Grammar School Dubai is in the first year of a five year improvement plan which, through sweeping changes, aims to make the school one where students and parents can access a high quality UK Curriculum at an affordable price.
The Story til Now
The Grammar School is a private K-12 school located in Al Garhoud, Dubai. The school was established in 1970, making it one of Dubai's oldest schools, and currently caters to more than 1300 students with 54 full time teachers, this is an increase in almost 400 students since new management was brought in last year. The school is comprised of a wide range of nationalities with the majority coming from Pakistani and Indian families.
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This last year has seen a change in leadership and management at The Grammar School with MD PRS Group taking over the school and bringing in new leadership. The new Principal, William Deacon, and the new Vice-Principal Margaret Deacon, have been at their current posts for almost one year. With their arrival has come sweeping changes to increase the quality of education at the school, fulfilling their personal motto that no single child will be left behind. This belief has manifested into changes that look to preserve and build on the existing community, working with parents and teachers to increase the rigor and quality of education.
Since February 2016, there has been a full re-hiring of teachers. Previous teachers that were not qualified have been moved into teaching-assistant positions and provided training and 34 new teachers were hired, including 4 from the UK.
The school has improved. According to the KHDA, with the exception of Arabic as an additional language, attainment and progress in other key subjects is now acceptable; the quality of teaching, learning skills and assessment has improved in most year groups; the quality of the curriculum has been improved and leadership has been re-structured, was more distributive and is beginning to have a more direct impact on the standards of learning.
Working with closely with KHDA, the school is focused on continuing to improve not only academics but the facilities at the school as well. This means using computer-based assessments to get a bottom line of student levels, creating a SEND department and hiring SEND teachers to support students who have been identified as needing extra support and previously have slipped through the cracks, as well as beautifying the campus and creating more "break-out" space for children to play.
The school is also now transitioning from separate classes for boys and girls into a co-educational institution. All new students will be placed into mixed classrooms whereas up to now, after Grade 6, genders were segregated.
What about the Curriculum
Students at the Grammar school follow a UK styled curriculum and are entered for International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and/or GCSE at the end of the secondary phase and GCE Advanced Studies Level (AS) examinations at the end of the post-16 phase.
What do Parent Think?
Most parents and students feel that they make good progress in English, mathematics and science, according to feedback to the KHDA. In general, parents feel their children enjoyed life at school and they are pleased about the change in management, and the changes at the school
Fees at the Grammar School are relatively very affordable, ranging from 4,576 AED at KG and rising to 6,293 AED by Year 12.
The recent arrival of a new principal and his wife, the vice principal has had a transformative effect on this well-established school. Their passion, dedication and vision has energized the entire school community and there is a wonderful buzz as you tour the school. There’s still a lot on their ‘To Do’ list but there is no shortage of ambition and determination on their part.
The Grammar School Dubai is situated in the Al Garhoud district and is one of several schools in this low rise, traditional but convenient location (see WSA Garhoud Area Guide). The English National Curriculum school caters to K-12 students who are an international group but are predominantly Pakistani and Indian.
Mr Vasudevan Nair Presanna Raj along with his business partner Mr Hesham Abdullah Al Qassim are the owners of the school. The principal, Mr William Deacon, is in the first full year of his leadership and has put in place a five year action plan which is already having a major impact on the school.
A cream wall surrounds the two storey buildings fronted by a rounded entrance block with arched windows. The school was founded in 1970 so the site is ready for a bit of a facelift. There are some established trees and space for future landscaping plans. Ample but paid parking is available but as there are many schools in the area pick-up and drop off time can be pretty hectic.
Meeting the Principal
Security were present and we were directed to reception where we were soon greeted by the principal. He shares the responsibility of running the school with his wife Margaret, the vice principal. William came late to education from the business world previously living and working in Scotland. He joined his wife in the world of education teaching on the Isle of Wight in the UK. He next taught at an international British school in Cyprus before teaching for a period in Kuwait.
As a teaching couple with solid education experience they were approached by the owners of the Grammar School to shake up and improve standards here in Dubai. William arrived two weeks before a KHDA inspection which had previously left the school with the ‘unacceptable’ grade.
He presented the inspection team with his draft improvement plan. William began a ‘clearout process’ to help improve standards throughout the school. For 20 years there had been no investment. Teachers were not adequately qualified and the style of teaching was the outdated ‘chalk and talk’ technique. Speedily ten new classrooms were created. Subject departments were defined and four new teachers from the UK were recruited. Overall 34 new teachers were appointed from Sep 16 mainly from India and Pakistan.
Old textbooks were abandoned and a new era of learning was introduced. William and Margaret have appointed team leaders for each year group creating a strong team approach and all teachers take part in training at least twice a week. The leaders have helped inspire a now highly motivated group of teaching staff who William feels are ‘with him on this journey’. He believes staff morales has gone from ‘low’ to ‘high’.
Leadership has introduced incentives for staff as bonuses will be offered if standards go up. The school owners are fully involved on every level, according to William. Grammar School are now partnered with two very successful British National Curriculum schools through the KHDA ‘Abundance’ programme - DESS, a highly regarded establishment that’s been around for 40 years and DESC, the secondary branch which grew from the primary. Through this special relationship it is hoped that sharing of proven successful teaching practice will help inspire the Grammar School to flourish.
An entrance exam is now required to gain a place at the Grammar at both primary and secondary level. There is not an open acceptance policy and as yet no scholarships on offer. There is a new Innovation Committee comprising staff, pupils and parents. There are two SEND teachers who are dedicated to learning support.
