Fairgreen International School sits on the edge of The Sustainable City development and shares the green principled, eco thinking ethos of the residential development the school calls home.
Our first impression of the school is that whilst it is an attractive modern campus, it does not “shout” about its sustainable credentials from the exterior. What we see on arrival is a pleasant building with a modern architectural style not dissimilar from a handful of other schools in Dubai. Those all-important green credentials we later find embedded into the curriculum, the ambition of the leadership and the actions and passions of the children and their families.
Our morning starts with a meeting with Mr Graeme Scott, School Director. Mr Scott is a softly spoken and down to earth school leader; who has come to the school with “heavyweight” international school experience, including as the Principal of The International School of Bangkok and as Head of School at the International School of The Hague in the Netherlands. Mr Scott greets our consultant with warmth and takes great care to ensure that we are well looked after during our morning in his school.
Now Fairgreen is into the second academic year in operation, we took the opportunity to ask Mr Scott what the future holds for his school.
“It is continual curriculum development and improvement that we are focussed upon” responded Mr Scott. “Sustainability is woven into everything that we do. We want all Fairgreen students to have real life experiences in sustainability and sustainability related careers, and one of the things we are working on is creating those opportunities. We have collaborated with industry leaders and tertiary education providers to create experiences that support this aim".
Mr Scott goes on to tell us that any curriculum initiatives are always centred on the fundamentals of the school’s ethos;
“We believe in care for others, in service learning, in care for self, wellbeing and in care for the planet and sustainability. Everything we do is aligned with these ideals”.
Mr Scott is delighted with how well the “community and culture” of the school has come together, saying that the school is now not only a great place for the 380 enrolled students, but also a great place to work.
“We are the only profession that changes children’s brains daily” enthused Mr Scott “so we have put great effort into hiring exactly the right people. That effort is now paying off in the solid relationships I see all around me and in the collaboration between the different phases of the school”.
We meet a panel of five parents, with children ranging from KG2 to Grade 5.
The parents wanted first to praise Mr Scott, commenting on how well he had handled the challenges of a new school. “What I like about Graeme” said one Mum, “is that he doesn’t hide anything from us. If there are issues, he tells us what they are and how he will deal with it. It’s a really refreshing way of working”.
Another parent commented that what first attracted them to the school was the culture and ethos that Mr Scott and his team had created saying that “What we have here now is beyond my initial expectations, the teachers here are just so passionate about teaching. That initial enthusiasm they all had hasn’t stopped”.
At the core of life at Fairgreen is sustainability and the parents were keen to tell us about the green habits their children had brought home from school. One Mum told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com:
“We pick up litter on the beach, every single time we go. We take trash bags out with us everywhere so we can pick up litter…We recycle everything we can for art projects – sometimes to the point of pain! But I love how willing my children have become to do these things and to lead us to do it too. It’s become second nature for our family”.
Our parent panel were agreed that their children’s learning was “individualised” – something that they had been promised from the outset and that was important to them all.
There were areas for improvement and change, however. Parents had issue with the “excessive number of apps” for communication. One Dad told us that “there are so many logins and so many places for information – it’s really confusing”. Another parent felt that the lines of communication were being “consolidated” but that the school still hadn’t got it quite right yet.
Since our visit, we are told that a new Marketing and Communications Manager has been working on streamlining communication and improving parent experiences in this important area of school life.
For those living in Sustainable City, access to the school is easy – with most families arriving on foot or by bike. For car users however, the parents say that parking is a “mess”! “You need to arrive at least 20 minutes early to get a parking space” commented one of our panel. There was a bus service, but the parents felt that it served so many areas the journey time was really too long (around 45 minutes in the morning). This was a concern they had shared with the school and had confidence the team would address in time. The parents were however impressed that the school had listened to complaints from those who travel by bicycle - the school now boasts a number of shaded bicycle racks.
Extra-curricular activities and sports were also areas where the parents would like to see changes made. Parents would really like more emphasis on these areas, especially sport. They were however pleased that the school now had competitive squads for cross country, tennis, swimming and football. The school tell us that they offer more than 40 ECAs per term, more than half of which were free.
Despite the niggles, the parents were overall very positive about Fairgreen and when one Mum said “this is somewhere you get a good education and you feel your children are in safe hands” they all agreed.
For a detailed description of the facilities at Fairgreen International School, visit our WhichSchoolAdvisor SCHOOL REVIEW HERE.
