International Concept for Education (ICE), which opened in September 2013, is located directly next to the Meydan Hotel in a building that is horse-shoe shaped and surrounds the Tennis Academy.
After two years of being rated Good, ICE has been rated Acceptable in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated inspection report can be found under the Inspection report tab. An update to this review will be completed once the full report has been published.
The story so far...
ICE was founded in 2013 with a vision for a different multilingual education, one which would allow children to continue to learn in their mother tongue, whilst enabling them to become truly bilingual. The original foundation based, on the French system, recognised by the French Ministry, has already been extended by the opening, in 2016, of the Italian, Da Vinci Section. The school was set up to fill a gap for a French speaking school offering a teaching methodology aligned to the international IB teaching framework for Francophone families who were unable to access places at the existing two French curriculum schools.
Since 2013, the market has changed somewhat, with the expansion of both the Lycee Francais International Georges Pompidou and AFLEC, and in 2017, the addition of a further French school, the Lycee Jean Mermoz. Plans to expand ICE beyond the Primary school appear to have largely stalled - it is currently open only to Grade 6 (of 12), the equivalent of Sixieme (the first year of Secondary/College) in the French system, but only to Grade 5 in the IB section. It seems that parents are happy for their children to complete Primary education in a mixed language environment, but subsequently, children appear to progress to schools offering the French national curriculum.
The majority of the 235 students who were on the school roll at the time of the most recent KHDA inspection (in February 2018) were French passport holders, but the school has a mix of largely french-speaking families from Lebanon and North African countries also. The majority of the 31 teachers are also French, and they, together with a small number of teaching assistants, provide very personalised attention to children with a teacher:student ratio of 1:8. Staff turnover at a relatively low 13% suggests that teachers are content with their employment. The KHDA noted the high quality of staffing at the school.
What about the curriculum?
What makes ICE almost unique is its dual French and English streams, giving families the option to have their children continue under the French national curriculum in the French stream or the IB curriculum for the International stream. The French stream aims to provide a truly bi-lingual curriculum. This is a smart move, with the other French-speaking schools offering distinctly less choice, although a bi-lingual programme within the IB curriculum is offered at the Swiss International School in Dubai.
All the teachers teach in their own native language in the two streams. All French-speaking teachers have been employed directly from France, whilst English-speakers are from the UK, US and Ireland. There is also a strong focus on Arabic – particularly since many children are from native Arabic speaking backgrounds.
ICE is accredited with the French Ministry of Education through its designation as a partner of l'Agence pour l'enseignement francais a l'etranger, and is a candidate school for the IB curriculum.
The French Stream is based on the French system of education. In this bilingual section, the children spend 50% of their time with mother tongue teachers, who adheres strictly to the instructions of the French Ministry of Education. The teachers are familiar with both the IB and French educational systems, which provides students with the best of their knowledge, and both streams follow the Arabic language also.
The bilingual education programme is taught in both languages with a balanced distribution during the school week: 12 hours in French and 12 hours in English, provided by two teachers in charge of teaching respectively French and English. Classes are organised based on alternate teaching of the languages: either full day or half day. Teachers have a weekly collaboration period which allows them to develop progress, activities, and class projects. All areas of activities and learning are shared by both teachers. Monitoring and evaluations, regular assessments and classroom observations of students are conducted in order to identify progress and possible difficulties.
The English Stream is based on the IB curriculum, with the majority of the time spent on the English language. Teaching methodologies and focus are the same as the bi-lingual stream, but within the context of the IB curriculum framework. The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme educates the students to be autonomous and teaches them active learning and how to establish their own personal values. ICE adopts a constructive, child-centered approach, which favours interdisciplinary teaching and learning of the development of cognitive and affective skills – educating the whole person. In line with the IB educational philosophy, students contribute to multiple perspectives, drawing on the rich diversity of cultures in the school.
The IB approach is combined with the necessary degree of teaching of basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, as well as aspects of “culture générale” (a feature of the French system), particularly in the Kindergarten and lower primary school levels where more student guidance is needed. Students will then have an educational grounding which will enable them to participate in an interactive classroom environment where, as they grow, they will increasingly take on more responsibility for their education, become self-disciplined and motivated with a thirst for knowledge.
However, the focus is ICE is not simply on the academic.
