At a glance
The Story so Far
Kings' School Al Barsha is an integral part of the Kings’ Schools family of schools which was founded in 2004, starting with Kings’ School Dubai, which is the only school in Dubai to have achieved an Outstanding rating by KHDA every year since inspections began.
Read our WSA School Visit Review HERE!
The school uses an adapted and enriched National Curriculum for England framework for their students, from FS1 to Grade 12. Secondary school students at the school work towards their GCSE and A-Level qualifications. In addition, all students in the Secondary School also work towards their Gold Level Duke of Edinburgh Award. This award is bestowed on students for completing a series of self-improvement exercises, with the Gold Level requiring 12-18 months of commitment.
Much of the teaching at Kings Al Barsha is also building on the IB curriculum with teaching concept-based and often student led. There is no doubt that the environment is busy and students in both Primary and Secondary seem motivated and enthused by their teachers.
What about Student Achievement?
The school's first GCSE cohort, grades were good with 44% scoring A* to A and 92% A* to C.
What do the Inspectors Say?
For the school's first KHDA report in 2016/2017, Kings' Al Barsha received a Good rating. The strengths of the school were found to be the overall provision and the curriculum, which the report ranks as Outstanding, the students' behavior and personal development, and the energetic leadership.
The progress and attainment of students is Good across most of the school, except for in the Foundation Stage where it is ranked as mostly Outstanding. An area of focus for the future, as recommended by the inspection report, is Arabic and Islamic Studies. As the report notes, "Governors and senior leaders of the school should improve the provision of Arabic by; holding teachers and middle leaders accountable for improved learning outcomes for all
learners in all aspects of the subject; identifying starting points in learning for all students, setting challenging targets and matching differentiated work in every lesson to their needs."
Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills is rated as Outstanding across the school. As the report explains, "Students are very responsible and self-reliant learners. They show a mature and caring attitude towards their peers and adults... Their behaviour in class and when moving between lessons is exemplary. They respond very well to adults and to their peers. As a result, difficulties are easily resolved and bullying is rare."
Teaching for effective learning has also been rated as Good or Very Good. As the report notes, "Most teachers demonstrate sound subject knowledge and understanding of how students learn. There is a good balance between teacher-directed and independent learning. Many teachers consistently engage students in work that allows them to learn actively." The report did find that "teachers do not always initiate two-way dialogue that engages students in thoughtful discussions," however, "the learning environment is positive and of good quality."
Read our Q and A with Kings' Al Barsha here
Kings' School Al Barsha is very clear about its commitment to inclusion. As the school explains on their website, "The whole school community is encouraged to ensure inclusion and the best possible social, emotional, behavioural and academic progress for all of our students. This is provided through innovative learning and teaching, dissemination of information, training and access to quality staff at all levels."
This focus on the value and important of inclusion been identified and applauded by inspections who rate the school's provision and outcomes for students with SEND as Good. The report finds that "Parents speak very positively about the support of the SEND department for their children. They are consulted at all stages of identification and provision. As a result, they feel very welcome to contact the school at any time and receive particularly helpful advice and support from staff."
The recommendations for the school as it gears up for its second round of inspections is, as the KHDA notes, to "modify the curriculum and adjust teaching to meet the needs of underachieving groups and accelerate their progress; identify and provide consistently high challenge in all lessons for the more-able learners"
What About Facilities?
The facilities at the school are outstanding and include:
- Purpose-built and state-of-the-art Science laboratories
- Design Technology and Food Technology departments which include a 3D printer, a laser cutter and specialist machines
- Mac suites
- Music technology and recording studio
- Apple TVs in every classroom
- Interactive whiteboards throughout school
Sports Facilities are also impressive and include:
- Multi-sport astro pitches
- Hard rubber courts for netball, basketball and volleyball
- Full size grass rugby and football pitches
- Short athletics track and grass area for field athletics
- Multiple tennis courts
- Two indoor gymnasiums
- Two large fitness studios
- Incredible sports hall facilitating full size basketball arena with spectator seating
- Three swimming pools: beginner, primary and competition
Even though the school is relatively new, Kings Al Barsha seems to be very much an established school and once the remaining facilities open, it will also be an extremely well-resourced one.
