Foremarke School is the partner school of Foremarke Hall, Repton’s Preparatory School in the United Kingdom. Foremarke Hall is a very well-respected British prep school that succeeds both academically and in terms of developing the ‘whole child’.
As we visit Foremarke School Dubai for our second WhichSchoolAdvisor.com visit, a focus on a holistic education comes to the fore in every conversation with school leaders, teachers, parents and students. As one Year 6 child succinctly put it “our school is inspiring in every way” – high praise indeed!
Foremarke School currently has 518 pupils. This is a school designed for pupil numbers in the hundreds, not thousands, as is Foremarke Hall, the sister school in the UK, with only has 450 pupils aged from 3 to 13. In total 38 different nationalities are currently represented in the student body, two-thirds of whom come from the United Kingdom. Gender is equally split between male and female pupils.
The school opened in 2013 and has grown organically, year on year, with Year 8 having opened in the 2018-2019 academic year. This will enable families considering private education in the UK post common-entrance, with their children able to complete this early period in Dubai.
The school, a partnership between Repton School UK and Evolvence Knowledge Investments (EKI), a Dubai-based investment company, was put together from scratch by founding Head, Mark Atkins and his team. The team worked very closely with the architects and designers to ensure that the school provides the “perfect teaching environment” on its purpose-built 10 acre campus.
The teacher to pupil ratio is currently 1:8 in across the school. Class sizes have a maximum of 20 pupils and all classes in Foundation Stage (Nursery) have a full time Teaching Assistant. All 51 teachers are UK qualified, and many have UK Prep School experience. There are a total of 17 teaching assistants.
"At Foremarke, we have an uncomplicated and straightforward ideal. Inspiring excellence, nurturing respect. This reflects the importance we place on the development of the whole child." Headmistress, Mrs Zoe Woolley
Foremarke aims to provide a genuine prep school experience in Dubai. To help create that, Foremarke School has become the first school in the UAE, and only the second school globally, to have been given the status of an IAPS World Hub School, by The Independent Association of Preparatory Schools (IAPS). Highly regarded Tanglin School in Singapore, was the first school to be awarded the status. IAPS, an association for the world’s preparatory schools with some 600 member schools, allows prep schools to carry the IAP kite-mark only after accreditation.
[British ‘prep schools’ are the equivalent of primary and middle schools of the UK’s state education sector. Privately funded, they – in general – offer higher academic standards, more specialist teaching, more teaching time, place greater focus on ‘traditional, moral values’, and offer wider extra-curricular opportunities than their state-owned counterparts.]
Foremarke School says it aims to build “well-rounded, well grounded, confident young people who display a love for learning and a zest for life.” The school also says it places a strong emphasis on “respect for others, care and courtesy; combined with academic rigour appropriate to ability, [that] will lay a strong foundation for the successful transition to one of a wide range of quality senior schools both locally and overseas.”
In terms of academics the *11+, Common Entrance (CE) exams focus means an emphasis on providing the 3R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic necessary to perform well. Note: 11+, CE exams are key to entering into higher performing selective private (and some state) schools. Foremarke effectively prepares pupils for entry at some stage into schools in the independent sector in the United Kingdom. See the note at the end of the review.
Mrs Woolley is keen to stress that Foremarke School has the expertise to support the entire family in deciding the post-prep school pathway for children. “We talk to parents a lot” said Mrs Woolley, “and we make sure this planning links carefully to each individual family’s life and expectations. We help both parents and child to prepare for an exciting future”.
“This is important” emphasised Mrs Woolley, “we want to open every opportunity for your child. It’s what we do well and what a true prep school is about”.
Despite a quite traditional academic focus, the school says it does not sacrifice the breadth of curriculum. There is a focus on the arts, with instrumental music as part of core teaching time. All children are taught an instrument, including violin and keyboard. In addition, extra-curricular Sports, Music and Drama are offered, while some additional academic studies are offered before lessons start in the morning. French is taught as part of the curriculum.
Foremarke School also places emphasis on physical activity with three hours of physical education scheduled into each week by Year 3.