Underpinning the educational philosophy of ICE are four main areas of focus – Etiquette, Talent Identification, Wellness and The Arts. The school believes that teaching children the Art of Living, Savoir-Vivre is as important as teaching them to swim or to read and write. Special attention is paid to good manners and courtesy. Through a partnership with Pierrefeu, the last traditional Finishing School in Switzerland, ICE staff are able to benefit from training and collaboration to enable them to teach Social Etiquette to young adults. Basic lessons are passed on to students so that they learn how to behave in social circles, from a simple "Bonjour Monsieur" to standing when a guest enters the room and learning how to eat properly at table. These are amongst the social graces the school encourages its students to develop.
The school also has a Talent Identification programme called STEP (Student Talent Enhancement Programme). During their first weeks in class, each child is observed by the teacher and the school team. In close connection with the school’s psychologist, their potential, talents and possible specific needs are assessed and included in an individual education plan that is prepared by the school and presented to the parents. The Special Talents Enhancement Programme (STEP or SMARTs) is the centrepiece of individualised education. They enable the identification of individual talent in students and help them nurture and develop that talent in special sessions, either individually or in small groups. Some SMARTs may also be enhanced during extra-curricular activities such as sports, arts, astronomy, music, chess, dance, etc. The focus is on identifying students who are gifted and talented and to fast track them into disciplines at which they will excel. The school believes that "with talent and appropriate challenge comes success which permeates other aspects of school life". Children with special needs may be admitted at the school; each case is examined by a commission including the pedagogical director, the psychologist, the nurse and the teacher.
ICE also offers a comprehensive programme of sports, including Swimming, Fencing, Golf, Tennis and Chess, which are included in the curriculum for all students from Grade 1, and are combined with a range of Extra Curricular Activities – after school clubs ranging from ballet to Zumba to ensure that the children have the widest possible choice of opportunity. ICe believes that physical activities of this type help train the mind as well as the body. There is also a focus on healthy living and the school pays particular attention to diet, with healthy menus prepared by the school’s dietician and organic food served in both the Schools’ Restaurants.
Creative Arts play a significant part in the life of the school. From School Shows and Art Exhibitions to Musical Performances the children are exposed to a wide range of creative disciplines. The school is also very aware that as technology advances, children which will require a deeper understanding of the digital world than adults today and will need to develop skills as innovative problem solvers. Robotics courses, offered from KG onward, teach the children the basic skills of the design process as well as programming.
The school also emphasises the need for children to develop their skills as creative entrepreneurs. ICE staff encourage children to think outside the box, to be creative, to ask questions, to find multiple answers and to be risk takers. At the same time, the school places emphasis on the need for children to respect the environment, whether it be through the use of recycling boxes in the classroom, keeping the school tidy or ecological class projects.
What about facilities?
ICE is located on an unusual site that allows its pupils to participate in a large number of activities, including extra-curricular activities that are offered for their personal development. The school has an on-site swimming pool and access to the golf and outdoor facilities of Meydan.
The school is located in a single level building elevated above the ground level car parking and is light, modern and new, in keeping with the Meydan Hotel and Racecourse located directly by the school. The classrooms are open and are very spacious with views out towards the greenery surrounding the area. Each classroom is about 90 m2 in size, accommodates a maximum of 20 pupils, and includes state-of-the-art teaching equipment, especially audio and digital equipment.
The school offers a canteen which serves only organic food, and there are plentiful outdoor spaces for play and socialising.
What the inspectors say
The school received an acceptable rating from the KHDA during its first inspection in 2015/16, but has subsequently achieved two Good ratings - the latest in 2017/18. The other French schools in the UAE are rated between Very Good and Outstanding and with their established history behind them, ICE will need to be able to convince parents that it too can deliver on academic achievement.
The KHDA inspection team identified the strengths of the school as the quality of teaching and learning in Primaire and students’ attainment and progress in French, English, Mathematics and Science in both the Maternelle and Primaire sections, In addition, students’ personal and social development and their enthusiasm for learning, the school’s arrangements for promoting healthy lifestyles and keeping students safe and the strong links with parents and the community were praised.
In fact, academically, ICE performs rather well. In terms of the core subjects of French, English, Maths and Science, both attainment and progress are rated Very Good across both Maternelle and Primaire, with the ratings for Maths and Science having improved from Good in the latest inspection. In the College section, French and English are also rated Very Good, whilst Maths and Science are rated Good. In common with many Dubai schools, the ratings for Arabic as a first and second language and for Islamic Studies are not as positive. The school only has native Arabic speakers (and also Islamic Education) in Primaire. These subjects are rated largely Acceptable (the minimum rating expected by the KHDA), although progress in both in both Arabic as a first and second language is rated Good. There is no question that ICE will need to raise the standards across all three subjects if they aspire to raise the overall rating of the school from Good.
