Located in the heart of the traditional Jumeirah/Umm Suqeim area behind the popular Park N Shop complex, Jumeirah College (JC) gives an initial impression of being a rather traditional college-style building on a relatively limited plot. This impression very much belies the reality.
Yes, the outside areas are relatively small and the sports facilities on site limited (though alternative arrangements address this), but the school is neither traditional nor small in its ambitions and methodologies.
A banner on the school fence notes that the school has recently been rated Outstanding by the KHDA for the 6th year. On entering the open, wide reception area, staffed by friendly reception personnel, the School’s Vision statement is visible to all:
“A vibrant learning community, nurturing happy, confident and accomplished students who, through a commitment to academic and personal excellence, progress beyond limits”.
Our visit commences with an introduction to the school by Simon O’Connor, Principal of JC. He tells us that the ethos of the school is inevitably driven by the Senior Management Team. At JC, its focus is very much on celebrating success at all levels and in all fields – not just grades.
The school sets great emphasis on the values of nurturing all members of the community– staff turnover was a very low 10% for the last academic year – and encouraging happy, confident and accomplished individuals no matter what their role in the school – as students, teachers, administrators or support staff.
The college actively tries to create a sense of happiness, so that parents’ and students’ decisions to join JC are driven by the feel of the school and not just academics. This can be seen in the way that older students nurture younger students and a sense of community throughout. The college actively encourages parental involvement and students are proud of their identity as a JC student. Simon can speak to this sense first hand, as he is not only the Principal, but a parent (his daughter joined year 7 in September 2015). He says that being a parent at the school has been an affirming experience.
An important part of Simon’s background working at an Academy group in the UK, where he was responsible for running the data collection and analysis systems across a number of schools. JC has benefited from this experience and now operates an extremely robust forensic inspection of student performance.
Academic results have improved significantly as a result of a stronger focus on teaching, learning and tracking value added performance. Each student’s performance is tracked over a cyclical 5-6 week period against expected outcomes, based on the initial CAT IV tests and updated targeted grades for each child.
An early intervention programme directly linked to the tracking process ensures that any unexpected results – either positive or negative – can be dealt with immediately. Students are challenged academically with extension work within sets, adjustments of sets and any obvious issues being addressed on an immediate basis.
Simon stresses that there is no glass ceiling – the school works on the basis that an A* grade is achievable for everyone and believes that high expectations lead to high achievement. The focus on value add also enables the school to track students who achieve a C rather than the initially predicted E who would be deemed a success, whilst a student who achieves an A and not a predicted A* is a failure, in the sense that he has not achieved his full potential.
JC also goes out of its way to deliver what students want and not what is necessarily easy or convenient for the school. Students choosing their GCSE options are offered all subjects without the option blocks required by most schools (which often lead to preferred subjects not being available). At JC staff support student choices and timetables are created around student needs. The school also encourages students to participate in additional activities on top of the core curriculum, including external competitions and activities. Staff know when to push or challenge students to get involved, but with no sense of pressure. They make children want to succeed and aim to instil confidence and to encourage students to speak out.
JC says it ensures that all children, wherever they are on the academic spectrum are recognised - not just Gifted and Talented or those with additional needs.
Evidence of the school's rounded approach – that schools are there to broaden students’ experiences and not just ensure good exam results - is through the focus on subjects that are not strictly regarded as academic – Drama, Art and Music – where 98% of students achieved Distinction in exams taken through the various external examining groups.
Students are encouraged to participate in philanthropic activities with a strong focus on raising funds to support charitable efforts and are encouraged not only to participate but to lead these initiatives. Simon feels that student leadership in as many areas as possible is key to their futures. It is not just words - the claims were supported by feedback from the students we met, whose comments are included later. Simon strongly believes that the enrichment curriculum offered by JC is a vital part of students leaving with the skills, confidence and experiences that ensure very secure university and career futures.
