Jebel Ali School is one of a select number of WSA's Good Schools. The school relocated from its original site, where it had been located for over 35 years, to a new purpose-built school at the Akoya development on the Emirates Road in September 2016.
Jebel Ali School was rated Very Good for the fourth year in a row in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. No subsequent inspection reports have been issued due to a change in KHDA policy which involves a single day inspection only for schools rated Very Good and Outstanding.
The story so far...
Jebel Ali School (JAS) is an evolution of Jebel Ali Primary School, originally established in 1977 in Jebel Ali Village to support the children of construction workers at Jebel Ali Port. As such, the school celebrated its 40th Birthday in 2017, making it one of the oldest schools in Dubai, together with Jumeirah English Speaking School Arabian Ranches, Dubai College and Dubai English Speaking School and College – also all not for profit schools.
In 1986, the school received a decree from Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum recognising its independent and not for profit status, ensuring the long term stability of the school. It is supervised by a Board of Governors.
With its relocation from Jebel Ali Village to the Damac Hills (Akoya) development, close to Arabian Ranches, Mudon and Motor City, and its transition to an all-through school in September 2016, Jebel Ali School (JAS) has now transformed from the original small village school into a very large, modern organisation on a new and very state of the art campus.
However, with this relocation came consequences that placed the Jebel Ali School and its Board in tenuous circumstances and has resulted in a fundamental change to the school's future. On 27th May 2022, in an exclusive update to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, it was announced that Jebel Ali School had been acquired by Taaleem, the second largest school group in the UAE. The acquisition was effective immediately. Full details can be found in our article here.
The purchase of the school by Taaleem follows an ongoing dispute between the school and its landlord, Emirates REIT, which resulted in the Arbitration Centre of Dubai International Financial Centre awarding in favour of the landlord in September 2021. The rental dispute was valued at the time at around $19 million (AED 70 million).
According to Taaleem CEO Alan Williamson, the board at Jebel Ali School initially approached Taaleem to discuss how the two parties could potentially work together, which resulted eventually in a financial agreement which involves the acquisition of the land and building by Taaleem.
One of the immediate impacts of the arrangement is that Jebel Ali School’s debenture scheme will no longer be made available for newly applying families or supporting corporate sponsors, with debentures returned in full to those who have applied for places in 2022-23 or future years, and to those leaving the school, in line with JAS’s current debenture policy. There will be a phased, equal payment over the next 5 years to refund the full amount of the debenture(s).
Read all about our visit to the new campus at our Visit Experience here.
Under the motto, Putting Students First since 1977, its Mission is to provide:
It is the school's shared Vision to:
With the relocation, the Board of Governors made crucial recruitment decisions to ensure that the ethos of a not-for- profit school was retained, putting in place a Senior Leadership team with strong experience in the not-for-profit sector. For-profit skills will be required however; with the move to the Damac development the school has taken on significant rent which will need servicing.
There have been a number of significant changes at JAS in terms of staffing since the relocation. The former Headteacher of the Primary School and Founding Principal of the relocated school, Jacquie Parr, moved on unexpectedly (for personal reasons) after the first year of expansion.
Joining her in early 2016 in the management of the transition to the new site, Colette Doughty was appointed as Head of the new Secondary School. Ms. Doughty joined JAS from JESS Arabian Ranches, where she was Deputy Head Teacher of the Secondary School responsible for Curriculum, and Head of Key stage 4.
Ms. Doughty who was much loved by students, staff and parents at the school, retired in 2021, and her position as Head of Secondary was taken by Stephen Green who had been Deputy Headmaster at also not-for-profit Dubai English Speaking College.
Following Ms. Parr's departure in June 2017, the Board appointed another ex-JESS leader in Lizzie Robinson, who was Deputy Head of the JESS Arabian Ranches Primary School, to take over the management of the Jebel Ali Primary School section, alongside Ms. Doughty. However, their most significant appointment was Peter Hill, who took over as Principal at JAS in September 2017.
Mr. Hill was the former Principal of Dubai College, which he led from 2010 – 2015. Both JESS Arabian Ranches and Dubai College have consistently been rated Outstanding by the KHDA and have enviable reputations in Dubai among parents and students.
However, in a further blow to the stability of the senior management, Mr. Hill resigned from JAS in 2019 due to ill-health. His successor was named as Mrs. Robinson, who had joined the school as Head of Primary in 2017, and has since assumed the role of Principal.