Students' personal development is also rated Very Good across the school. This is also the rating given to students in Primaire and College in regard to Social responsibility and innovation skills, whilst the remaining ratings are Good. Inspectors noted that "Students' personal and social development is a strength in all phases of the school. Most have a positive work ethic, behave well and participate in a range of activities that benefit the school community. They have clear understanding of Islamic values and the culture of the UAE. They engage in a number of projects that enable them to be innovative".
Inspectors had positive comments to make in respect of the design and implementation of the curriculum and its adaptation to meet the needs of students, with ratings having improved to Very Good in Primaire and College. They stated that "The school aligns the French national curriculum with the requirements of the IB. The curriculum design ensures smooth transition between phases and promotes the systematic building of knowledge, understanding and skills. Although the curriculum meets the needs of most students well, there are inconsistencies in the provision for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and for those of higher ability".
Despite the quality of staff, teaching and assessment are not rated as highly. Inspectors found "teaching in Primaire has improved. Nevertheless, there is inconsistency in the extent to which the work in lessons provides enough challenge to students. Assessment information is not accurate enough to provide a secure base for planning teaching and learning and for measuring students’ progress". Inspectors also commented that "The existing assessment policy is not implemented. The steps the school has taken to integrate the assessment procedures in the French and international sections lack direction". Assessment of student performance, based on both internal tests and external bench-marking tests, is a major area of focus for the UAE regulators and a fundamental element of the UAE National Agenda and targets for UAE Education. This is therefore an area that ICE will need to address as a matter of some urgency.
The protection and safeguarding of students were rated Very Good across the school, but the ratings for care and support were downgraded to Good on the basis that "although the school provides an inclusive and caring environment for students with SEND and has systems in place to identify their needs, not all students’ needs are accurately identified. In many lessons, students identified as gifted and talented are provided with appropriately challenging activities. However, this is inconsistent and, at times, is ineffective". Again, the KHDA's inclusive education policy, launched in late 2017, means that there is a greater focus on SEND provision and all schools are expected to make improvements in this context.
In terms of the final key performance area of Leadership and Management, the inspection team has identified some very clear areas for improvement. Inspectors found that whilst the principal provides a clear sense of purpose and vision for the future of the school, "the effectiveness of subject leadership is variable. The school is in the process of developing middle leadership to ensure greater consistency and increased effectiveness".
The main concern appears to be the school self-evaluation and improvement plan, a key element of the planning process and direction-setting for the school. The report notes that "the school’s self-evaluation is overgenerous in a number of respects because too much weight has been placed on internal assessment information, and the time needed for changes to become embedded has been underestimated. As a consequence, not all inconsistencies in provision have been identified. The targets set in the school improvement plan are not specific enough to provide a secure basis for further development". This must clearly be an area of focus for the school leadership.
However, the inspection team also found that parents are very supportive and keen to be involved in the life of the school. "Through the recently-established parent council, parents can work in partnership with the school in the interests of their children’s education". They also praised the governing board which has a very positive influence on the school's leadership and direction noting that "governors demonstrate a high level of commitment to the academic and personal development of all students".
Some 111 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey and 99% were satisfied with the quality of education being provided by ICE with the only concern being the level of support for students with SEND.
In terms of recommendations from the KHDA inspection team, ICE must
ICE seems to be a school with potential to be at least a Very Good if not better school. It already has much in place to achieve this, including leadership, staffing and a curriculum that is already high rated by the inspection team. If it can build on its strengths in terms of academic delivery by implementing the assessment and monitoring processes for both students' achievement and the school's direction overall, this is a school that we expect to climb higher.
Its location, close to the new Meydan housing area to which many international expats are being relocated, offers a potentially large market of families who may well be interested in the French or IB curriculum as opposed to the UK curriculum which dominates schools in the area. There is a real opportunity for ICE to develop if it can attract new families and address the KHDA recommendations concurrently.
Fees range from AED 45,000 for pre-KG to AED 77,000 for Grade 7. There is also a AED 1,000 registration fee and a further AED 15,000 seat deposit fee payable on offer of a place. These are premium fees and considerably higher than those of the French schools. The price point is more on a par with international, English language based IB schools, where salaries are generally higher due to the complexity of the IB programme.
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