Emirates International School, Jumeirah (EISJ) has been serving the Dubai community long enough for some families to be returning with a second generation of children. There are only a few schools in the UAE who could claim the same, but entering the newly constructed EISJ primary phase, one would think you were stepping into one of Dubai’s newest tranche of schools. Has the recent overhaul or the pandemic changed how this KHDA rated “Good” school feels? To find out, we began our day at EISJ with meeting a group of parents.
Our panel of EISJ parents had children attending the school spanning right from Early Years to near graduation (Year 13). Most families had been with the school for several years, and were happy to have the chance to express their views on the school. We were also lucky to have the special perspective of a number of families with twins (and even triplets) in the school!
Our conversation with the EISJ parents began with the question “why choose this school”?
For one Father, a diplomat working for the US government here in Dubai, choosing EISJ had been a simple decision which reflected his (quite specific) priorities for a school. Many of his colleagues had chosen US curriculum schools for their children, but he felt EISJ offered,
“…a truly international school, with good facilities, a good reputation and, most importantly, a very diverse student body”.
That desire for diversity was underscored by one UAE born Emirati mother, who explained her choice of this school by saying;
“We are a local family and here for the long run. We wanted diversity and a community which reflected Dubai, as opposed to a school which was purely local, or with British or American families. I didn’t want my children to feel like outsiders in their own country, I wanted them to benefit from a community representative of the make-up of the UAE. This school offers just that”.
Reflecting on the long history of the school, this same Mum recalled playing hockey against EISJ girls during her own school years!
Several parents mentioned the quality of inclusion support as a reason for choosing the school. For most parents whose children required additional support, the school had been a breath of fresh air.
One Mum described her school selection journey prior to finding EISJ as ‘stressful’.
“The inclusion team here is great” she told us, “…we have children here with all sorts of needs, from those who are non-verbal, to those who are high-functioning and more.
"For our family, the list of school rejections was huge, but at this school, things were stress free from the start. I was sick of paying assessment fees, and when your child keeps on getting rejected, well, you can’t help but take it personally. It hurts. For us, EISJ was meant to be”.
If there was one word common to all the parent’s descriptions of the school, it was simply: community.
As one parent said;
“It’s amazing. My children learn to be friends with everyone here. I feel my kids are happy with whatever nationality or religion. At this school they are all just good friends”.
A handful of the parents we met had older children who had already graduated to university from EISJ. For one father, whose daughter is now studying in Rotterdam, the “cosmopolitan” EISJ had given his children “lifelong friendships, which continue to blossom”. To this day, when his daughter returns to Dubai, she makes sure to visit the school and her former teachers. “She has a sense of belonging here, which can be difficult to find as an expat. The school created this, and she has held onto it.”
All this is, of course, great praise, but no school is without challenges or room for improvement. What did our parents see as the challenges at EISJ?
First off, there were some issues with administration. Parents felt that there were several processes and functions in need of streamlining. Registering younger siblings was proving to be a more arduous and complicated process than parents felt it needed to be. That said, communication between home and school had recently been streamlined to just one app (Seesaw) which everyone appreciated.
Although the Inclusion department had been roundly praised, one mother felt that gaining first access to specialist support had taken too long. She explained,
“If your child enters this school via an inclusion ‘door’, the support is very strong. However, if your child enters the school deemed as neurotypical, where perhaps their needs are not so obvious, getting support can be challenge”.
A couple of years of high staff turnover had complicated her child’s access to the help they needed, but now it is all in place, the family is happy and seeing a marked improvement.
Lastly, the parents were united in bemoaning the traffic and parking situation in and around the school. EISJ is situated close to a small shopping centre and within a few hundred metres of the Sheikh Zayed Road. This, coupled with the density of nearby housing and businesses was a recipe for a “nightmare” traffic situation. All parking spaces at the school are paid (this being a recent, and unpopular, change, although recognised by parents as outside of the control of the school).
The parents highlighted fantastic efforts of the school Security Team to alleviate traffic and parking woes as much as possible.
Our parent panel felt the school could benefit from a more involved parent association or group, who might support the staff with events and more. In the past, there had been previous parent and/or school led versions of a parent association, but the disruption of the pandemic had brought this to a stop for now.
We concluded our discussion with EISJ parents by asking whether the school found the right level of challenge for each child. This question was perhaps best answered by the mother of the triplets, who, with three children in three different classes in the same year group, had a quite unique take on this question.
