United Arab Emirates / Abu Dhabi / Madinat Zayed / International Community School Al Najda (branch 1)

International Community School Al Najda (branch 1) Review

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.
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
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Availability 2021/22
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Annual fee average
AED 16,500
Annual fees
AED 12,900 - 19,800
Price band help
Value
Status
Open
Opening year
2013
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
31
Principal
Sharon Davies
Owner
International Community Schools
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
A mix of nationalities
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International Community School Al Najda (branch 1)

International Community School Al Najda (branch 1) Review

School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
close
Availability 2021/22
close
Annual fee average
AED 16,500
Annual fees
AED 12,900 - 19,800
Price band help
Value
Status
Open
Opening year
2013
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
31
Principal
Sharon Davies
Owner
International Community Schools
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
A mix of nationalities
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Updated:
Wednesday 17 February, 2021

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 story so far...

The school, established in 2013, is based in the heart of Abu Dhabi, and one of four schools bearing the International Community School name.  Other branches include the original Mushrif School, a recently opened school at Al Falah, and branches at Khalidiya and soon to be opened Khalifa City.

The school sets out its Educational Philosophy on its website as follows:

  • To provide students, through the curricular and co-curricular activities, with quality educational experiences which will enrich their lives and build the foundations for them to become productive and successful global citizens.
  • To offer students opportunities to develop research, creative, critical thinking and problem solving skills.
  • To develop in students a sense of citizenship, patriotism and appreciation of the host country.
  • To encourage cooperation and partnership with parents and facilitate their positive involvement in the educational process.
  • To provide a safe and caring learning environment favourable to the development of a positive self-image and respect for self and others.
  • To provide strong academic programs based on national and international standards that emphasise a broad foundation and depth of knowledge to prepare students for post-secondary studies.
  • To promote awareness of and respect for the environment and encourage activism and responsiveness to local and global environmental concerns.
  • To provide professional development for the staff, thereby contributing to the continuous improvement of the quality of education offered by the school.
  • To enable all students to become successful, independent learners who enjoy learning and reach their full potential, offering support for students with learning difficulties and encouragement for gifted students.
  • To ensure students develop the necessary IT skills to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing, competitive global society and to promote the further integration of IT into the learning process by providing ample resources for staff and students.
  • To instill in students respect for their own and other cultures and promote tolerance, harmony and understanding.
  • To foster a spirit of brotherhood and equality without distinction of any kind based on race, gender, colour, language, religion, ethnic group, social or national origin, property, birth or other status.
  • To offer and encourage students to participate in a variety of enriching and stimulating extra-curricular activities.

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 10.  Current students numbers are around just over 1,000, suggesting that the school is already at capacity despite not yet having fully opened to Year 13. However, the ADEK inspection report for 2018-19 notes that
"Plans for new buildings are well advanced, with construction due to begin shortly."

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 69 teachers and 16 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, and 31% in 2018, 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 2018-19 notes that "Current staff turnover is 31%. Over 75% of staff are new to the school since the previous inspection in January 2017.

Further details can be found in the What the Inspectors say section below.

What about the curriculum?

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.

What about the Facilities?

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 overstated 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. In the subsequent inspection by the ADEK inspection team in January 2017 ICS Al Najda was rated Good (A3, high-performing using the previous criteria).  At this inspection, the Secondary school had not yet opened.  Two years later, in the 2018-19 academic year, the Good rating was retained. 

Strengths of the school were as identified as:

  • The overall standards achieved by students and the quality of teaching.
  • Students’ relationships and interactions with each other and their teachers.
  • Students’ awareness of Islamic values and their appreciation and understanding of the culture and heritage of the UAE.
  • The provision for supporting the well-being and personal development of students.
  • The commitment of school leaders towards achieving the school’s vision and strategic plans.

Inspectors noted that leaders had sustained good standards, with improvements in primary phase attainment in Islamic education, Arabic as an additional language and social studies. FS and primary attainment is now good in non-core subjects. Teachers were found to have improved differentiation in lesson planning, especially in Arabic and Islamic education. Their management of time and the range of activities is now good. Students’ work is marked regularly.

Assessment systems are improved. Teachers analyse and moderate results. Students’ critical thinking skills have improved due to teachers’ raised expectations and more lesson activities involving enquiry-based learning linked to real life. Leaders have maintained a good level of school performance, sustained school improvement initiatives, and improved the curriculum. They have responded effectively to high staff turnover by creating comprehensive induction and training materials for new staff. Progress has been made in addressing almost all the recommendations in the previous inspection report. Overall, school leaders’ capacity to improve the school is good.

Overall, inspectors made the following key recommendations for improvement, advising that the school should improve:

  • Further improve standards and teaching in all subjects, especially in the Foundation Stage as appropriate by:
    - further reviewing lesson planning to ensure that teachers use assessment to precisely target the needs of all groups of students, especially more able and G&T students
    - improving the level of challenge for FS children through effective questioning and planning of tasks which stimulate their thinking.
    - improving opportunities for students to develop skills of recitation in Islamic education, extended handwriting in Arabic as a first language, and speaking in Arabic as a second language
    - increasing opportunities for extended writing and handwriting in English
    - providing more activities in which students develop skills of problem solving in mathematics and predicting, hypothesising and writing up practical work in science
    - improving skills in innovation and creativity, particularly through students developing their own ideas through research and using learning technology across subjects
    - further developing individual targets for students, personalised to their learning needs
    - improving the quality of feedback to students, including comments in marking which help them improve their work.
    Improve students’ punctuality by:
    - increasing the rigour with which current procedures are applied.
  • Develop the school’s systems for assessing students’ attainment and progress by:
    - implementing external nationally and internationally benchmarked testing across year groups.
    - further improving the quality of data analysis to increase the accuracy and detail of assessment data available to teachers.
  • Further develop the monitoring and evaluation of teaching by:
    - providing training for middle managers which includes evaluating the impact of teaching on achievement
    - updating lesson monitoring forms to ensure they record the impact of teaching on achievement, especially in the subjects where weaknesses are identified and particularly in the FS.

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 had evidently been 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. 

If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly advise you to do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.

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 - though quite when this will be in light of the cancellation of inspections due to Covid 19 - is not yet known.

What about the Fees

Fees at ICS Al Najda are modest at AED 12,900 for FS1 to AED 17,200 for Year 6.  Secondary school fees have been approved with Year 9 AED 19,800. Fees for Years 12 and 13 have been approved at AED 26,200 though these year groups are not set to open for two more years.  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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