Mrs. Robinson was replaced as Head of Primary by Kenneth Lyon, a long-standing JAS staff member who joined the school in 2008 as a Year 6 teacher, before being promoted to Assistant Headteacher in 2015, and subsequently Deputy Headteacher in 2017.
With the latest and most The significant change in the school's history - its purchase by Taaleem, current Principal Lizzie Robinson is stepping down “due to recent and challenging family circumstances” with Simon Jodrell, currently the Principal of Taaleem’s Outstanding-rated Dubai British School (DBS) Emirates Hills, confirmed as her replacement. Taaleem has iterated its commitment to the future of Jebel Ali School and that as part of the Taaleem group, it will be supported and strengthened.
JAS currently educates approximately 1,400 boys and girls between the ages of three and 17 years from FS1 to Year 12 in the current academic year. The Sixth Form opened for the first cohort of A Level students in August 2021.
The largest demographic of students remains from the UK, although some 51 nationalities are represented within the school. A team of over 200 teachers and staff support children. There are five classes per year group with maximum class sizes of 24 in Primary and 22 in Secondary. Tutor groups are considerably smaller as students move further up the school and choose the elective subjects with a teacher:student ratio of 1:13 ensuring strong personalised support for students.
For students joining the Sixth Form in August 2022, the average number of students per subject class is expected to be not more than seven.
Teacher turnover in 2019 was low at 6%, ensuring a strong thread of stability remains among the school's staff and something of a record for Dubai schools were staff turnover averages 20-22%.
The school teaches the English Early Years Foundation Stage Curriculum in the Foundation classes and the English National Curriculum elsewhere.
Throughout the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), in Foundation 1 and Foundation 2 classes, children progress through a programme of skills and knowledge development emphasised by learning through play, exploration, active learning, creative and thinking critically. Learning is organised under seven key subject headings: Literacy, Mathematics, Communication and Language, Understanding the World, Expressive Arts and Design, Physical Development, and Personal, Social and Emotional Development.
In Year 1, students start their journey through the English National Primary curriculum. JAS adopts mainly a topic-based approach with discreet subject lessons where appropriate. There is a strong focus on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, supported by additional subjects including Geography, History, Art, Design Technology, Music, Physical Education, Citizenship, and Personal, Social and Health Education. The topic-based approach allows children to make connections across different areas of learning.
The Social Studies curriculum aims to inform children about the context in which they live in Dubai, local culture and local and global issues, the development of the UAE and the multi-cultural nature of society. This supports student growth as global citizens.
As students move into Lower Secondary school (Key Stage 3), they study a broad curriculum divided across four key areas of the Core subjects (English, Maths, Science, Arabic [for native and non-native speakers], Islamic Studies [for Muslim students] and Social Studies). Modern Languages (French or Spanish) are also offered. The Social Science curriculum includes History, Geography and Computing, whilst the fourth key area includes Creative and Physical Arts. Each area of learning becomes more in-depth as students are taught in discrete subject areas by specialist teachers. Computing and technology are taught across the curriculum.
By Upper Secondary (Years 10 and 11), students will select their IGCSE and GCSE subject options, in addition to continuing to study the core subjects that they commenced in Year 7. Additional subject options include Business Studies, Computer Science, Design Technology, Drama and Economics. Students are also encouraged to participate in a wide range of extra-curricular activities including the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award, Debating and a range of societies such as Music, Drama, STEM, Robotics, Creative and Design, Media and a range of sports.
Finally, at Sixth Form, (which opened in September 2021 to its first cohort of Year 12) students were offered a range of A Level options as well as vocational options including T Level (the latest Technical alternative to A Levels). Students will also be able to undertake a research dissertation (the Extended Project Qualification). Full details are here. Students joining Sixth Form in August 2022 will have 19 subject options to choose from.
The first external measure of the academic success of JAS - at least in terms of examination results - was available in Summer 2021, when the first cohort of Year 11 students completed their GCSE examinations. With the cancellation of examinations in June 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, any early entries that may have taken place (usually limited to Maths and English), would have been based on teacher assessment and were not publicly released to the best of our knowledge.