“My children are all very different. In some ways, the most academically able of the three requires the most support to cope with school life, whereas the one who finds academic work the most challenging needs the least support. All I can say is that this school finds what each individual child needs and matches it beautifully. It is truly a hidden gem”.
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We were lucky enough to meet four fantastic EISJ primary students. The three girls and one boy were all in Year 6, the final year of primary, and all members of the Student Council. They bounced into our meeting room with great enthusiasm, lovely manners and they were very keen to tell us all about their school.
Three members of our student group had been at EISJ since the beginning of primary school and one had joined in Year 3. First off, we wanted to know what they felt made their school special.
The answers from the students were thoughtful and mature, with one child suggesting the “supportive teachers” were the best thing about EISJ. For others it was the “enquiry-based learning” which they felt helped “you to find out about yourself and your strengths”. Other suggestions included the “caring teachers”, “special days”. A happy example of a special day was given as the fun they had making fruit salad in school! One child simply said that the school is “warm”.
We suggested the student panel imagine that they were Principal for the day, and asked what would they change about school life at EISJ?
Firstly, the children would like some changes to their timetable. As one child described, it could be confusing and they did not always know “where to be next” which made them feel nervous.
A keen group of environmentalists, the EISJ students would use the power of being Principal to make EISJ “more sustainable”. To achieve this, they suggested the installation of solar panels, more composting and encouraging the Security Team to switch off unused lights and sockets at night.
As Student Council members, the Year 6 students saw themselves as role models and “supportive listeners” for younger students. They agreed they all wanted younger children to feel as safe and as comfortable as they did in the school.
Next on our list was to find out about the experience of teachers working at EISJ. We met with Ayesha O’Dea, Early Learning Leader, Scott Kirkland, PYP Co-ordinator and Assistant Head of Primary, Emmanuel Alexander, Deputy Head of Primary and Barbara Exley, Head of Primary.
Miss O’Dea had experience of both the English National Curriculum and the IB curriculum and praised how working in an IB school meant the number one focus for the Early Years department was “…all about each individual child’s development. The IB Learner Profile means we are helping our little people to be reflective, to be caring and to be great communicators”.
Miss O'Dea was very proud the Early Years phase had received an “Outstanding” judgement for Teaching & Learning in the previous KHDA inspection and hoped that this Outstanding rating would extend to every area for Early Years at the next inspection.
Miss Exley has been with EISJ for a just over 10 years. Originally a secondary trained language teacher, and with over 20 years of experience in Senior Leadership, Miss Exley had moved to lead the EISJ primary school seven years ago. Having been unsure of the change to primary at first, she now could not imagine returning to secondary teaching!
“It’s a whole new way of interacting and a whole different level of conversation in primary. It’s always interesting. This morning, I met a prospective parent on a tour of the school, who said that education was boring! “Not at this school”, I told him!” Miss J. Barbara Exley, Head of Primary, EISJ
The team agreed that the school was a great community with a “definite family feel”. Relationships throughout the school, between teachers, students and different phases and subject areas were said to be “open and strong”.
Mr Alexander, Deputy Head of Primary, has been with the school for a little over two years, making him the most recent addition to the team that we met. We asked him to explain where he felt that the school was headed next. He replied,
“As a school we are very confident in what we offer our community. Now we want to see what we have done reflected in what external organisations say about EISJ”.
Mr Kirkland was pleased by the strength of the school’s “steady and stable” middle leadership, saying “we have a core of people who have been here a long time, and that has really helped us to take the school and the curriculum forward”. He also praised the effort and innovations of all the staff who had guided the school through the challenges of teaching during Covid-19.
If there was one thing that the staff would like to change, it was the strict Covid restrictions that were in place. It was our view that these restrictions were being applied more strictly at EISJ than other schools we had visited of late. For example, at the time of our visit, the children had not returned to regular swimming lessons (although extra curricular swimming was available), nor was the school permitting any school performances or overnight camps. There had been some enjoyable day trips to Expo, however.
For the sake of EISJ pupils, we hope that this situation changes come 2022, and that the school can get back to a more “normal” way of life.
Are you are parent, student or teacher at Emirates International School, Jumeirah? Why not take our quick and easy survey and tells us what you think?
