Horizon International School (HIS) is located in Umm Al Sheif off Al Wasl Road, within close proximity of the iconic Burj Al Arab. HIS is an 'all-through' school offering the British curriculum for children aged 3 to 18.
Horizon International School is celebrating its 10th academic year in operation. Knowing that this is a school that had been through a period of leadership change, our team were keen to revisit Horizon International School (HIS) and see how well the ‘dust had settled’.
In the role of Principal since September 2018, experienced UAE school leader, Darren Gale is keen to bring about a rapid return to stability for the school. Having worked in UAE schools for thirteen years, Mr Gale’s prior career has seen him working with GEMS Education, Aldar Academies in Abu Dhabi, Springdales Dubai and, latterly, as Principal of Kings’ School Nad Al Sheba.
“There is a postitive atmosphere of hope and aspiration at Horizon International School”, Mr Gale tells us . “It was clear to me from the outset that there is huge potential in this school. Its owners have given me the freedom to lead and manage this school in my own way.
More importantly, I’ve also got incredible support from a brilliant and thoroughly committed senior leadership team. All the staff know that I have high expectations for them and for the school. We, as a team, are primed to take this school to the next level”.
What does the school feel like when you walk in? Click here for the Horizon International School Experience!
Across the school, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com found energetic staff, full of enthusiasm and clearly invigorated by leadership of their popular new Principal.
“We are all very clear about what we stand for”, were the words of Amy Milne, Director of Teaching and Learning. Ms Milne went on to say, “We are a true community school that offers top quality teaching and learning for all our children. That is who we are”.
Located in the heart of one of the most popular traditional residential areas for both expats and Emiratis alike, HIS was founded in 2008. The school was purchased by current owners (the Al Najah Group) in 2013 in order to provide direct secondary school access for students at the long-established and highly regarded Horizon English School (which is Primary only). HIS is accredited by British Schools Overseas (part of the COBIS - Council of British International Schools), although details of its BSO inspection are not provided.
An interview with the very upbeat Chief Education Officer of Al Najah may be found here.
At the time of our visit in January 2019, pupil numbers at HIS sit at 852, a significant improvement in enrolments since the 2017-2018 KHDA report was published. Of these, 230 children are in the Foundation Stage, 500 in Primary and 150 in the Secondary School.
In common with many Dubai schools, the split of students between Primary versus Secondary is heavily weighted to the lower end of the school, resulting in maximum class sizes of 22 in FS1, 24 in FS2 and 25 across the rest of the school (although in reality Secondary and Post-16 classes are significantly smaller (with the January 2019 average at 16).
According to Mr Gale, the 852 students are the best part about working at the school. “The children at this school are remarkable, truly remarkable”.
The dominant nationality of students remains the UK, but over 50 nationalities are represented in total. The staff are also predominantly from the UK - in fact, according to the school, all staff are UK trained and qualified with the exception of those staffing the Arabic Department. Staff turnover, at 23%, is slightly above average for Dubai (which runs at around 20-22%).
The school is set on a large corner site, with the Foundation section separated from the rest of the school in a single-storey building with its own access, a Secondary specialist teaching section upstairs to the rear of this and the main L shaped building spread over three floors across the back and along the third side of the plot.
At the centre is a very large Astroturf pitch and, hidden away at the rear of the Secondary teaching block, is a 25m outdoor covered pool. Finally, to the right of the building is the sizeable Sports Hall and Auditorium.
Although smaller than many of the newly constructed schools in Dubai, the school is well provided for in terms of facilities. Classrooms are spacious and there are specialist art and music rooms, science laboratories, a food technology room, Indoor and Outdoor Shared Learning Zones in the Foundation Stage, an enormous indoor air-conditioned gymnasium, a fully shaded eight-lane swimming pool, a fully-fitted multipurpose theatre, Primary and Secondary libraries with an extensive collection, a dining hall and a Post-16 Centre.
Read the WSA Experience of Horizon International School here.
In keeping with the community feel of this school, may of the school’s facilities are open to community members after school, including the swimming pool facilities and the outside Astroturf pitches.
HIS believes that sports and extracurricular activities not only enable physical growth but also challenge students’ abilities and push them to accomplish greater things. This is where they learn the importance of competition, teamwork, and sportsmanship, which goes a long way in building their character. The school has an extensive sports and arts programme that allows students to explore their abilities. Students compete in various sporting leagues and the BSME Games.