Our tour of the school is an opportunity to meet School Principal Chris Perry. Like Mr Scott, Mr Perry is very happy with the progress the school has made and proud of the efforts of his team.
We begin by seeing the Kindergarten department in action. We were impressed by the space here – both inside and outside of the classrooms. The classrooms are very spacious, very light and bright and thoughtfully decorated in calm, neutral colours with touches of green here and there. We stopped to speak to a happy group of KG students and find that despite being the very youngest in the school they are confident enough to chat to us about their latest art project (made entirely from recycled materials, of course!). Large communal areas are situated adjacent to the classrooms, and are equipped with high quality, most wooden play equipment. Outside we see a fantastic playscape, designed especially for the school’s youngest children, featuring climbing equipment and a “road” for bikes and trikes, complete with a filling station and traffic lights – we love it!
This is a very pleasant school to tour. Most of the corridors are lined with large windows, bringing a abundance of natural light into the many shared, open spaces. The classrooms for older children are equally as spacious as those for in Early Years. The library comes complete with indoor ‘trees’ and a view of the bio-domes at The Sustainable City. The school describe The Sustainable City as a “literal playground and learning center” for the students. The school not only has regular use of one of the development’s bio-domes, but also the bee garden, outdoor gardening spaces, equestrian centre and biking and jogging tracks. Our visit is on a hot Dubai day, so we were unable to see these activities in action or visit the bio dome, but Mr Perry believes these facilities represent a significant advantage for the school.
In one of the older student classrooms, we spy something we haven’t ever seen in a school before. What looks like a large metal box on wheels is in fact a mobile kitchen, which the student will use to prepare food grown in the school. There are many gardening activities on offer at Fairgreen indoors and out, including small mobile hydroponic ‘farms’ which we see in many classrooms. At the time of our visit the students are growing mostly salad leaves, but the cooler months will see them add a host of fruit and vegetables to their harvests.
Sustainability might at the heart of the school’s ethos, but we also see dedicated music rooms, “maker spaces”, two swimming pools and multi-purpose courts, an auditorium and a large playing field. Everything one has come to expect from a school in the UAE, in fact.
We meet a group of students aged between 8 and 14.
We are impressed to hear older students begin by praising how the school has made them think about themselves as “members of a global community”. Sustainability of course gets mentioned here, but also how the student look at “trade, equity and social justice” as part of their IB studies. Clearly the goals of the leadership team are having a direct impact on what the students are learning.
Students are very positive about their teachers, with one relaxed young man saying “the teachers here are quite chill!” Others describe their relationships with their teachers as “respectful” and say that if they ever need extra support, the school counsellors are readily accessible.
The improvements the students would like to see in the school echo those of the parent panel. They would like to see more extra curricular activities, telling us that some had been cancelled due to low numbers. For the older students, they would like to see drama back on the curriculum, telling us that they “lost drama to extra science”.
And as for the two talking points that we find get students engaged in every school we visit: food and the uniform? Well, the food is good, although there is “a lot of pasta, probably too much” and the uniforms comfortable. Students would like to have the option of a hoody for cooler months.
Our final stop on our Fairgreen tour is to speak to a panel of department heads. We meet Primary Principal Matt Greenwood, Secondary Principal Seema Desai (who has recently joined the school from Kent College Dubai) and Curriculum Director David Gerber.
Echoing the thoughts of School Director Mr Scott, the team tell us that their current priority is “continue to define the curriculum” and strike the right balance between the academic rigour of the IB curriculum and equipping the students with real life, 21st century skills. The team agree that the pedagogy throughout every phase of the school is centred on enquiry, problem solving and collaboration. They see the IB curriculum (with its emphasis on project based learning and student led research) as a natural fit for the aims of the school. As a group they are particularly proud of how STEM is flourishing throughout the school.
Our panel are happy that Fairgreen will provide teachers and leaders alike with opportunity for their careers to develop. Ms Desai comments that “we have created a culture where everyone can have their say” and goes on to say that “the culture of care applies to staff just as much as students, that is really important to us”.
The WSA View
Fairgreen International School has overcome the challenges of the first year in operation and made great strides into defining what it is this school intends to become. The goals and intentions of the School Director were echoed and emphasised by every stakeholder that we met: students, parents and teachers. Such cohesion of thought and action will surely stand the school in good stead for the future. We look forward to returning to Fairgreen again to see their eco-conscious plans unfold.
Fairgreen International 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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