What About Fees?
Fees at Kings' School Al Barsha start at AED 52,007 for FS1 and rise to AED 100,300 for Year 12. However, the fees have been frozen starting at Year 11 at AED 97,798 so Years 11 - 13 will not rise above that fee rate. Excitingly, Kings' School Al Barsha offers scholarships. As they note on their website "Kings’ Education is proud to offer Scholarships to exceptional students. We want to attract and nurture the most gifted and talented children through our scholarship programme." There are GCSE Scholarships and A Level Scholarships.
A well-positioned school with outstanding facilities, Kings’ School Al Barsha represents a natural progression for the very successful Kings’ School brand through the addition of a secondary school. Kings' School Al Barsha is clearly an ambitious school and is eager to make its mark across the board, particularly academically as well as in sport and the performing & creative arts.
Kings' School Al Barsha, a British school, opened in 2014 so is still a relatively new school on the Dubai scene. Its original branch in Umm Suqeim started out in 2004 so the Kings’ School brand is well established. The Al Barsha school unlike the original branch is an all through school catering from FS1 to GCSE and eventually A Level in Year 12/13.
The impressive red-brick curved two storey façade has several large blocks behind. In the centre, a big circular donut-shaped block houses the secondary department. The smooth white roof awnings have been cleverly designed to provide shade all around, a sensible design for this part of the world.
The location is conveniently right beside Umm Suqeim Street, half-way between Sheikh Zayed Road and Arabian Ranches. The approach to the school is fairly straightforward but road works are not yet completed to allow a simple traffic light turn if coming from SZR or Al Khail roads. Parking is quite expansive but as with most schools it is pretty busy at drop off and pick up times.
We were greeted by security who require ID from visitors and we were directed to the large open quite formal reception area. Laura Parkes the marketing and communications manager came to welcome us and took us through to meet Alan Williamson the Director of Education. Alan began his career in education with a degree in Russian and he then joined the Royal Navy. Although he started out teaching in a history department he wanted to be a PE teacher and a passion for rugby gave him the drive to train as a coach.
When asked why Kings’ School Al Barsha is different from other schools in Dubai, Alan explained that he believes it’s the values which he phrased as ‘the best by every child’. He spoke of the school’s owner’s love for education and how the love he had for the original Kings' sparked the growth of the brand.
The school follows the English National Curriculum and a key feature according to Alan is that Kings is ‘not ruled by a big UK school or is part of a big organisation’. He believes they have been eclectic in their outlook so have found inspiration in different styles of education from China to Finland. Alan also fully supports the idea of a through school catering from age 3 to 18 years. He explained how ‘Dubai trusts Kings’ with primary education’ so a secondary was ‘a natural progression’.
He believes the parents at Kings' School Umm Suqeim want their children to come to Kings' School Al Barsha for secondary. He spoke of his aim that 100% of Year 6 would stay with Kings and is proud of the secondary’s strengths. The traditional UK style house system is important at this school but there are 69 different nationalities and of these 45% are British passport holders.
The great accomplishments of the school so far, according to Alan, are that although it has grown fast it still ‘feels like a family’. The school opened with about 650 students and next year 1,670 pupils will attend. Alan’s goal is to have 1,800 children and ‘be a school that gets great results’. This year will be their first ever full set of GCSE results.
The Approach to the Child
The biggest challenge just now ‘is that they follow an outstanding primary school with an outstanding secondary’. The school’s approach to the child Alan described as ‘caring’. He believes that at Kings they are passionate about learning and values. There is a clear anti-bullying policy which they ‘keep promoting’ and ‘emphasise the potential damage of cyber bullying where you cannot erase your digital history’.
At secondary level pupils can, however, bring in their own phones or digital devices. Homework is an important part of school life but with not too much at primary level. Alan spoke of how homework at secondary can have a dramatic impact and that it should be independent, one hour a night minimum.
Innovation, Alan sees, as ‘in and around all learning’. He wants children to develop skills in critical and emotional thinking. Examples he gave are the Formula One programme for all children, the development of food technology, their version of Great British Bake Off and MasterChef and the wide choices now available in art and design.