There is a strong focus on recycling and ecological matters in the school with student counsellors and their deputies in each class responsible for ensuring that recycling bins are used and other ideas discussed and implemented. The school also ensures that children are not solely focussed on academic subjects and offers are broad range of Extra Curricular activities (over 70).
HIS follows the English National Curriculum. The school is organised into the Early Years Foundation Stage, Primary, Secondary where students take IGCSE and GCSE exams in year 10/11, and A Levels in the Post-16 phase (Years 12 and 13).
HIS believes that parents need to be actively involved in a child’s progress during the Early Years. The school invites parents to be a part of the learning in class during fortnightly Stay and Learn Sessions, followed by a morning coffee with the School Leadership Team and other parents.
HIS states that its goal for the Early Years education is to "Nurture the creativity and imagination of every child; help children develop confidence and form long-lasting relationships with others; encourage children to question and solve problems; provide a safe, friendly, happy environment for children to grow; value each child’s unique abilities and give each child individual attention, and to instil in children the values of social, cultural and religious acceptance".
The curriculum for the Primary School is based on the English National Curriculum, a rich blend of academic, social, physical, cultural and artistic learning opportunities, covering all the major subjects as well as activities that are imperative for a holistic development.
In Primary School, HIS guiding principles are designed to ensure a focus on giving each child the best possible learning environment, through the recognition that "every child is unique and learns at a different pace; positive relationships help develop a sense of independence and strength in children; [and] children learn and develop well in environments that accommodate their individual needs and allow them to thrive".
In Secondary School, students are encouraged to adopt new techniques of learning, working predominantly on their own. We witnessed a Year 7 performing arts class where the children entered ready to lead the class themselves, with minimal prompting from the teacher. Teachers motivate students to develop their intellectual curiosity and use academic initiative, thus instilling in them a sense of responsibility for their own future.
In Key Stage 3 (Years 7-9) children are exposed to a number of academic subjects including Mathematics, Sciences, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Islamic Studies, Art, Design, Technology, Drama, Dance, Music, History, Geography, Physical Education, UAE Social Studies and Moral Education, and Personal, Social, Health Education.
As students enter Year 9, they begin preparations for GCSE, focusing on their chosen subjects and experiencing new subjects. These include Psychology, Sociology, Media Studies, Business Studies, and Economics. The GCSE programme begins in Year 10, with students having to select up to four subsidiary options along with their core subjects, giving them the chance to achieve up to 11 GCSEs.
The final two years of school are focused on providing students with the qualifications for university entry or further steps towards their future career. The curriculum comprises core subjects as well as a wide range of A-Level examination courses from which students can select up to 4 subjects, (which are 2-year courses), and some AS Level courses, which are only for one year. Additionally, students also undertake School Service as well as Career Guidance and Study Skills. Subjects available at A-level include Maths, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, French, Psychology, Sociology, Geography, Drama, Photography, Economics, Business Studies, Arabic and Accounting.
HIS states that it is keen for parents to get involved with the school. There is a "Friends of Horizon PTA Committee", and parents are encouraged to get involved actively with all activities arranged by the PTA. Each class has a parent representative, who liaises with the teacher to facilitate improved communication between the parents and teacher.
HIS had 13 students in the 2018 GCSE cohort, out of which 10% achieved A*. 82% of all grades were A*-A in English Literature and 62% A*-A grades in Mathematics
Commenting on these results, Mr Gale said:
"We are incredibly proud of our third cohort of GCSE students who have achieved record breaking results for our school. Progress and attainment is outstanding across all subjects and is significantly above UK National Averages with the majority achieving 100% pass grades. The progress our students make at Horizon International School is astonishing with students achieving 1.6 grades higher in English Language, 2.5 grades higher in English Literature and 1.8 grades higher in Mathematics than their CAT 4 generated target grades".
The school has had a Good rating from the KHDA for nine of the ten inspections carried out by the regulator since the school was established.
The 2017-18 inspection report recognises the progress made by the leadership of the school (under previous Principal, Lee Davies. Davies has now moved to another position within the Al Najah group).
The Inspectors noted that "The principal and his leadership team have brought about significant changes to the school culture, ethos and direction. This is beginning to have a positive impact on students' achievements, although this is not consistent in all aspects of the school's performance". This lack of consistency is evident in the ratings applied to the measures for Student Achievement.