JAS students achieved 75% of all grades between 9 and 7 in their first set of GCSEs, compared with a UK average of 28.5%. Highlights included 32% of entries being awarded A*- Grade 9, 75% were awarded A*-A/Grades 9-7 and 98% of entries were awarded A*-C, Grades 9-4. Full details can be found here.
Students were set external target grades based on their CAT4 assessments. On average, students at Jebel Ali School exceeded these targets by over 2 grades, giving the school a Value-Added measure of +2.06.
The school does, however, have a long history of publishing its results, with its impressive 2011 SATS results still to be found here. Its equally impressive 2012 results are here. Its 2013 results may be found here. In addition, TIMMS results for Maths and Science can be found here.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com were delighted to see that this level of transparency continues as JAS shared its first set of full I/GCSE results.
What about Facilities?
After over 35 years at its original site in Jebel Ali Village in a group of very traditional single storey buildings, the move to the new school site and buildings was inevitably an opportunity, but also a cause for concern. In order to ensure that as much of the old spirit and ethos of the original school was retained, whilst ensuring that the new would offer the facilities of a 21st Century environment, both the Founding Principal of the school and the Head of Secondary were directly involved in the planning and had input throughout the construction period. The lead manager for the construction was personally invested in the development, as his children attend the school.
The end result is a modern campus, set in multi-storey buildings, but with outdoor access from many of the classrooms, shaded areas and courtyards and as much greenery as possible around and between the buildings. Facilities are impressive. As well as playing fields, a 25m swimming pool and multi-courts for outdoor sports, a Sports Centre incorporating a gym and viewing area, there are also outdoor classrooms and activity areas for the youngest children.
Read all about and see the image of the new campus at our Visit Experience here.
Classrooms are spacious and flexible, and clustered around courtyards to maximise light.
Specialist provision includes state of the art Science labs, Design and Food technology rooms, CAD, Digital Technology and Virtual Learning spaces. Dance, Drama, Music and Art facilities are included in specialist studios, a lecture theatre and a 650-seater Auditorium. In addition, specialist research areas, 2 libraries, quiet study areas and group work rooms encourage both individual and group research and learning. A Canteen is also provided for hot and cold meals and as a meeting area for students during the day.
A purpose-designed Sixth Form Centre is already in place, although it will be several years until the first Year 12 students will use it. The school will offer GCSE and A Levels. The current secondary teaching team has an average of 15 years’ experience and is clearly gearing up to provide expert provision to older students as the school matures and grows.
What the inspectors say
Jebel Ali School also has almost exactly the same strengths as it had when it was judged to be Outstanding by the KHDA in 2011/12.
What has changed significantly since then has been the criteria used to benchmark schools within the UAE. Both the KHDA and ADEK have added increased weight to Arabic and Islamic Studies when combining ratings into a final score. As a result, the most recent inspections have rated Jebel Ali School as Very Good. These are areas, as a parent, you may not consider as important as the UAE's Ministry of Education clearly does. One of the potential positives that Taaleem sees for JAS is the strengthening of Arabic and Islamic Studies, with the past experience of Dubai British School Emirates Hills (rated Outstanding) - from where the incoming Principal comes - a potential route to improvement.
Although for the most part JAS remained consistently outstanding in terms of rating, there is no doubt it found the 2 years prior to its relocation (due to issues related to its landlord and location) trying and distracting. However, even with these challenges, the KHDA report ranked the school as Very Good, an increase since the school first dropped from Outstanding to Good five years earlier.
The first full inspection of the new Jebel Ali School, including its expanded provision to year 8 in Secondary, took place in January 2018 and again rated the school as Very Good. However, there has been some slippage across a number of key measures in the latest report. The most recent inspection which took place in March 2019, again rated the school as Very Good.
Following a decision announced by the KHDA in September 2019, all Dubai schools that are currently rated Very Good or Outstanding, will no longer receive a full inspection by the DSIB inspection team, but rather a one day 'visit' after which no new report will be issued unless the school is down- or up-graded. As a result, the 2018-19 report is the most recent full report to be issued.
Chief among concerns raised in the 2018-19 inspection was some slippage in Primary and Secondary ratings - with progress in Primary English falling from Outstanding to Very Good, and progress in Secondary Mathematics and Science being downgraded each by one rating to Good and Very Good respectively. Having said, it should also be noted that attainment in Primary English and Maths, and Secondary Science, had all been upgraded to Outstanding. Overall, almost all ratings across the Primary and Secondary school sections were rated either Very Good or Outstanding. Foundation Stage showed Very Good attainment across English, Maths and Science, but Good ratings for progress in each. Learning skills across the school were rated Very Good.
