Our reviewer arrived on time to observe students arriving at the school, at 7:30am. The school's location, in a residential community without other schools close by, allows for a relatively smooth drop off for parents, without heavy traffic or parking challenges.
Students made their way into the school, chatting socially in groups as they did so, while the school's security guided our reviewer to the main reception.
Securing a time to meet with the school's Principal, Mrs Lata Nakra, proved to be a challenge on the day of our visit, however this is perhaps not surprising given the scale of this school (more than 3000 students attending currently) and the time of our visit, only a few weeks in to a new academic year.
Despite being so highly in demand, Mrs Nakra gave the impression of having all the time in the world to discuss the school with us. She came across as humble and grounded, with a calm self-assurance that puts those in her company at ease.
Mrs Nakra has worked in the field of education for almost four decades, starting her career in Mumbai before relocating to Dubai in 1987. She described her career so far as “a very smooth, very enjoyable journey” and explained that she has gone through “every rung of the ladder”, providing her with the ability to truly understand and empathise with her team.
She expressed that having highly skilled teachers who provide high quality learning opportunities is key, and explained that when selecting teachers, she looks at two things: excellent subject knowledge and the ability to build positive relationships with students.
Mrs Nakra told us:
“Excellent academic results, while important, should be viewed as a byproducts of education, not the focus of education.”
“School should be a very safe environment, it should be non-threatening and learning should be fun. At the same time, there should be high quality learning, and of course, to do this, high quality teaching is very important.”
Mrs Nakra has ensured that there is a strong leadership structure throughout the school, with supervisors and heads of year supporting her vision. This leadership team, she explained, is one of the key strengths of the school, a view that is shared by KHDA in its 2022-23 inspection report: “Very effective leadership of the school, particular in relation to the links which have been established with parents and the local and wider community”.
JSS International School’s campus is large enough that our reviewer could easily feel a little disorientated, with what felt like long indistinguishable corridor after corridor, however the character-less classrooms themselves were not at all representative of what was going on inside. This is a school with personality, with many characterful and inspiring educators, and considerable passion within.
The school has high quality sports facilities, particularly considering its fee level, and spacious learning environments for the less mainstream subjects, such as a dance studio, music rooms and a particularly inspiring art studio.
The school’s rather eccentric Head of Art, Mr Sugat Priyadarshi, explained that he had a background in art therapy, and expressed the view that art is for all, not only those with artistic talent. His studio was an oasis of calm in this bustling school, with soothing music gently playing, and a mild aroma of incense filled the air. Head of Physical Education, Mr Boban Chacko proudly provided the tour of the school’s sports facilities and described the school’s offering with such energy and enthusiasm that even our athletically challenged reviewer felt motivated to take part in the many games being played.
Our reviewer was invited to observe a Grade 1 class and a Grade 8 class.
While our visit took place very early in the academic year (week four), the Grade 1 teacher, Ms Mansi, appeared to have a warm connection with the children in the class and had established class rules and routines that the children were very responsive to. The children appeared to feel secure and comfortable, and the majority were engaged and actively participating.
The students were learning to distinguish between a question and an answer, identifying punctuation and forming their own sentences accordingly. They were provided with opportunities to demonstrate this understanding, before participating in a range of group activities.
The teacher was notably energetic and encouraging, role modeling proactive learning and curiosity, and children appeared to be appropriately challenged and supported. There was, however, little sign of learning being adapted to meet individual needs or differing ability levels.
Grade 8 students were engaged in an English Literature class, analysing a Percy Blysshe Shelley poem as our reviewer entered. The level of student engagement and enthusiasm observed was impressive; a lively discussion unfolded, due to the gentle steering and guidance of the class teacher, with students demonstrating a strong understanding of the text. Students were later provided with a range of group activities in which they could develop their analysis further, each of which required considerable creative and analytical thinking.
Across these classes, our reviewer noted that students demonstrated a high level of maturity and confidence for their ages and showed the utmost respect for their teachers and each other. Academic expectations placed on students are high at JSS International, based on these observations, but motivation levels appeared to match this.
Classroom environments were perhaps less inspiring than the teaching and learning going on within them. Although class sizes are capped at 24, which is unusually low for a school of this fee level, rooms can still feel a little restrictive in terms of space, and are fairly basic in terms of decor and furniture, but certainly sufficient.
Our student panel of three were in grades ten, eleven and twelve. Our reviewer found these students to be courteous and articulate and was impressed by the clarity with which they described their own further study and career plans.
These students were in agreement on the school’s strengths, referencing the strong track record of the school academically, but on a more personal level, the school’s feeling of community and the strong sense of belonging they experience attending the school. One student explained that teachers at JSSI go to great lengths to ensure school is a “safe space” for students.
Another student described the efforts many of the teachers go to:
“We have really good relations with our teachers. A lot of the teachers have been here for a really long time, and they've grown with us. The teachers are very approachable and available; we can come to them after class if we have doubts or need some clarity.
I can tell you, right now in their lunch break, teachers will have students queuing outside their classrooms to talk to them. They are also constantly in contact with our parents, our parents have all the teachers’ numbers, they have WhatsApps groups, they can contact any teacher at any time about our progress, how we’re doing at school.”
Our panel spoke positively about the extra-curricular opportunities available at the school, including sports and academic competitions. They also spoke positively on the career guidance they have received at the school, including aptitude tests and support in presenting themselves well for university applications.
We had the opportunity to meet with two parents, both of whom had multiple children attending the school in various year groups. It was quickly apparently that the two parents valued the school for quite different reasons, with one parent appreciating the school’s focus on student wellbeing, after having moved their child from a more high-pressure learning environment elsewhere, and the other parent identifying the school’s academic excellence as its best feature.
The two were in agreement on one key area: that the teachers were the real strength of the school, in terms of building positive relationships with students as well as subject knowledge and driving academic achievement. Additionally, both had experienced bumps along the road at some point, and described very approachable and open leaders at the school, who took their concerns seriously and took prompt action to resolve these issues.
Our reviewer met with a selection of subject leaders and teachers from the school. The common message between these staff members was a genuine passion for their work and an enthusiastic appreciation for the students and families at the school. Very much in alignment with sentiments from our student panel, these educators spoke of a warm school community and a culture of empathy and understanding.
Head of Physical Education, Boban Chacko, spoke with particular passion and energy, explaining that sports at the school are not just for students; staff and parents participate in activities and competitions with equal enthusiasm, promoting friendly connections and joviality.
It was clear also that the school offers career development for its committed staff, as many of the educators we spoke to told us of their lengthy career history at the school, and had been able to make use of career growth opportunities.
JSS International is more than meets the eye; while the school's academic results speak for themselves, this school is far from being an exam pressure cooker. A closer look reveals a creative and interesting learning environment, that manages to keep the process of teaching and learning very personal, despite having more than 3000 students enrolled. The school’s focus on wellbeing and providing a ‘safe environment to learn’ should not be overlooked either. This is clearly an area appreciated greatly by students and parents alike and contributes to a very happy and confident school.
JSS International 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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