International Community School Al Najda is a privately owned UK curriculum sister school to the original (now US curriculum) school in Al Mushrif, Abu Dhabi. Having started life as a Primary school only, it is now in the process of expanding to Secondary school.
The school, established in 2013, is based in the heart of Abu Dhabi, and, reflective of its international school status, attracts students from a wide range of 29 countries including Egypt (31%), Jordan (23%), Syria (12%) and the UAE (4%). Remaining pupils originate from diverse countries throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and North America.
ICS Al Najda can accommodate 1,000 students in a co-educational setting from Foundation Stage 1 through, currently, to Year 7. Current students numbers are around 900, split across year groups of two to five classes each. This provides a small-school feel. The school is adding one Secondary year group each year until it reaches capacity at Year 13. From Foundation to Year 5, classes are mixed gender. In Years 6 and 7, the classes are separated into Boys and Girls.
Children are taught by 53 teachers and 15 teaching assistants, representing a staff:student ratio of 1:16 overall, although class sizes, at a maximum of 25 for FS and Year 1, and 30 for the other year groups, are on the high side. English Curriculum teachers are all fluent English speakers and come from a range of countries including England, Ireland, America and South Africa. Arabic curriculum teachers are from Lebanon, Palestine and Algeria. Teacher turnover is also rather higher than average, with 29% of staff having been replaced at the start of 2016, compared with a UAE average of 20-22%.
High staff turnover can be a cause for concern, given the investment required to bring new teachers on board and the requirement for them to learn new processes and policies in a new environment. Although evidently a concern, the most recent ADEK report from 2016-17 notes that "the school’s efforts to manage the high turnover of staff includes rigorous programmes of induction and staff training, the impact of which is evident in many classrooms. Teachers are sufficient in number and appropriately qualified to deliver the curriculum." Further details can be found in the What the Inspectors say section below.
The school teaches the English National Curriculum and covers the key subjects of English, Mathematics and Science, together with a range of other subjects including Music, Art, PE, ICT, Moral Education, and French. A topic-based approach is used to draw the subjects together and to introduce elements of History and Geography in support of the Moral Education curriculum. In addition, students take Arabic as a first or second language and Islamic Studies. Non-Muslim children are offered PSHCE.
ICS Al Najda is committed to providing a holistic education for children that focuses on their development as a well-rounded individual. The school supports this aim by offering a range of extra-curricular activities for older students (years 5-7) which include after school clubs offering sports activities such as tennis, netball (for girls), football, gymnastics, and zumba and dance. More creative or intellectually-focused activities include creative writing, debate, cooking, French, Mental Maths, chess, and Lego and robotics. A Formula 1in schools club is provided by invitation only for years 5 and 6.
The school has an open door policy, whereby it is non-selective, but students and parents are interviewed. The school has identified a fairly significant number of students (approximately 10%) with SEND requirements. The Special Educational Needs (SEN) Department provides students with academic support which includes small group learning, in-class support sessions, 1:1 teacher sessions outside of the classroom, as well as adaptations to the curriculum, individualised behavioural support plans and Individual Education Plans (IEP’s) as needed.
The SEND team support also includes addressing the needs of Gifted and Talented students, who are challenged with a focus on developing their strengths. There are some 30 students who fall into this category.
The school sets out its Educational Philosophy on its website as follows:
ICS Al Najda is housed in an adequate building which provides limited outdoor space to enable schools sports activities, and indoor facilities which meet the minimum requirements for the curriculum. These do include a Science lab, computer lab, library, and innovation and technology room, though with few specialised facilities for Art and Science and limited outdoor space for Sports.
What the inspectors say
In its first ADEK inspection in 2014-15 (its second year of operation), ICS Al Najda was rated Band B5 under the previous inspection rating process. This translates to an Acceptable rating under the new unified UAE inspection process. However, this rating probably overstates the school's capacity in 2014-15 and, with the most recent inspection, the school has effectively moved up two ratings. Since the first inspection, there has been a change of Principal who appears to have had a profound impact on the school's operations. The most recent inspection by the ADEK inspection team took place in January 2017 and ICS Al Najda is now rated Good (A3, high-performing using the previous criteria). At this inspection, the Secondary school had not yet opened.
Strengths of the school were as identified as:
In terms of students' achievement, the majority of measures for attainment across the core subjects of English, and Mathematics, together with Islamic Education, Social Studies, Arabic as a first and second language, were rated Acceptable. Science was rated Good. Progress made by students was rated Good across Foundation Stage and Primary for all non-Arabic subjects, including additional subjects such as Art, Music and PE. Learning skills were also deemed to be Good. Inspectors commented that "At both phases, students’ attainment is acceptable and broadly in line with the age related expectations of the English National Curriculum (ENC) and the Ministry of Education (MoE) standards for Arabic, Islamic Education and social studies. In science most students show good attainment throughout the school. Students’ progress is good in most subjects; it is acceptable in Islamic Education and Arabic in KG [Foundation stage]. Teaching is good in the large majority of lessons."