Attainment and progress in Foundation stage for English, Maths and Science is rated Very Good, as it is also in Secondary English (up from Good), and Primary Maths (also an improvement from Good a year ago). Primary English, and Secondary Maths have only now reached the rating of Good (from Acceptable a year ago). This suggests a disparity of achievement not so much between subjects as between sections of the school - the lack of consistency referred to by the inspection team. This inconsistency is reflected further in Post-16 English progress and Secondary Science progress, both of which are rated only Acceptable.
The picture for Arabic as a first and second language, and Islamic Studies, is still further at odds with the achievements for those subjects taught in English. With the exception of overall attainment for Islamic Studies and for progress in Primary Arabic as a first language - each of which is rated Acceptable - all other ratings are Weak. In fact, four of the eight measures for Arabic were downgraded to Weak at this inspection.
Horizon International School says it has taken several steps to address the weaknesses outlined in the KHDA's report. Over the last eighteen months, since the last inspection, it has recruited several new members of staff for the Arabic team, including a new Head of Arabic, who "ensures the team receives regular learning and teaching training".
The team responsible for Arabic provision has also adapted the curriculum to "better meet individual learners’ needs". HIS says it has "reviewed, adapted and modified" assessment practices to bring them in line with assessment practices across the rest of the school. HIS has also worked on awareness. The school told us: "The Arabic department now invites parents each term to participate in informational meetings so that they better understand how the department delivers the curriculum and what they can do at home to better support their children’s learning."
Finally the Arabic team at HIS provides a variety of extracurricular activities to students and encourages participation in initiatives promoting the Arabic language, such as the Arab Reading Challenge.
With the 2018/19 KHDA reports now just around the corner, we should see very soon how much these proactive and determined changes have impacted the effectiveness Arabic provision within the school.
What is clear already is the Foundation Stage is the real strength of the school. As the report notes:
"Children's attainment and progress in the Foundation Stage (FS) remain consistently strong and their learning skills are outstanding".
Inevitably, teaching and assessment and the curriculum design and its adaptation have a strong role in the attainment of students. Whilst Teaching and Assessment are rated as Very Good in Foundation Stage, they are rated Good in the other three phases of the school.
Inspectors noted that "Most teachers demonstrate secure knowledge of their subjects. This is less secure in Arabic as an additional language. Teachers usually plan engaging lessons and provide a motivating learning environment, particularly in the FS. Teachers use strategies that meet the needs of groups of students. [However] this is not sufficiently personalised or appropriately matched to the needs of all groups in all lessons resulting in slower progress".
Again, inspectors pointed out inconsistencies in the interaction between teachers and students in relation to assisting students to develop their higher level thinking and to encourage students to reflect critically on their learning.
Where there has been positive improvement is the use of assessment to inform planning and curriculum adaptation for individual students. This is a key area of focus for the KHDA. The report notes that "Leaders have strengthened assessment practice across the school. Most teachers use assessment data well to plan their teaching carefully so that it extends and deepens learning. These improvements are relatively recent and have not had full and consistent impact across the school".
In terms of the curriculum design and its implementation, this key indicator has retained its rating from a year ago, with a rating of Outstanding in Foundation and Good across the other phases. This Good rating does not, perhaps, adequately reflect the positive view that the inspection team appeared to have, their comments noting that "A key strength is the adaption of the timetable to offer choices to individual secondary students and meet their specific needs and aspirations. The offer of modern foreign languages at IGCSE and extra-curricular activities have been increased and impact positively on student achievement. The addition of dance in the secondary phase provides opportunities for creativity".
The inspection team also reported that "The design and implementation of the curriculum is outstanding in the FS because it is comprehensive, highly relevant and promotes high achievement. It is good in other phases because it has a clear rationale, fully reflects the English National Curriculum and meets national requirements. However, it does not provide sufficient opportunities for innovation".
Again, there is a tale of inconsistency in relation to the adaptation of the curriculum. Whilst the rating for the Foundation Stage has been upgraded to Outstanding, it has been downgraded from Good to Acceptable in Primary and Secondary - the same level as Post-16.
Whilst there are obviously a number of key performance indicators on which HIS will need to focus, that of Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation Skills, is one where inspectors were more impressed. Students' personal development in particular was rated Outstanding across the school.
Inspectors rated the school Outstanding across the board in relation to Health and Safety and Child protection. They praised the mutual respect between the staff and the students which, they noted, fosters exemplary behaviour, good attendance and a positive attitude towards learning, and found that a school-wide pastoral care system promotes and monitors students’ well-being and provides effective personal and academic guidance. The provision and outcomes for students with SEND was found to be Good.