A new software system has been introduced to help staff generate student report cards. A computerized classroom monitor system has been set up to follow every student’s progress and now every teacher has a laptop. William fervently believes that these ‘super kids’ are rising to the challenges. Sport is becoming a focus with the school team winning a recent volleyball competition. STEM lessons are being developed and have resulted in Y12 pupils winning awards in both maths and robotics.
New policies have been established in both areas of discipline and homework. Parents check and sign cards to support the school as it monitors students. A specialist music software programme has been purchased for the primary section and two specialist art teachers have been employed.
William believes that the school has an open policy and that they won’t leave a single child behind. At FS level the teaching of phonics is a focus and English is being learned really quickly now. When the majority of pupils leave after Y12 they either enroll either on Foundation courses in colleges or unis in Dubai or move straight into employment.
An improved link with local employers is in the process of being developed. Two specialist counselors within the school provide moral and career guidance at this level. Mr Deacon followed this open and hugely enthusiastic introduction by giving us a guided tour of the campus. Everyone we came across was greeted with warmth and interest by William. He is clearly always visible and involved around the whole school and demonstrates his energy, love of sport and appreciation for each individual.
Touring the School
The corridors have been recently painted white to lighten up the spaces. However, a good deal could be done to bring colour into the whole environment. Classrooms are not large and desks are tightly packed. Until fairly recently at secondary level children were based in one room while teaching staff moved around. The Deacons have developed subject department areas so now the children move to the specialist classrooms. The 900 student body has grown to 1,300 so space is quite tight but the aim is to make the very most of what is available.
What William described as ‘breakout areas’ have been recent developments to traditional classroom learning. Outdoor corridors and spaces have been ringed in by colourful fences for play and some children we saw were painting outside working at little easels.
The library, however, has been turned into classrooms and is now housed in a temporary corridor spot. Overall the pupils we observed were happily engaged in class with teachers guiding lessons in their specialist areas. One class we saw had dimmed lights and the teacher waiting quietly by the door. We learned that this was ‘by night focus’ session and that pupils were encouraged to read in silence to develop concentration.
The aesthetics of the grounds and buildings are quite plain and in need of attention but as we explore William explains what is to come in the future. Further covered outdoor play and chillout areas are to be cleared for all year groups to enjoy. Part of the sparse sandy garden is to be landscaped into an organic vegetable garden with a pond and housing for chickens and ducks. The canteen is a pre-fab hut but students have been given the opportunity to decorate it with graffiti designs to bring a bit more of a modern vibe.
Speaking with Students
We were next able to discuss what the school was like from the student perspective. Ahmed, Hafsa, Daniya and Kevin are all year 12 pupils and have been attending the Grammar School from between 3 to nine years. What they most appreciated about the school was the new administration and active and really friendly principal.
They described the staff-pupil relationships as now being much more open, warm and family like. They described the student culture as a strong community supportive of one another but quite competitive in studies. The student workload they described as ‘not too much’ but they felt challenged and that work due dates were fair. Generally they were satisfied with the quality of teaching.
They believed that there was no sign of bullying in the school and that a school council was soon to be formed but they felt they could already speak openly to their principal who will listen and act where possible. Generally the view was that the décor and environment lacked colour and that the uniform needed updating. There is a uniform shop onsite for convenience. The canteen food provided they all agreed was good, affordable and healthy.
Educational school trips are rare and only local but there are before and after school clubs for studies and sport. They liked the introduction of more technology with projectors in every class and agreed with the no mobile phone policy. Year 12 are allowed to bring their phones but do not use it through the school day.
They have some contact with the wider community and have taken part in a voluntary beach cleanup exercise. Special and memorable days have been Market Day where students set up stalls and National Day where they focused on the UAE traditions and society. Overall the students appreciate what the school has done for them. Three out of the four students aim for a career in engineering in the future. As a group they feel that they have developed friendships for life.
Chatting with Parents
We were able to speak to Amber, a parent waiting for the secondary sports day. We asked why she had selected this school for her children and she appreciated its longevity and the value for money. She spoke of how impressed she was of the new management and changes that were underway.
She felt that the KHDA ranking was a challenge but sounded hopeful for the future improvements. She has a 9 year old and a 12 year old studying at the Grammar School and she feels the level of homework is reasonable. She believes that her children are now more challenged since the arrival of the new regime.
Her view was that the uniform needed an update and mentioned the quite strict uniform policy. There is no school bus service but that didn’t affect her. She would like to see more school trips on offer.
Reports are quite regular and parents evenings two times a year. As yet there is not really a parent culture so they have no communication between each other. Amber was satisfied with the school food on offer describing standards as ‘hygienic’ and food ‘good and tasty’.
We asked if education here was as good as her home country and she felt it was about the same. Dubai, however, she described as ‘a better environment’. Overall she was very happy with the recent changes which she felt were ‘excellent’ .
We were next privileged to watch the parade and start of the secondary school sports day taking place on the bricked playground and sandy pitch. Students were dressed in colourful house T shirts and white trousers then marched and chanted in tutor groups following the school flag and UAE flag bearers.
Throughout the proceedings staff were present and supportive but Mr Deacon was the energizer and motivator at every event. A member of staff gave a running commentary which was broadcast on loudspeakers. William joined in races, pulled up reluctant competitors and fully supported all the children. He is quite a dynamo and his energy and passion is clearly infectious.
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