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills were also found to be Good. Inspectors found that "Students behave very well. They treat adults and one another with respect. They, in turn, are highly valued as individuals and looked after very well." Children in Foundation Stage were found to be enthusiastic about their work and engage keenly in all lessons. Most primary students were confident, responsible, self-disciplined and showed positive attitudes to learning. Behaviour was noted to be good throughout the school in lessons and at break times.
Teaching and assessment were also rated Good overall. However, whilst Teaching for Effective Learning was rated Good across both Foundation Stage and Primary, Assessment was rated Acceptable. Inspectors found that "The assessment of students’ attainment and academic progress is acceptable. Internal baseline tests are applied regularly to enable the detailed tracking of students’ progress in key aspects of learning. The data from tests is not used to assess students’ attainment against international benchmarks. Middle leaders and teams at year level are becoming adept in their analysis of assessment data, which is used well when teachers plan lessons to meet students’ specific learning needs. Subject leaders are not using assessment data effectively to influence or adapt their curriculum planning."
Curriculum design and implementation and its adaptation to meet the abilities of different students were found to be Acceptable across both sections of the school. Inspectors commented that "Curriculum planning is based on coverage of the knowledge, understanding and key skill to be developed through the EYFS, the ENC programmes of study and the MoE curriculum. The continuity and progression of learning between KG, lower primary and upper primary is not sufficiently secure in all subjects. The school offers an appropriate degree of choice for students in a primary school context. Children in FS choose activities and select equipment to work on. In FS, the curriculum content is purposefully linked together through a series of themes, which helps to reinforce children’s learning. In primary, there are effective links between the content of different subjects across the curriculum; for example, in science and mathematics where students’ numeracy skills are reinforced through use in science as they need to calculate or measure during experiments."
The curriculum was found to be well adapted to meet the needs of all groups of students. Children with little or no English are well-supported in the FS by class teachers and SEN specialists working together.
The protection, care, guidance and support of students was also found to be Good. Inspectors found that "Good relationships are evident throughout the school. Behaviour management systems are embedded; teachers and students consistently apply rules and high expectations. The pastoral care provided for students is clearly reflected in the warm and friendly relationships between students and teachers, as well as school staff, including bus supervisors and teaching assistants."
In addition, the provision and outcomes for students with SEND and Gifts and Talents are also rated Good. The report notes "there is early identification of needs and intervention to support children from FS1. Specialist teachers and the SEN coordinator interview students when they join the school. Class teachers also make referrals. The identification of G&T students [students with gifts and talents] is equally thorough."
In terms of the Leadership and Management of International Community School Al Nadja, again, inspectors found the school to be well-managed, with good self-assessment and improvement planning, good partnerships with parents and the community, good governance and good management, staffing, facilities and resources. In particular, the Inspection report states that "The quality of leadership and management is good. The principal provides a clear vision, decisive direction and support for the staff, based on her thorough knowledge of curriculum development. The SLT [Senior Leadership Team] is relatively small and shares a resolute focus on improvement. Middle leadership has been established only recently for subjects. The SLT are in the early stage of developing effective coaching for subject leaders; particularly by increasing their capacity to monitor the effectiveness of teaching and learning across key stages."
Importantly, the involvement of parents in their children’s learning was found to be good and growing. Communication with parents is also good. Governance of the school, which includes Parent representation, was also found to be Good with governors ensuring that sufficient funds are available for staffing, resources and improvement projects.
Overall, inspectors made the following key recommendations for improvement, advising that the school should improve:
Based on the comments of the inspectors in relation to both the leadership and the governance of ICS Al Najda, it seems that this is a school with a very real and positive commitment to improvement. The school has recognised and put in place measures to address the concerns about staff turnover, and is clearly investing in its staff through professional development and training. Recommendations from the previous ADEK inspection report have been implemented as far as possible. Although there are evidently some shortfalls in relation to the capacity of the buildings and site itself to offer a full range of specialist classrooms and sports facilities, no doubt, the Governors and owners will do their utmost to make improvements in these areas also.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has a real sense of a school that is flourishing in many respects and with the strong leadership of the school, we would hope to see further improvements when the next ADEK inspection takes place in 2018-19.
Fees at ICS Al Najda are modest at AED 12,200 for FS1 to AED 17,200 for Year 6. Secondary school fees have been approved with Year 7 AED 18,200 in 2017-18. Fees for Years 12 and 13 have been approved at AED 26,200. Fees are inclusive of books.
This is approximately 50% or less of the fees charged at many other English National Curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi. The low level of fees may well account for the high levels of staff turnover, something that the school and parents may have to live with, although this is certainly not ideal.
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