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.
The story so far...
Horizon International School (HIS) is celebrating its 12th academic year in operation. Operated by Al Najah Education, it is the through-school sister to Outstanding-rated Horizon English School which offers a UK curriculum education to Primary-age students only. 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 its current owners in 2013 in order to provide direct secondary school entry for Horizon English School students.
An interview with the very upbeat Chief Education Officer of Al Najah may be found here.
According to the school, "At HIS we very much believe that there are three very important stakeholders in your child's education: your child; you, the parents; and the school and its teachers. Your support and opinions are important and contribute to your child's future success, whilst supporting our mission “Everyone counts, Everyone contributes, Everyone succeeds.”
According to the latest KHDA inspection report for 2019-20, HIS had just over 1,100 students from FS1 to Year 13 at the start of the academic year, with students coming from over 75 nationalities. The largest nationality group is British, but this really is a truly international school and includes a small number of Emirati students among the wide range.
What does the school feel like when you walk in? Click here for the Horizon International School Experience!
HIS employs approximately 80 teachers, and a further 30 teaching assistants to support both in-class and for individual support. The vast majority of teachers are from the UK. Staff turnover has been something of a concern, with 26% of staff having moved on in 2019, and 23% in the year prior. However, it is to be expected that with the arrival of Principal, Darren Gale, there will be a steadying influence.
With a teacher:student ratio of 1:12, the aim is very much to ensure that children receive the individual attention and support that they need.
In the role of Principal since September 2018, experienced UAE school leader, Mr. 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.
Meeting with Mr. Gale, he tells us “There is a positive atmosphere of hope and aspiration at Horizon International School. 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”.
“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”.
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).
One of the challenges that HIS has faced, in fact, has been the expansion of the Secondary school to Years 10 and 11 (for iGCSE) and for Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13). The school describes its Boutique offering with only two or three forms per year group for senior Secondary students, which ensures that class numbers remain relatively low.
HIS says that "students consistently make better than expected progress in Horizon International Secondary School. As a boutique school we focus on the individual; personalising the learning of our students, giving individualised attention and providing bespoke pathways where necessary. We may be small, but we are also mighty."
What about Students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents?
HIS has always, from its earliest days, had a strong commitment to students of Determination. The school says that its core aim is to provide an environment where "the learning, achievement, attitude and well-being of all students is at the heart of what we do. This includes ensuring equitable opportunities for Students of Determination to benefit from a holistic educational experience. HIS firmly believes that ALL students have the right to high quality educational provision in line with the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework (2017) therefore we adopt a Quality First Teaching approach to ensure that our curriculum is modified and adapted to cater for students with a wide range of Special Educational Needs and Disabilities."
In support of these aims, the school offers the UK-based ASDAN programme for students with special educational needs, offering alternative pathways for students who cannot access a full iGCSE curriculum. This is organised on a one to one basis, personalised to the individual student and is undertaken through the school's Achievement Centre.
For students with Gifts and Talents, HIS offers the EVOLV3 programme, the main aim of which is to target the most able, gifted and talented students (MAGT) to develop their promise in the subjects they enjoy and excel in. This is a monthly rolling programme, launched in 2019, which takes place on the weekends throughout the academic year and intends to offer a broad range of subject specialisms designed to engage different cohorts of students from the school's MAGT register.
What about the curriculum?
HIS follows the English National Curriculum. The school is a member of British Schools of the Middle East and has, in the past, been inspected by British Schools Overseas (an inspection which is based on the standards used by OFSTED in English schools). At the time of the latter inspection in 2015, which was valid for three years, the school received a Good rating.
HIS is organised into 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 iGCSE, focusing on their chosen subjects and experiencing new subjects. Students select up to three subsidiary options along with their core subjects, giving them the chance to achieve up to 11 GCSEs.
The core GCSE curriculum is made up of the following subjects: English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Science (Double Award), Islamic Studies (inc. compulsory MOE curriculum)- Muslim students only, Arabic (inc. compulsory MOE curriculum) - Arab passport holders only, Global Citizenship (non-Muslim students only).
To encourage a balanced curriculum, students choose a maximum of three optional subjects which are based on the interests and demands of the year group. Options include Business, Drama, Dance, Psychology, Art & Design, Food Prep and Nutrition, ICT, PE, Arabic, French, Spanish. In addition, all students take UAE Social Studies, core PE and Moral Education.
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.
With a substantial investment in a Theatre at HIS, completed after the change of ownership, performance is high on the agenda at Horizon International School. The school strives to give students ample opportunities to have access to performance, whether that is through the monthly Let’s Perform Showcase in the drama studio, Primary and Secondary School Shows, theatre trips, LAMDA Award, Links with Theatre practitioners, acting workshops, vocational training opportunities with professional actors or drama club.
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.
According to HIS "Academic success is also integral to us at HIS, yet we do not measure success through examination results alone. We put as much emphasis on who our students become as on what they achieve. With this in mind, social and personal development are crucial; we celebrate individuality and diversity. We want our students to be free-thinking young people with a belief in themselves, the confidence to pursue their ambitions, and the resilience to succeed, whatever life presents."
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".
HIS has been somewhat reluctant, in our opinion, to provide full details of exam results - focusing rather on student progress against anticipated results, rather than the results themselves.
