. Smith is a strong proponent of STEAM as an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based learning approach that encourages critical thinking, collaboration and creativity to solve real-world problems.
Mr. Smith's appointment at Dunecrest marks his return to the Esol Education family, having served as Director of Esol’s Deira International School in Dubai from 2011 to 2018.
Mr. Smith served in the British Army for 10 years. He then embarked on his career in education, initially as a Physics teacher, progressing into leadership as Head of Science and Deputy Headteacher. He moved overseas to Indonesia for his first school leadership position in 2003, as Head of School at a leading international school in Jakarta, after which he led the Guernsey Grammar School, Channel Islands, where he introduced the International Baccalaureate® (IB) Diploma Programme (DP). Most recently, Mr. Smith has held positions as Executive Headteacher at the British School Bahrain and Principal of Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate in the UK. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in International Education from The University of Leicester.
With a maximum capacity of 1,200 students (a fraction of some of Dubai’s largest schools) one of the attractions of Dunecrest is its ‘small school’ atmosphere. As at February 2022, there were 515 children enrolled with the largest nationality group from the USA, although there are also 38 Emirati students. Some 69 students have been identified as students of Determination.
Students are supported by a team of 61 (mainly American) teachers and a further 15 teaching assistants, and two counsellors. With a staff turnover level of 14%, teachers appear to be largely happy with their choice of school - this is much lower than the UAE average of 22-24%. With class sizes of 18 students in Kindergarten and a maximum of 23 in other grades, Dunecrest aims to give individualised attention to students. The school currently maintains a 1:7 student teacher ratio and aims to achieve an average class size of not more than 15 students per class in upper years.
Dunecrest is owned by Esol Education. Esol has over 40 years of experience, with ten international schools in Hong Kong, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Aley (Beirut), Nicosia (Greece) and Bahrain. With its policy and practice that ensures strong collaboration at the departmental and administrative level to share best practices and innovations, and continuity in terms of teacher experience (with an average of eight years' duration), Dunecrest has been able to benefit from this strong heritage. Today, the Esol group worldwide delivers education to over 10,000 students.
The Group is not new to the UAE, in fact. Esol was the founding operator of Deira International School and Universal American School in Dubai Festival City, two schools with solid reputations, now operated by the owners, Al Futtaim Group, under the Al Futtaim Education Foundation. Parents can be confident the school has an owner in Esol that is capable of delivering and then running new schools.
In 2018, Dunecrest was joined in Dubai by another Esol school, the IB and sustainability ethos-focused Fairgreen International School located at Sustainable City.
The school uses the Creative Curriculum for Pre-KG and KG1, and AERO Plus Common Core standards (the Common Core developed for international schools) until Grade 10. The IB Diploma Programme is offered in Grades 11 and 12, a proven, popular curriculum hybrid in Dubai, favoured by parents and children seeking a welcoming community that embraces a culture of innovation and growth. The curriculum is STEAM-led, with a cross-curricular, project-based approach to learning.
In our original review of Dunecrest, we wrote "as with all schools with similarly academic pathways, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would very much like to see a third pathway, running parallel to the Diploma that provides a meaningful attestation of a student's ability should they not be suitable for the IB Diploma, a curriculum that does penalise students that are not all-rounders".
Since opening, Dunecrest has worked in close partnerships with its families to intentionally grow and develop courses, ECAs and events that support its ambitious targets.
This is also reflected in the school's decision to expand its offering to include the IB Diploma Programme, a US High School Diploma, and a third option of the US High School Diploma with IB Certificate courses.
New academic offerings include: Financial Literacy, IB Business Management, Million Solar Stars Science (Clean Tech & Social Responsibility), Introduction to Film, Introduction to Theater and Strength & Conditioning.
The curriculum has also been expanded to include CREST values & awards, Dunecrest XL, Presentation skills & personal projects - Grade 11 Symposium, Student-led media platforms: blogs, podcasts, and a YouTube Channel, and Mindfullness and Mental Health (daily yoga poses in early childhood, and calm down corners). Electives and clubs with a blended STEM and socially conscious offering include Million Solar Stars, Green Club, Green Bronx Machine, and Hydroponic Towers.
Extra-curricular programs have been expanded to include: STEAM, Photography, Cooking, Yoga & Mediation, Digital Arts, Girl-Up, Jazz Band, the School Musical, Newspaper, and Gymnastics, whilst Events to support the community have been added including a 'Study Effectively' seminar free to both Dunecrest and non-Dunecrest students, and free Baby Arabia Mother & Child Workshops.
Further evidence of the dedication to a holistic approach is the promotion of its fine and performing arts provision along with a focus on athletics.
This focus on the arts is underscored by the fact that the three most senior members of the teaching staff are all music teachers. We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com cannot think of another UAE school with music at the fore in such a manner. Having always been a Band Director back home in the US, Mr Delbrugge is leading the highly popular school band at Dunecrest.
As would be expected of a US curriculum school, sports will also have a particular place at the heart of the school program. The planned roster of activities includes swimming, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, and martial arts. After three seasons, Dunecrest already offers an inclusive approach to sports with international, competitive and intermural options, and participation in a number of popular school-based leagues including DISSC, American schools, Esol Schools friendlies, and Mini Eagles.
In terms of support of skills and guidance for students as they determine their pathway beyond school, Dunecrest is a member of the Model United Nations, as well as the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Program. Dunecrest is also in the process of cultivating internships and project-based work with the local business community (examples include an Al Jalila Children’s hospital medical internship, Apple coding lab and Virtual Reality project with Nuat).