The school relies on CAT testing from year 4 upwards along with looking at previous headteachers reports. Younger children simply go through an observational session. There is an open acceptance policy and they want to be able to offer ‘the best by every child’, a phrase one hears quite often at Kings.
Some special needs pupils have already been accepted and there are lifts in every section to cater for any physically disabled student. He mentioned that if this is not the right school for an individual then they will not accept them ‘just as any UK state secondary’.
Three scholarships are offered each year which allow a 50% discount on fees and are awarded for music, art, sport or academics.
All staff are recruited from the UK along with several local appointments. Alan said the school does not struggle to find staff. They do advertise twice a year and the whole leadership team go to the UK to interview candidates.
Teachers qualifications are all B.Ed or degree with PGCE an QTS. INSET for staff is ongoing and five to six days a year are allocated to this. There is also an in-service two year programme focusing, for example on technology, visible learning and child protection. All staff begin with what Alan describes as a ‘Kings’-ification’ week focusing on the core values of the Kings ethos.
The creative and performing arts are all on offer here and Alan believes they are strong. There are four productions a year across the school performed in what he described as ‘their incredible auditorium’.
At primary level Kings' School Al Barsha choose to employ art and drama specialist staff. Alan spoke of the fantastic success in the drama, PE and design and technology departments.
Finally we asked what he would want families to know about the school. He praised their gifted and talented programme but personally feels ‘every child is gifted and talented’ and their job is to find out in what area.
We were next able to meet with Rebecca Gray the head of primary and asked about her story. She described her drive in education as ‘dog with a bone’ and she has a passion for improvement in schools. She was, while working in the UK for the David Ross Educational Trust, a cluster leader focusing on the improvement of eight schools and 33 academies both primary and secondary.
We asked what gets her out of bed every day and she spoke of educational work as ‘a lifestyle’ which she ‘embraced and gives it her all’. She loves the abundance of cultures in Dubai and aims to treat every child in her care ‘in a motherly fashion’. She began her educational journey as a primary specialist in Tower Hamlets in east London then taught in the Midlands where she quickly moved into leadership positions. Her first headship role was in Northamptonshire where she was the founding principal of a prep school.
This is her first year here in Dubai and she has a daughter in primary. Rebecca believes Kings' School Al Barsha to be unique as it is ‘child centred and there is the opportunity for teachers to deal one to one with their charges to manage their steps and targets.’ She feels every learner is ‘a special learner’ and hopes that every child will have all the opportunities on offer. She said ‘it’s not “talk and chalk” teaching as it is very creative in style’.
The Primary School
The aim is to bring in ‘cornerstones’ and provide ‘a concept curriculum’. Rebecca also believes this to be a ‘standalone school’ with ‘a unique campus’. The ‘3 to 18’ model creates ‘one family where they all work together’ and the transition from stage to stage ‘is seamless’.
The children she describes as feeling ‘safe and secure’. When we asked where she hopes the school is headed she plans that in her second year there will be an embedding of the ‘new and exciting initiatives’.
Accomplishments so far are that ‘they are pretty much full in just three years’ and Rebecca believes parents "trust us at King'". Parents are fully involved in policy writing and in workshops and she believes the school is ‘open and honest’ in its approach with parents.
Rebecca spoke of the biggest challenge being ‘to ensure that within this diverse culture they keep up with the UK.’ The key phrase she would use to describe the school is ‘an oasis in the community’ offering ‘an opportunity to everyone – staff, pupils and parents’, ‘a safe haven where all are encouraged to take risks’.
All departments within the school work very closely together and she explains how teachers plan ‘cross-curricular’ projects. She emphasized how ‘incredible sport at Kings' is’ and ‘the fantastic facilities’. Equally, Rebecca feels the arts are ‘central to the curriculum’ and drama productions are ‘massive’.
Next year a new and innovative scheme for enterprise will be introduced – an interest free loan of a small sum of money will be in a school bank account with a bank card for pupils. Individuals need to choose how to spend this as a business idea, charity work or other project of their devising.
At FS1 and 2 level there are a maximum of 20 pupils per class and higher up a maximum of 24. Leadership here want all teachers input in whole school improvement and Rebecca believes they are open and honest about values and development. They like to ‘grow their own staff’, create ‘new roles and leadership opportunities’.