Of larger concern to the school in many ways, will be the ratings in relation to the Arabic core-subjects. This is the Achilles Heel that resulted in the overall rating for Jebel Ali School being reduced from Outstanding to Good in 2012-13 and evidently still remains a challenge - something that Jebel Ali School is not alone in facing.
In Arabic as an additional language, attainment, which improved in the 2017-18 inspection from Weak to Acceptable, has remained unchanged, though attainment in Arabic as a first language remains Weak. In the Secondary school, both measures for Islamic Education and attainment for Arabic as first language are rated Weak, though progress in both Arabic language classes are rated Acceptable. Attainment in Arabic as a second language improved to Acceptable. Given the focus of the UAE regulators on both Arabic and Islamic Studies in international schools, this is an area that will need to be addressed.
Reflective of these changes, which on balance have left JAS with their overall Very Good rating, there were no further rating adjustments in relation to the other Key Performance Standards. Students' personal and social development, and their innovation skills, together with Health and Safety (including child protection and safe-guarding) all remained Outstanding. Teaching and Assessment, the Curriculum, and Care and Support of students retained their Very Good, ratings. Leadership and Management were largely rated Very Good - though the relationship with parents and the community - always a strength of this not-for-profit school - was again rated Outstanding.
The inspectors identified very clearly much that is Very Good or more at Jebel Ali School. In particular, they noted its strengths as:
The main action areas upon which the inspectors recommend focus are:
There is no doubt in our minds at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, that Jebel Ali School remains an exceptional school in many ways, and that it offers an excellent education. The Secondary school has clearly got off to a very good start and with the stable leadership team, we expect to see improvement in those areas identified.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the detailed reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Quite when, and if, details and outcomes of the now shorter annual one day review visit (applied to all schools rated Very Good and Outstanding by the KHDA from the start of the 2019-20 academic year) will be revealed, is not clear.
What is clear, though, is that for JAS to move back to the Outstanding rating that they held back in 2011-12, the key will be evidence of significant improvement in the Arabic-based subjects. How important individual parents may feel this focus is remains a moot point in a school with a very small number of native Arabic-speaking families.
This is a school that is almost uniformly recommended by parents whose children attend according to our survey - read it here. Parental satisfaction with the school, based on our Parent Opinion survey, is overwhelmingly positive and well above average levels. It records the highest satisfaction levels of its peers for academic attainment (89%), feedback (69%) and school discipline (89%).
There is much mention at Jebel Ali School about the Jebel Ali Community. There is a consistent and strong focus on supporting not only students, but parents, staff and the wider community. A Community Liaison Officer is responsible for building relationships throughout the community, including fundraising activities in support of the school’s not for profit status.
Perhaps the most overwhelming proof of parents' appreciation of JAS is that 98% of respondents to our survey (who also expressed less positive opinions on specific aspects) would recommend it to other parents.
In fact, for a school to have 78% of families agree that the fees they pay are value for money - given that these are indeed premium fees and with the additional debenture requirement - is yet another confirmation of the high regard in which the school is held.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Jebel Ali School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
The new location, size, debenture scheme and secondary level fees (AED 79,790 for Year 7 upwards) should give the school the economies of scale to begin to tackle those areas judged as weaknesses by the KHDA.
As we said in our original review in 2017, the fact that JAS moved with such a high performing team, should give parents that have moved with it confidence that this is a school that can handle relocation, a new building and, indeed, curriculum with the addition of Secondary, and largely maintain business as usual.
The achievement of two further Very Good KHDA inspection ratings in a school - let it not be forgotten - that is also developing its Secondary provision, is clearly a sign that the leadership had indeed successfully managed "business as usual" in environment that parents, at least, evidently felt was already Outstanding.
With the relocation to Akoya, Jebel Ali School has remained a not-for-profit school - although it has introduced a debenture scheme to help pay for the relocation. With the purchase by Taaleem, a commitment to repay the Debentures over the next five years has already been made and many parents will no doubt welcome the removal of this costly requirement.
Tuition fees are in the range of AED 45,891 in FS and Primary School to AED 69,850 in Secondary and AED 74,950 in Sixth Form.
Jebel Ali 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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