Within walking distance of the school is the popular Blossom Burj nursery, a convenient option, and somewhere we understand some younger siblings attend.
The school itself sits on a quiet residential street. Its buildings are three stories high, and the school does not look overly large from the exterior. The building sits on an attractive corner plot and from the street the school appears loosely ‘L’ shaped in structure.
Outside of the school is a sand parking area which is monitored by a helpful and welcoming security guard. The guard checks our ID and issues a security pass before showing us to reception, where we are greeted by the HIS reception team and offered a welcome drink.
Meeting the Principal
Darren Gale, the school’s Principal since the start of the 2018-19 academic year, welcomed our team to the school. With a warm and informal personal style, it is immediately obvious that he is relishing his role. Throughout our visit, Mr Gale’s interactions with his teaching and administration teams are relaxed and he seems always to find the positives in what he sees. He is full of praise.
Teaching is something in Mr Gale’s blood.
“I always enjoyed school as a child. I was lucky that I felt completely at home at school. As I grew older, however, there was one school I attended which really wasn’t great. I was aware of this even as a child and just felt ‘I want to do this better’. Teaching became all I ever wanted to do”.
Mr Gale took over the role of Principal from Lee Davies. His predecessor was with the school for two years and has now moved to another role within the ownership group, Al Najah Education.
“I’ve worked in lots of schools. Here at HIS, it’s different, all we need to do here is tap into the masses of potential and aspiration already here. There’s so much that’s great. This is a really happy school”.
We were able to meet with a panel of teachers, all of whom had been praised by Gale as being ‘instrumental’ to the progress made by school. We met:
Ms Milne, who is an Early Years specialist and was leader of the Foundation Stage during its journey to considerable success and praise in the most recent KHDA report, describes HIS as a ‘boutique school with a soul’, a rarity amongst the many larger schools in Dubai.
“HIS offers personal attention to each child. We believe in children having their voices heard and needs met as our first priority. I love the community here. I wasn’t supposed to come to Dubai long term, but something about this school is so special, I’ve far outstayed my original plans to return to Scotland!”
Mrs Clifford shares this enthusiasm for the atmosphere and community at HIS, commenting on the “palpable sense of warmth” she had noticed here from her very first interactions with the school. As we tour the secondary school, its head repeatedly references how much she wants the children to enjoy their school. Her academic focus is very much on constant improvements to the quality of teaching and learning. “We’ve had the changes,” says Mrs Clifford “now it is time to see the impact of what we have done”.
Ms Brauner and Mr James both agree the standout feature of the school is the strength of its community. As School Counsellor, Ms Brauner believes that both children and their families feel able to reach out for support. Clearly ambitious young teachers, they rate the opportunities for their own professional development as ‘excellent’.
Parents Kamilla, Isabelle and Judith have children spanning the school year groups from FS1 to Year 9.
Mr Gale is clearly popular with the parents. “The leadership now feels completely stable after a few challenging years” the parents told us. Despite his likeable and relaxed demeanour, ‘academic rigour’ is still very much in place we’re told. There has been real “upward change” since Mr Gale’s arrival.
For Isabelle and family, HIS had been “the best thing that has ever happened”. She particularly likes the small school atmosphere and feels that despite management changes, classroom teachers have ensured that her daughter had had continuity and great experiences throughout.
Across the school, parents see that teachers ‘make the effort’ to communicate with home efficiently. That said, there are many lines of communication (D6 communicator app, Seesaw app (for both parents and students), Class Dojo app as well as email, Facebook, Whatsapp groups and Twitter). It was agreed that these many channels can create confusion, and that streamlining might, in fact, improve communication.
The parents agree that reinvigorating the Secondary school has been the pressing challenge for the school in recent times. They all feel that the leadership needs to do a somewhat better job of ‘selling’ its strengths to the current primary cohort, to ensure that numbers remain on the current steady upward trajectory. Parents would also like to see a wider range of extra-curricular activities in secondary (something later endorsed by the students we spoke with).
As in many schools, the feedback on uniforms was somewhat mixed, with better feedback for the primary uniform than secondary. Parents would prefer that the school become more rigorous in applying the uniform rules so that the school as a whole presented a ‘smarter’ image.
We chatted to Head Girl, Rebekah. Now in Year 13 and about to take her A Level exams, Rebekah has been with the school since Year 4 (“It’s like my second family” she said). When we met, Rebekah was revising alongside several of her peers in the quiet Post-16 common room.
Rebekah believed that new students get lots of care and attention and are made to feel welcome. Relationships with teachers is ‘warm and open’ and she believes that the leadership listen to the students’ opinions. One outstanding item, however! The older students would love a gym in the school and had asked for this many times. Rebekah was enjoying seeing the school enter a ‘new phase’.
Alex James, Assistant Head of Primary, was happy to explain the HIS approach to homework. He feels the school takes a ‘strategic approach’ to home learning and the amount of time needed varies from week to week. It was important throughout the school that parents understood the purpose and rationale for home learning.
The school has a newly appointed “Innovation Co-ordinator”. Mr James particularly liked the use of ‘green screen’ technology in primary, highlighting a recent ancient Egypt project where children used the method to showcase mummifying and embalming!
Children start to use their own devices in school in a ‘gradual transition’ from Year 3 upwards. Older children have outlook accounts and can upload homework and communicate with teachers online. The Seesaw app is used by teachers, parents and students to share information and targets.
HIS is a non-selective school throughout. There are up to ten scholarships available in various disciplines for Years 5 - 13. Parents are advised to apply to the school for more information.
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