The Jumeirah Primary School Experience. (Updated November 2019)
Jumeirah Primary School is located between Sheikh Zayed and al Wasl roads in Jumeirah on Street 29. Together it, with sister school, Jumeirah College, make up the now popularly known 'schools on Street 29'. Having opened in 1996, so well over 20 years ago, JPS now counts as one of the “older, more established” British curriculum schools in the region. With beautiful, large photographs, its entrance lobby looks more like that of a corporate entity rather than a school, but this impression soon disappears as one walks along the broad, well-used and clearly functional corridors of the school. The school interior has been substantially renovated in recent years, with much improved flooring, and bright and light corridors and classrooms.
Security at the gates is very good and thorough. The school is well guarded and secure with several doors using codes in addition to closeable gates separating the Foundation Stage children from the rest of the school and the outer world. According to parents with whom we spoke during our most recent visit, the Security guard knows every one of the 1,450 children by name!
This fact is very much indicative of the feel of JPS - a community where parents, staff (at all levels) and children are supportive and caring of each other.
There is parking in front of the school, which now has approximately 1,450 children attending, making it one of the larger British curriculum primary schools in the UAE. The buildings are 2 storey in an H shape turned on its side, with wide corridors used as break out areas in some places; stairs are also wide with two sets of rails at different heights to ensure safety for children of differing heights. On one staircase coloured handprints of the children decorate the glass tiles and there is a spectacular hand print mural decorating the wall.
During our most recent visit, we were shown around JPS by the Head Boy, Kian, Deputy Head Boy Deran, Deputy Head Girl Leen and Sidonie who is a prefect responsible for Well-being and Sports. It was very evident that all the students are passionate about their school, mentioning specifically the kindness of their teachers and the opportunities for student leadership.
There are six classes in FS1, and seven from FS2 to Year 6. In the Foundation stage, classes average 22 children, supported by a teacher, teaching assistant and a further team member who moves between the classes in each section as required. Elsewhere, class sizes are generally 27 - the sole issue raised by parents as a concern, and certainly not a new one.
A great positive in the Middle Eastern heat has to be that the school buildings are enclosed; children do not have to leave the air conditioning at any time apart from break times during the summer. This has to be healthier for the body than constantly going in and out and experiencing huge temperature fluctuations.
There are several shaded outdoor areas for sports and play, with a large sports field and a nice garden at the back. The garden boasts trees, paths and a memory bench. As with most schools, common sense is used in the summer months to determine when it is no longer desirable for children to play outside due to the heat. At such times in-door activities and alternative space is provided for the children to relax and wind down between lessons.
The different age groups have their breaks at staggered times to avoid congestion in the play grounds. The school day runs from 7.30am to 2.15pm for KS 1 - 2. Foundation Stage children finish their day at 12.30pm. After school the children assemble on the field under strict supervision until they are picked up. This means that one parent picking up a number of children in KS 1 – 2 only has one stop to make in the summer months leading to a speedier exit from the school premises.
Different sections of each corridor house different year groups, clear to see from the topic related displays mounted on the walls, ranging from suspended papier mache dinosaurs to Greek History. In some areas there is seating or even photocopiers along the wide, almost lobby sized, corridors - all testimony to the busy life of the school.
Each ground floor classroom has French windows towards the outside, making them pleasingly light and airy. The classrooms are not overly big, but each is equipped with smart boards. FS classrooms all have outdoor access to enable children to take part in "messy play" and other outdoor learning activities.
A recent initiative at JPS has been the introduction of options for students when working in their classrooms. A range of desks have been introduced that allow students to sit, kneel or stand - allowing them to be comfortable as they work, rather than being confined to a hard chair! This comes from research as part of the High Performance Learning programme that JPS has recently adopted.
The school, like most primary schools, has no cafeteria; therefore children rely on packed lunches. There is a very pleasant-looking nurse’s station. A library has over 24,000 volumes and a raised seating area. There is a dedicated ICT room adjacent to the library with Apple computers. At the time of the visit a buzzing lesson on history research was in progress, with animated discussion going on. JPS is an Apple Distinguished School.