The High School curriculum has been expanded to include foundation courses for other career tracks: Strength and Conditioning is a basis for physio-therapy, coaching and similar careers, whilst Introduction to Film or Culinary Arts are other new vocational course offerings. This broadening of provision is designed to support a variety of students' university aspirations (in the US, Canada, UK and Europe) using the US/IBDP curricula as the core.
Dunecrest American School's first cohort of IB Diploma and IB Courses students will take their examinations in 2023.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has always encouraged schools to share their results openly - not because they are the most important factor in a student's education, but because they are a fundamental element of it.
It is difficult to stand out in Dubai when it comes to facilities, however Dunecrest certainly does not disappoint. The exterior of the building is somewhat plain and boxy in appearance (quite a contrast having approached the school via the greenery of Al Barari), however, once inside, the interior has wonderful natural light (in fact, the fantastic light is something that strikes us several times over during our tour) and a strikingly modern look and feel.
For more on the school’s culture and community further in our DUNECREST AMERICAN SCHOOL EXPERIENCE.
The school is surrounded by a perimeter wall with secure, manned gates. We enter via one of these gates, our ID is checked and a visitor pass issued. Parking is ample, although we did wonder how well the current space will serve the school once at full student (and staff) capacity.
Having passed through a reception area flanked by triple height glass panels we are welcomed into an open plan working spaces for leadership and administration teams (even Director Mr Delbrugge works in an open plan space, rather than an office). Throughout the school, walls are mostly white, the fixtures and fittings grey, all complemented by the accents of the Dunecrest orange and red colours.
We like the layout of the KG department, with classes feeling somewhat separate from the older year groups. The children in Kindergarten have their own designated play areas, as well as indoor and outdoor ‘break out’ space for each classroom and a new early childhood playground has been added in the current academic year.
Classes are well equipped and bright throughout. In many rooms we note modular seating and tables to allow layout changes to accommodate both group and individual work. Sports facilities are excellent, with a large indoor gymnasium, a pool and a playing field plus a running track and further athletics facilities outside. Both the elementary and senior schools have designated specialist art rooms and science labs.
One area of concern that was raised when we first visited the school was in relation to parking capacity. The school has addressed this by putting in place flexible morning drop off for Early Childhood from 7:30-8pm and staggered pick up times to minimize congestion with a 3pm dismissal for KG2- Grade 5, and a 3.15pm pick up time for Middle and High school students. Some 20% of students use the school bus, which picks up and drops off in a variety of locations including Arabian Ranches.
With their initial KHDA inspection postponed from the 2020-21 academic year, the first DSIB inspection took place in March 2022. Dunecrest was one of a number of 'new' schools whose inspection was prioritised post the Covid 19 pandemic, and one of fifteen newly inspected schools to achieve the Good rating - the highest rating given to schools undergoing their first inspection.
In terms of the six key performance standards against which schools are measured, when it came to Student Achievement, this was very much a division of two halves. Whilst the ratings for all subjects taught in English were uniformly good across all subjects and grades, those for Arabic and Islamic Studies were almost entirely rated Acceptable. Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum received ratings of Good again across the school, as did Health and Safety, including Child Protection. Care and Support of students was rated Very Good across the school.
Students' personal development, their social responsibility and innovation skills were rated Very Good across the school, but their understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures received a Good rating.
The relationship between the school and its Parents and the Community, Governance, and the Management, staffing, facilities and resources of the school also all received the higher Very Good rating, whilst leadership and management was rated Goo.
In terms of the strengths of Dunecrest American School, the DSIB inspection team found these to be:
In terms of areas of improvement, these are largely designed to address the lower levels of attainment in Arabic and Islamic Studies and some concerns about a lack of opportunities for Senior school students to engage in regular investigative practical work.
The inspection team recommended that Dunecrest American School should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reason behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Just over 60 parents have responded to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey. They have given the school a rating of 4.2/5 - or a 84% positivity rating. Some 70% of students are said to have a 'tremendous' sense of belonging to the school and enjoyment of it. Almost 2/3 of students had attended other schools in Dubai before moving to Dunecrest - so parents have other experience of education in the city - and only 8% have considered moving their child again - the UAE average is 26%.
85% of parents are completely satisfied with the academic performance of the school, whilst a further 10% are partially satisfied. The school's communication processes and disciplinary policies are also highly regarded. Parents are particularly positive about the degree to which Dunecrest has improved their child's confidence with 66% of parents saying that this has been by a 'great deal'. A whopping 92% of respondents would recommend Dunecrest American School to other parents - a further 2% were not sure.
If there is a concern from parents, it is the usual one of fees. 56% of parents feel that the school's fees represent value for money, given the quality of education provided, whilst a further 41% partially agree. Just 3% of parents disagree.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Dunecrest American School, please share your opinions and experience with other potential members of your community and complete our Survey here.
Adding up the curriculum, resources (both in terms of staff, ownership and governance, materials and facilities), and a very clear commitment to developing a highly-regarded and rated school, we believe Dunecrest already amounts to a proposition attractive enough to be a real contender for parents with children seeking a US/IB based education in 2022-23 - especially so if they live in the school’s catchment area which is broader than might be expected.
In our first review of this new school we commented that ‘parents will need to know more to make a decision,’ but having visited now the school is fully operational, and after the positive judgement of the KHDA's DSIB inspection team, it is clear that Dunecrest is rising to this challenge of meeting the high expectations of its very committed community.
Dunecrest fees are very much at the top end of premium, perhaps unsurprisingly if the school is to deliver on promises for staffing, facilities and the depth of programming beyond the core curriculum - something which it already has been seen to do.
KHDA approved fees start at AED 46,000 for pre-KG and rise to AED 89,000 for Grade 12. Discounted fees for 2022-23 range from AED 38,950 in pre_KG to AED 84,850 from Grades 9 to 12.
Dunecrest American 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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