The arrival of a dynamic new head with an excellent UAE teaching pedigree has injected confidence and optimism into Hartland. The facilities, space and lighting are exceptional and with the stability of a five year commitment from the head, the school has the potential to thrive.
The beautifully designed modern school building stands in the fast-developing Meydan area. The architect has taken full advantage of the natural light available as windows are more abundant than walls in this three storey, rounded design. There is some parking inside the campus but as the school numbers grow they will need to develop further parking outside. At the moment access is easy from the Meydan, Al Khail and Al Ain roads and there are few buildings close by so no gridlocks at rush hour.
In the entrance we were greeted by the receptionist and taken through to a spacious, open area where seating and a café are available to visitors and parents. We were greeted by Zoe White, the parent relations executive who appears to play an important role easing communication between the parents and the management. She is also a parent and seems to know the children really well as we walk around.
Several parents including two parent governors were at hand to describe in detail why they had chosen Hartland school. A dad who was a UAE national chose the school through friends’ recommendations and was attracted by the idea of a brand new school with state of the art facilities. He praised the staff-parent relationships and said his children ‘loved the atmosphere’ when they first visited.
He felt it was a “well-managed school” and spoke of the ‘open communication between staff and parents’ which he felt ‘encourages access to teachers who are easy to talk to.’ He explained the Principal was always available, and knows the children. “I couldn’t be happier with Hartland’,” he said.
Comments from the mothers we spoke to endorsed to a large degree these sentiments – their enthusiasm for the school was clear. One mum told us that Hartland is “a proper independent school such as you might find in the UK”.
Parents spoke of ‘a warm family environment’ and one described the quality of instruction as ‘inspirational’. A mum from the USA had first looked at American schools but still chosen Hartland with its British curriculum stating that she felt it ‘more appropriate’ for her children. She says she had a ‘really positive gut reaction’ when she first visited. Hartland “gives the best of what the USA and UK systems offer”. One Indian mum rated Hartland as “better than the schools I can find in my home country”.
We discussed more day-to-day practicalities such as food, uniform and trips. The canteen is run by the Acuro company and healthy hot and cold food is available at reasonable prices. The menu choice is on the school website and is buffet service. A simple canteen card has to be purchased. Of course children can bring their own lunches to school and it was good to find out that everyone eats together.
The school uniform provider is Zaks and children look smart in white shirt/blouse with light green stripey tie and grey trousers or skirt. School buses are available for parents to use but at present most choose to drop themselves.
Trips and activities were described by parents as “great” . During the last year the Shakespeare for Kids Company visited to perform a show. Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella have been performed in the past year by the children. Author Curtis Jobling who created the Bob the Builder character has also visited the school in the past month and the whole community were involved in a Roald Dahl day. A trip to a local science fair was ‘excellent’ and residential trips to areas of the UAE are also regularly offered.
On our visit we greatly enjoyed our meeting with the school’s new principal. Ms Cottam comes across as a wise, experienced and sensible school leader who plans to be at the school for a minimum of five years. The role of the Hartland she says is to help its children prepare for responsibilities in the future, where children feel challenged but are able to take risks and “reach for the impossible”. Ms Cottam is determined the school excels in teaching literacy and numeracy and has invited specialists from the UK to aid this process. She describes the teaching style in the school as ‘traditional’ with a big emphasis on manners and behaviour. She said that the approach is ‘academic, holistic’ and that the enrichment sessions are entwined within a child’s education so are ‘not just add on extra curricular activities’.
Students we spoke to clearly seem to be thriving in the new atmosphere. They also appreciate the school’s facilities, in particular its large sports fields and very open spaces. Students raved to us about how well special occasions are celebrated. We happened to visit on Diwali and the school was ablaze with decorations. Several mums had brought in traditional food to share with the whole community. One pupil loved their art day, another a trip to the fire station and another the ski trip.
Teachers are said (by students!) to be ‘friendly’, ‘very open’ and able to ‘make lessons enjoyable’. On our tour the classrooms we saw in action were all light, bright and colourful. Groups of children seemed happy, industrious with a clearly creative atmosphere. White boards have been replaced by new touch screens which appear to work more like large iPads.
We saw numerous music practice rooms, a state of the art IT suite, a dance studio, a fully equipped food technology room and a spacious specialist art room. There is also a well- designed library which caters for children who at present take out 4-500 books a week. There are many boxes of new books still to be unpacked.
The main school block has three floors serviced by a lift and there is a beautiful 645 seat auditorium for concerts, assemblies and shows with professional lighting and a changing area under the stage.
A full sized astro turf football pitch is available with a huge indoor sports hall, full size swimming pool and practice pool. There are other outdoor shaded areas which will enable gatherings and play in the winter months.
Hartland International School, 30th October 2016
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