The school is somewhat selective on intake, with an assessment for all ages and informal interview with parents prior to a place being offered. Despite the assessment process, Foremarke School is an inclusive school. Under the umbrella of “FAB” (the cleverly named “Foremarke Achievement Base”) both gifted and talented children and children with additional learning needs are given individual attention. Small classroom sizes mean Foremarke is able to offer differentiated activities in all lessons, and also extension groups in its dedicated ‘Curriculum Plus’ time before and after school.
The school employs a Head of Inclusion with responsibility for pupils with SEN and EAL needs. The inclusion team is complemented by a visiting Occupational Therapist and a Speech and Language Therapist two days each week.
"At Foremarke we focus closely on how children learn,and our curriculum actively develops strong personal learning skills alongside traditional academic knowledge. Our focus on building the development of characteristics such as perseverance, resilience, resourcefulness and reflectiveness in children, encouraging them to think critically and learn actively helps to make Foremarke a school focused on progress, producing confident individuals and successful learners." Mrs Woolley, Headmistress
Foremarke School has recently announced achieving “Apple Distinguished School” status. According the Apple website, the only other school in the UAE to have achieved this status is Repton Foundation School, on Reem Island, Abu Dhabi.
Apple Distinguished Schools are described by the brand as;
“… centers of leadership and educational excellence that demonstrate Apple’s vision for learning with technology — and we believe they are some of the most innovative schools in the world”.
Achieving this accolade has clearly been quite an endeavour for Foremarke, with every leader, teacher and student we meet on our visit mentioning the term ‘Apple Distinguished School’ with pride. One Year 6 boy, a student ‘Digital Leader’ named Lachlan, had even made a speech at the Apple store in Dubai as part of the process.
“Out of his comfort zone somewhat, but he did it and he loved it!” said Mrs Woolley.
Ms Claire Kabbani, Head of Computing and Digital Innovation at Foremarke School commented on achieving Apple Distinguished School status, saying that “we want to be a beacon school in terms of digital learning. We see it as our role to enable learning by connecting with other schools. We will be reaching out to other local schools to share best practice”.
The school has an impressive range of facilities. The youngest pupils (in the ‘Foundation Stage’) are in a completely separate building from KS1/2 students with the two parts of the school having separate entrances, reception areas, hall, parking and play areas.
Once inside the school however, the Foundation Stage does not feel separated from the rest of the school, and the children are clearly able to see the older children when playing outdoors. All Foundation Stage classrooms have access to designated play areas, plus an outdoor area adjacent to each classroom - ideal for break out activities and creative and messy play.
The school has recently made significant investment in sports facilities, with a host of new space on offer for budding athletes. Foremarke School has a 25 metre competition swimming pool (with the Foundation School having its own, shallow swimming pool). The pools and new playing fields feature comfortable raised seating areas for supporters (one area even being air conditioned for the hotter months).
In addition, there are three netball and tennis courts, two multi-purpose outdoor courts, three multi-purpose sports halls, two junior cricket fields including one grass wicket, four junior sized football/rugby pitches, indoor and outdoor cricket nets and a Sports Pavilion.
In tandem with the new sports facilities, the school has also opened a new dining hall for the prep school students. This was a firm favourite with the children we spoke to, all of whom liked the space, the independence of a self-serve lunch and, most importantly, the “delicious” food!
Foremarke School has specialist Art, Music and Drama classrooms. Performance is further encouraged with monthly ‘Café Concerts’ held in the spacious Prep School reception/coffee shop area. The coffee shop has clearly become a hub for parents to connect – we notice several groups sitting to chat and have coffee immediately after morning drop off.
The school is also home to two science labs, plus specialist computing and language classrooms.
We were impressed at the attention in all of the facilities at Foremarke. For example, the perennial Dubai problem of parking has been addressed by creating staff parking underground, so that there is sufficient external parking for parents. A great idea.
Security is good: our ID is checked and we are issued with a lanyard. Parents wear a photo ID lanyard – something which our parent panel comment positively on. They like the added layer of security offered by using photo ID.
These reflections are based upon the short form KHDA reports published in April 2019. We will update the review further once more detailed reports are released.
Foremarke School was rated Very Good for the second year running in 2018-19.
Ratings for all key indicators barring Leadership (which this year was rated Good, down from Very Good in 2017-18) have remained the same as the 2017-18 report.