For the final key performance area of Leadership and Management, three of the five measures evaluated by the inspection team are now rated Very Good. In particular, the inspectors singled out Lee Davies, as Principal, for his impact, noting that "The principal has brought about significant change to the school culture and ethos since the previous inspection. He has high expectations for staff and students and is empowering all leaders to develop their skills and improve. Senior and middle leaders are increasingly effective and their actions are having a positive impact in several areas".
Gale, now established in the role of Principal, will need to continue these improvements identified by the inspection team.
The relationship between the school, parents and the community were found to be Very Good, whilst the input of the Board of Governors on the management of the school and its performance was also rated Very Good.
The core recommendations from the Inspection team were that HIS should:
A significant number of parents have completed the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com school survey for Horizon International School and their comments are generally very positive! Almost 80% of parents would recommend the school to other parents, 83% of parents feel that the quality of education offered is on a par with or better than the standard of education in their home country, and almost 70% of parents "totally agree" that the fees paid represent good value for money (compared with a UAE average of 42%). The majority of respondents have children in the Primary section of the school and, perhaps, most importantly, 74% of their children enjoy going to school "a tremendous amount" (compared with an average for the UAE of 45%).
If you are a parent at HIS, particularly in the Secondary or Post-16 sections of the school, and would like to participate in our survey, please do so here.
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Thinking of putting my kids in year 8 and year 3 ....please help with honest review about school .
Hi all, my child got selected to foundation stage for 2016-17; would love to hear feedback about school from parents who have their kids already going to Horizon International... Thanks.
Both my children moved from a popular British primary school in Dubai to Horizon Intl. We moved when the children were Y4 and Y6 and haven't looked back. Some of the reviews on here are quite old and the school has come along in leaps and bounds, The school class sizes haven't changed in a few years and they are adamant not too. My children are very happy there and love the teachers. There is also an extremely varied after school activity programme. We honestly haven't looked back. The only negative thing is the exam results are yet to be established as this is the first year of GCSE's, although some students took their Spanish exams a year early and all achieved A*. The school is also inclusive rather than selective which I think is a huge positive, but this isn't an opinion shared by everyone. I have friends with children in FS who are also very happy with the school. It's great that you can have the continuity of FS up to A level all under one roof. Good luck whatever you decide!
Mrs Supernova - if I didn't know any better, I would say you work at the school.
Great that you have had a good experience with the school but the majority of parents I know have not.
As for; 'I don’t see many other senior leadership staff standing on the school gates every morning in Dubai' - Errr, no actually, you do and it usually doesn't involve holding a costa coffee in their hand looking gormless.
'Class sizes of 22/24…good in Dubai' - yes, of course but parents pay for it - it's not a state school!
Not trying to 'bash' the school. I am giving my honest opinion that I have not been happy with it. ESPECIALLY, over the last couple of years. As a parent, who has paid thousands in school fees over the last 6 years, I have a right to give my view, whether you like it or not.
Class rooms getting bigger along with the yearly non refundable deposits. Academically disappointing.
No Special Educational Needs provision. NO anti-bullying policy. Definite deficiency in academics (our youngest child was in 'top set' for maths at Star yet failed math assessment at another school admission test. Very worrying. Head teacher/principal seems to be puppet for the head of secondary. Lacking leadership.
Offers hardly any after sport school activities, classes are expanding, non refundable deposits to secure the next academic year have increased and this year (without informing the parents) they decided to charge a penalty fee of 500 AED per child if payment of the deposit was late.
To say this school does not offer 'hardly any after school activities' is quite frankly ridiculous! At last count, the school offered over 40 activities per term from Foundation through to KS3. The choice, as mentioned in the above review, is phenomenal. The school has successfully grown year on year and has overcome many of the usual challenges Dubai throws schools way. The staff (always properly qualified) are dedicated to the children and will always listen to the parents. I don't see many other senior leadership staff standing on the school gates every morning in Dubai? 500dhs late fee...sorry, but pay your fees on time and there would not be a problem. Class sizes of 22/24...good in Dubai? Consistently graded as 'Good'. Think there are just some people trying to bash this great school through their reviews. Make your own mind up, go for a tour, I did and have never looked back.
My wife and I were also astounded with the 500 dirham penalty charge for late payment of the deposit, especially as we have three children! Star had ample time to warn parents of this charge but chose not to. More worryingly is that the Headmaster believes this is an acceptable way to run a school.