After so much talking we were definitely ready to take a tour of the EISJ campus. The new primary phase is a bright and light set of buildings, centred around a play area. Early Years classrooms have doors that open onto this play area. The classrooms are not the biggest, an issue perhaps made more obvious by children still sitting in rows in many year groups (as mandated by the KHDA during the pandemic) but they were all well-equipped and the walls in every corridor packed with bright examples of art work. The school shares one swimming pool between primary and secondary, and is fortunate enough to have a real grass sports pitch for PE lessons. Inside, we saw a primary PE lesson in action in a new, sound proofed multi-purpose hall.
The brand-new primary buildings and facilities makes transition to the considerably older high school phase quite striking. Although well maintained, the age of the high school is very apparent. Whilst this phase is equipped with all the to-be-expected music rooms, science labs, specialist learning rooms (e.g. DT, food science), it does feel dated and has a noticeably different atmosphere to primary. Of course, it may well be that the school ownership plans to upgrade this phase to match primary, and we do hope to see this happen.
During our high school tour we met with Ryan Buckman, Progress and Wellbeing Leader and Joe Williams, Dean of Students. Together, they explained recent changes in the high school, such as an upgraded House system, which now aligns with primary. Both roundly praised the recent successes of the EISJ graduating students.
Find out more about exam results in our Emirates International School, Jumeirah SCHOOL REVIEW
The EISJ leadership team has seen a number of changes in recent times. As we also explain in our SCHOOL REVIEW, the Principal is now Rob Ellis, and the secondary phase led by Wendy Feherty, who joined the school after a stint leading secondary at Deira International School. Ms. Feherty was previously a Senior Leader at Dulwich College, Suzhou.
Ms. Feherty invited us to meet with her and a number of the high school teaching team. Despite the changes at leadership level, we were struck by the number of teachers who have been with the school for a lengthy tenure. One had been with the school for more than 20 years! We found the team to be cohesive, warm and respectful of one another, and expect these attributes are the backbone of the academic success of the school. The atmosphere between the secondary teachers has a level of comfort and ease that comes with having such a solid core team.
Before our final stop on the tour, we met with a group of high school students, all of whom currently hold student leadership positions. As suggested by the parents in our earlier meeting, we found these students to be cosmopolitan in a way that perhaps only children raised in a city like Dubai can be. Confident, erudite and ambitious for their next steps and careers, the high school students had only praise for the school and shared memories of (pre Covid) trips and expeditions which will stay with them for life. Some plan for Europe and the US for university, while others will stay in the UAE for their tertiary education.
Mr Rob Ellis joined EISJ at the start of the 2021/22 academic year. An experienced international school leader, originally from the UK, Mr Ellis has worked in and led schools offering a variety of different curricula. Prior to some time spent opening a new school in Moscow, Mr Ellis led Scholars International School in Sharjah. Mr Ellis described his new role at EISJ to us as “an opportunity too good to be true”.
Looking ahead, Mr Ellis is clear about where the school is and where it needs to progress.
“The reports on this school are very clear, it is not perfect, but it is on the right track. My role will be to prod, to push and to engage us all in moving in the right direction. We have a whole range of children here, from the very academic to those who are better suited to our IB CP course. But what really matters, and makes my job so enjoyable, is they are all incredibly hard working, polite people. Same goes for the families. As a leader, this just makes you want to work harder for them and achieve more with them”.
Alongside aiming to move to a KHDA rating of Very Good, Mr Ellis is focused on developing and retaining his teachers. The school has just invested in TES Develop, a “complete suite” of online professional development courses. Mr Ellis himself also runs a leadership course for around 30 members of staff each week.
We asked about the contrasting look and feel of facilities in primary and high school, to which Mr Ellis responded that he and his team are “… looking at upgrading PE facilities and redeveloping the IB block to be a specific suite for IB DP and CP students”.
This school’s long heritage has created a unique community and, based upon our experience and discussions, a unique place in the hearts of parents, staff and alumni. To be a school which gives expatriate children a sense of belonging and roots, is an achievement on a par to any set of great exam results (which this school also has!). Even for the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team of Reviewers, to meet teaching assistants who were once students at the same school, was a real first.
In the not to distant future, we would like to see the wonderful children of EISJ rewarded with secondary school facilities upgraded to match those in primary.
In the mix of what creates a performing school, the most important element is leadership, and in Mr Ellis, Emirates International School, Jumeirah has a very experienced and confident Principal, who is well placed to build on the skills and knowledge of the long-standing core of teaching staff. We look forward to seeing what the Principal, his academic team and his students, all working together in a truly “cosmopolitan community”, are going to create together.
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