The school says that "whilst student achievement at GCSE and A-Level is a highlight of our journey, our key academic strength is the progress that all students make against their measured potential."
Whilst we appreciate that the school has much smaller iGCSE and A Level cohorts than many others, and value-add (the measure of achievement over original expectations) is rightly included, we would like to see the school enable parents to see the full picture.
We would particularly like to see the school inform parents about the numbers of students and numbers of examinations entered; this would offer a clear picture of the scale of achievement comparable against other schools offering the same curriculum, together with a break-down of exam results achieved - rather than those of individual students.
According to the school, 100% of 2019 iGCSE grades were on average 1.5 grades higher than CAT4 ‘Most Likely Grades’ (MLG). In English Literature, 93% of students achieved a 9-7 grade (A-A*) and one student achieved the top mark in the world for Science. 45% of all 2019 iGCSE grades were 9-7 – "an outstanding achievement considering that based on CAT4 predicted grades, just 3% of all grade should have been 9-7."
In 2020, when, due to the Covid 19 pandemic, results were assessed by the school, 100% of students achieved a Grade C and above in English, Maths and Science iGCSE entries; 69% of students were awarded 5A*-B grades, 38% were awarded 4A*-A grades and one student achieved Grade 9 in his AQA Science iGCSE. All A-Level students achieved admission to their first-choice university, with one student earning a scholarship for academic excellence. 100% of A-Level grades were awarded at A*-C.
HIS says that it is proud to offer a broad, inclusive Post 16. "Every Post 16 student can expect a caring and enriching learning environment. Our pastoral and guidance structure ensures that we get to know our students as individuals and as a result, our students benefit from personalised careers guidance and academic support." The majority of Year 11 students stay on for post-16 and the majority of those who do so go, on to university at the end of Year 13.
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 and purpose-built 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.
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).
In addition to those led by teachers, a range of activities by external providers include STEM, Girls Guides, Scouts, Kung Fu, Art, Swimming, Football, Gymnastics, Cricket, Karate and Ballet.
The school has had a Good rating from the KHDA for the past ten inspections carried out by the regulator's DSIB inspection teams. Arguably, as a school charging premium fees, it might have been expected that HIS would have improved its rating to at least Very Good, if only to show as strong a performance as its Outstanding-rated sister school. And if HIS were also purely a Primary school, it almost certainly would have done so.
The 2019-20 inspection, which took place in November 2019, certainly indicated strong improvements - notably in Student Achievement - where ratings for Attainment and Progress in English and Maths were all Very Good. In Science, the FS and Primary sections also achieved Very Good ratings, but the Secondary and Post-16 sections were rated Acceptable.
Unfortunately, in common with many international schools in Dubai (though an improving trend in recent years), there is no question that performance in Arabic-based subjects (both Arabic for native and non-native speakers, and Islamic Studies) has been a 'drag' on overall levels of achievement. Whilst all three subjects are rated largely Acceptable in Primary and Secondary (though Arabic as a first language attainment across the school is rated Weak, as it is also in Secondary for non-native speakers), it is the Post-16 provision (rated Weak across the board), which is likely to affect HIS' chances of making a step up to Very Good in terms of overall Student Achievement.
A rather under-stated comment from the inspectors noted that "a high proportion of the Foundation Stage (FS) children enter the school with low levels of English and then make better than expected progress. This continues into the primary phase in English, mathematics and science. In the secondary and post-16 phases, progress in science is less rapid. Students’ achievement in Islamic education and Arabic is not strong".
Summarising their ratings for Students Personal and Social Development and their Innovations skills, inspectors noted "throughout the school, students demonstrate exemplary behaviour. They show respect for others and possess a very strong work ethic. Students have a secure understanding of Islamic values and of their impact on life in the UAE and within their own school. Their understanding of social issues and ability to innovate, relative to their age, is strongest in the FS and primary phases."
The higher level of rating in the FS section becomes a consistent result across the school in regard to both Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum, where FS was rated Very Good and Outstanding respectively. The other sections of the school achieved ratings largely of Good.
There was no change to the ratings for Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students compared with the previous inspection, and only one improvement for Leadership and Management (where the relationship with Parents and the Community is now rated Outstanding).
Overall, the inspection team found the strengths of HIS are:
Whilst the Foundation Stage continues to be a significant strength for HIS, with all inspected areas being rated as either Very Good or Outstanding, it is key to the development of the school that the other sections are seen to be developing equal strengths.
The KHDA inspection team clearly sees potential, commenting notably on the leadership of the Principal and the positive impact of parental support on student achievement. Interestingly, it is rare in our experience for Student Achievement to be rated more highly than Teaching and Assessment, and the Curriculum.
In terms of recommendations for improvement, Horizon International School should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to see the reasons behind the ratings, which tell so much more - you will find it here.
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.
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, 82% 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, teacher or student at HIS, particularly in the Secondary or Post-16 sections of the school, and would like to share your experience with other potential members of your community, participate in our survey, please do so here.
Fees range from AED 35,232 for FS1 and FS2 to AED 66,346 for Years 12 and 13, rising in increments of approximately AED 5,000 every two year groups.
In addition - and irritatingly in our view - HIS is one of the few Premium priced schools to charge separately for books and resources. These range from AED 350 in FS1 to AED 1,300 in Years 10 to 13.
Horizon International School is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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