JC is not a selective school. All year 7 applicants (including those from JC’s sister school, Jumeirah Primary School - JPS) undertake CAT IV testing with the essential goal of determining whether, based on this cognitive test, students have the capacity to achieve satisfactory A level results. Priority is given to students from JPS, siblings and staff. As a result, approx. 160 of the almost 190 year 7 entrants are from this priority category. In the last academic year, 5 students from JPS were not offered places (in consultation with JPS staff). Simon cites this as evidence of the transparency within the school in relation to the academic curriculum and his belief that “one size does not fit all” in this context.
Options to join the school in years 8, 9 10 and 12 also exist with additional places added in the lower grades to support this. For years 10 and 12, again CAT IV testing is used to assess potential students. The school offers 30 different A level subjects (some unique to JC) and demand for year 12 places is therefore inevitably high. Due to the level of demand for all levels through the school, without question, the simplest option is for students to gain entry through attending Jumeirah Primary School. However, students from other Primary schools do gain entry at year 7 and also at later points in their academic progress.
The majority of students completing their education at JC go the UK to leading universities, and to US Ivy League Colleges and target some of the most academically challenging courses – all JC students who applied for Medicine in 2014/15 were accepted. There has been less success with Oxbridge applications.
Simon told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com he believes that the greater focus on offering places to UK-based students has impacted JC applicants. Those who applied to Oxbridge and did not receive offers, were offered places at some of the most prestigious universities in the United States.
On our visit we met the Head Boy and Head Girl designate and their deputies who form the Student Executive. They explained the rigorous process involved in their selection which included an interview by the Senior Leadership Team for the position. The Student Executive lead a weekly student council meeting which is made up of two reps from each year group and focuses on school improvement. The team is responsible for feedback on new activities/actions and communication between students and staff. The Student Executive includes students from a mix of backgrounds, including the Head girl who has only been at JC for one year.
The Head Girl praised the opportunities that JC offers in both sports and social activities and how, as a new student, she had felt no barriers to getting involved. The team members also praised the individual attention they receive and small class sizes, with staff who are very helpful and communicative. Teachers are exceptional and supportive. Another team member – also new to the school - commented on the family feel, teacher and student community and smaller closer community feel than at his previous school.
The Head Boy mentioned that he is one of four students in his family who have all attended JC. He particularly liked the connection to students in years above and below his own grade. Older students support younger ones through extracurricular curricular activities, peer mentoring for homework, whole school drama productions and music concerts. He would like to see more Cross school sports integrated across more age groups. Students are often involved with staff in co-leading Extra Curricular Activities, allowing a vast range of ECA’s. If a particular activity is not available, students can suggest it and staff are open to suggestions.
On our visit we also met with four parents who effectively repeated many of the comments that the students had made – how supportive staff are as they nurture and oversee students’ activities. Staff were described as very responsive to concerns and kept parents informed. They cited one example in relation to students coming into the school at Year 7, for whom the JPS group of students was felt to be a little overwhelming. An invitation was sent to non-JPS students to meet with the JPS students before the start of school to bring them together as one group. The parents confirmed that there really is an Open Door policy and it is applied across the board in relation to all staff at all levels of the school.
Feeding these comments back to Simon after meeting the students and parents, he believes that a turning point in relationships with parents came when GEMS asked parents to vote on a decision whether to relocate the school several years ago.
Only 25% of parents voted, but the majority were against a move and GEMS took this on board, leaving the college on its current site, rather than relocating to a much larger and more spacious one on Al Khail Road.
In so doing, parents also accepted that they would not have access to significant additional field and track sports facilities which has always been something missing at the school. However, alternative arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the school is still able to participate in a wide range of sports activities, notably at Dubai Sports City. The College may not have the sports facilities on site, but it has remained a school strongly located in, and creative of, a community.
Simon believes that the sense of well-being felt by students is achieved because new students don’t feel lost; staff aim to make every child feel special – not a number - and to provide so many opportunities to shine across all activities.
Simon summed up his personal view of what drives staff and students at JC:
"They are not happy because they are successful – they are successful because are happy”.
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