The school has now been inspected by the KHDA three times and was rated Good on the first two occasions - the minimum target rating expected by the Dubai Regulator. The most recent inspection in 2017-18, saw Foremarke make a step up to Very Good - the second highest rating, and only one away from Outstanding.
Of particular note were the strengths in attainment and progress in English, teaching and learning in the Foundation Stage (FS), students’ attitudes and behaviour and the quality of the facilities and resources provided to support learning.
In addition, very effective systems for engaging parents had resulted in a partnership that is beneficial to their children’s learning. The provision of high-quality resources has resulted in the creation of a highly-engaging learning environment.
During the January 2018 inspection, Inspectors noted that strengths of the school were its progress against the UAE’s National priorities, which is above expectations [related to the key areas of international bench-marking tests, support of Emirati students, the provision of UAE Social Studies and Moral Education, and innovation]; in both phases, students’ behaviour and attitudes to learning [which] are exemplary; and leadership [which] is quickly improving overall school performance.
The report states that "particularly impressive are the students’ achievements in external assessments in English, Mathematics and Science; Standards of care and systems of guidance for all students are excellent; The school prioritises the safety and safeguarding of students; and the efficient management of all aspects of school, the high calibre and training of staff, the quality of accommodation and sufficiency of resources [which] enable effective learning."
The majority of key indicators for attainment and progress have been rated Very Good in English, Mathematics and Science, and Acceptable for the core Arabic subjects. Progress and attainment in Primary English were rated Outstanding.
Students' personal development has also been rated Outstanding, whilst all other key indicators in the Primary school have been rated Very Good with improvements from Good in almost all key indicators in the current inspection round.
These overall improvements have also led to improved ratings for Leadership and Management, with the effectiveness of leadership, school self-evaluation and improvement planning, and governance having been upgraded to Very Good. Parents and the Community, and Management, staffing, facilities and resources have been upgraded to Outstanding.
The inspection report notes the following recommendations as areas of focus in the coming year, reflective of the common challenges faced by many international schools in the UAE:
• "Improve progress in Arabic as a first language by: enabling teachers to make better use of initial assessment and cognitive ability results; matching students’ learning to their needs; adapting provision according to performance
• School leaders should review the curriculum for teaching Arabic as an additional language so that students’ language skills are progressively built, with appropriate levels of challenge"
In addition, specific recommendations have been made for the Foundation Stage in relation to attainment:
• "Leaders should support, and monitor improvements to the performance of and provision for children in the Foundation Stage so that, at least, they reach a similar level to those in primary. Leaders should establish more appropriate and effective systems to measure and record the progress of students with SEND."
The fact that the school has only progressively added year groups as students "grow" into them, means that it has had a strong element of control which has enabled stable, organic growth. Staff turnover has been falling and is currently 4.8%, very low for an international school in Dubai (the average is 20-22%).
This will be an important factor for future success and is something that Mrs Woolley is proud of, commenting that,
“As a place to work…well, what’s not to like about this school! The children are happy and eager to learn. We are incredibly well resourced. In every relationship courtesy and consideration are emphasised and there are brilliant opportunities to learn and grow as a professional. We expect a lot from staff but they get a lot back”.
In addition to the KHDA inspections, applications have been made to BSME (British Schools of the Middle East) and BSO (British Schools Overseas). The two bodies aim to ensure that schools are providing a high standard of British Education.
Foremarke School is also subject to annual “Quality Assurance visits” led by Repton UK using ISI standards. This report is available on the school’s web site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it did rather well.
Fees for Foremarke School start high, and move higher – this is a premium school, and that requires funding. Fees have been significantly reduced since the launch of the school (and have perhaps been balanced by class sizes increasing from max 16 when the school opened to max 20 today). Fees now start at AED 58,500 for FS1 and rise to AED 83,000 for Years 7 and 8.
Common Entrance Examinations are taken by some children in the UK as part of the admissions process for academically selective secondary schools at age 13 or (for girls) 11. They are set by ISEB (Independent Schools Examination Board).
Most of the secondary schools that use Common Entrance for admission are fee paying public schools; and most of the schools that routinely prepare their pupils for Common Entrance are preparatory schools. The 11+ is used by academically selective state schools – although these are somewhat of a rarity in the UK today. However where they exist (usually as Grammar Schools) they usually top the academic league tables, certainly for state schools, and the best of them give private schools a good run for their money.
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