There is a large hall for assemblies and shows, music rooms and dedicated art rooms. JPS is one of the GEMS schools working together with ArtsEd, a UK-based theatre school chaired by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, and students will see increasing opportunities to build their creative, dramatic and personal skills - for more information, read our article here.
A separate building houses a large sports hall for indoor sport activities during the summer heat. Behind this building there are a number of shaded courts for various sports activities. Two large shaded pools are located to the front of the main school building. The training pool is shallow and at the time of the visit, a class was in session, with three adults in the water with the children. There is a “House” system, sporting different coloured attire for the purposes of sports competitions. The scores and trophies are displayed in a lobby for all to see.
Following our tour of the school, we were fortunate enough to meet with a group of parents. Their children ranged from FS1, FS2, Year 1 and Years 4 and 5. One parent is currently a teacher at JPS, whilst another is an ex-teacher. Feedback from all was overwhelmingly positive. They particularly praised the community feel of the school, but also the fact that JPS is large enough to be able to offer a wide range of Arts, Drama and Sports.
They noted that despite the very varied backgrounds of parents and students, there is real family feel, with no cultural divide. JPS is a community that is non-judgmental and supportive, embracing internationality, offering a new cultural experience for many, all within an environment that seeks to deliver excellent academic performance.
Most parents had chosen the school based on its reputation and history of Outstanding ratings, but were pleased to find that it is down to earth and friendly. Parents were unanimous in their praise for the leadership of the school and its very visible involvement in all aspects of its operations. The fact that the Principal still leads school tours for prospective parents was seen to a very clear sign of this engagement.
Parents were also very positive about communication between school and home, with weekly email updates from teachers, a weekly newsletter and follow up reminder and a genuine Open Door policy where parents may come into classrooms and the end of the school day and see their children's work. JPS also organises regular Parent Workshops to provide parents with detailed information about the curriculum and how parents may support their children at home. A Parent Survey is sent out three times per year to gauge parent feedback on the school.
There is also an active Parent Council, which parents felt was well supported by GEMS. Parents are active participants in the various charity initiatives that take place - notably as a result of the funds raised by the Spring Fair each year. In addition to the overseas schools and refugees supported through funds raised by the Spring Fair, money has also been raised for the Al Jalila Foundation and Breast Cancer Care. There is no doubt that the parents we met were extremely positive about JPS and keen to recommend it.
We also met with the Senior Leadership Team at JPS. Made up mainly of women, several of whom have children at the school, aside from one male teaching and learning mentor, there is no doubt that this is a very committed team - most have been at the school for between four and ten years. They described JPS as a 'magical school', a 'village school' with a passionate community of parents, students and staff. As a team, they appreciate the family feel and ethos of the school, which frequently welcomes back returning staff and children, supported by strong parental relationships. They were particularly positive about the leadership of Rachel Higgins, and her focus on Well-being - which applies to all staff from cleaners to the leadership and everyone in between, as well as parents and students.
Our final conversation was with Principal Rachel Higgins herself. She explained, subsequent to our feedback, that a key part of her focus has necessarily been on "re-writing the stars" - seeking to understand the aspirations of staff and her team to support staff retention, but equally doing so for parents and students. Another important focus has also been on "suitability not ability" ensuring provision that enables every child to learn. Finally, Mrs. Higgins discussed the increasing focus on 'allowing Primary children to be Primary children'. Rather than concentrating on ensuring that JPS children are ready for Jumeirah College - instead proposing that JC should be JPS ready - Mrs. Higgins sees the need for JPS to ensure that it is ready to support its own students - ensuring that Year 1 staff are FS2 ready for instance. As a mother of two children who attend JPS, Mrs Higgins is in an excellent position to judge the effectiveness of the school based on her own very personal experience.
There is no doubt that JPS is a very well-run school, in a location in the heart of the traditional residential areas of Jumeirah and Umm Suqeim, and easily accessed from anywhere along Sheikh Zayed Rd. More than the evident organisation and well-oiled machine, what makes JPS particularly special, in our opinion, is the warmth of the entire community with whom we came into contact and a shared desire to enable every child to reach their potential and 'to rewrite the stars.'
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