Speaking with the Assistant Headteacher
On our visit we also met with Mr John Pugh, the assistant headteacher who is responsible for the arts and staff well-being. He believes Kings' School Al Barsha to be ‘unique’ as there is an ‘energy about its newness’ and that it is ‘an ambitious school’. It is ‘a friendly creative place with a culture of kindness’. John has taught in Dubai for 15 years after a stint at Eiglon College in Switzerland. He taught at the British School Abu Dhabi and at JESS Arabian Ranches .
He spoke of how he enjoys the challenge of startup schools and he feels Kings’ is ‘innovative’ in its approach where students think in ‘an open, wide way’. He is clearly passionate about his job as he said ‘I can’t believe they pay me for doing this’! He particularly values Kings’ sense of community.
Head of Design Technology
Mr Scott Johnson, the school's head of design technology, studied computer product engineering at university. He believes he has a creative streak which led him into product modeling and spoke to us of his love of communications.
He moved into teaching ten years ago first in Glasgow and then to the east coast of Scotland before heading to Edinburgh where he worked for six years. His first head of department position was in Eyemouth teaching in a deprived area, then in Midlothian. This is Scott’s first year in Dubai and he is responsible for launching DT at Kings’. He’s also helping develop food tech and graphics departments so there are two new specialist teachers coming next year.
Scott spoke of the great facilities and of how schools should be teaching the traditional skills such as food tech and engineering. He feels that Kings’ School Al Barsha does this differently by focusing on the STEAM aspect. He loves the creative side of his job and with his new team his target is ‘to be the best’.
Scott’s favourite aspect of teaching is ‘get that smile’ when kids grasp a concept.
Scott explained how technology has changed so fast recently with graphics and product design. Students will take international GCSE Cambridge board and Edexcel at A level. He spoke of how children should be taught the basics but wants to encourage a free flow system. His aim is that children have the opportunity to use all the machines in his department and hopes to create young designers of the future.
We had the opportunity to ask a number of parents what they thought of the choice they had made for their children. Noah has a child in year 3, Farah in year 5, Abeer in year 2, Razan in years 1,3 and 4, Lucy in years 4 & 6, Ghida in year 9 and Benedict in FS2, years 6 & 8.
Our parents' group chose Kings’ School Al Barsha because of its "established name, reputation and wonderful facilities". They expressed a sense of belonging, ownership and how they feel part of the school almost like an extension of home. What has most impressed them they said. is the amazing teaching which they feel operates across the board.
They love the balance between academics and sport although sport was spoken of as being ‘on another level’ at the school. The quick growth of the school was mentioned as one of the biggest challenges but they say they have faith in the leadership. Crowding in a popular cafeteria was also mentioned.
We asked about homework and generally they feel it is balanced some weeks very challenging and others easy. Parents said they believed the school offered good value "for the quality of education their children were receiving".
Zaks is the school uniform provider and is thought to be good apart from the book bags which were judged to be ‘poor’. Uniform policy is quite strict - a tie must be worn and a cap when outside.
Traffic and parking at drop off and pickup times is pretty busy but they feel there are no safety issues. They spoke of the security staff as ‘lovely’ and the children all know their names. A bus service is available and those who use this are all happy. School trips on offer are great and are local for the younger children. Parents sometimes get to join in.
Overseas trips are offered from year 4 onwards and were described as amazing. There are loads of clubs and ECAs offered from sport, drama, music, maths, science and entrepreneurship. The vast majority of clubs are provided within the school and attract no additional cost.
There is a parents association with nine permanent members and any concerns are dealt with ‘immediately’ according to our group. Otherwise parents are called personally by the head within an hour.
Our group are happy with school/parent communications and feel that teachers are always accessible. All issues are taken very seriously and there is a diary and communications book checked every day. There are two parents evenings a year plus another which is student led. Parent culture here is pretty sociable with coffee mornings, get togethers, workshops and language events.
Parents generally use WhatsApp to keep in touch and organize events such as cooking classes. The company ‘Dish’ provide the school food which is of good quality and a fair price of around 25 AED a day. We asked if they feel their children are challenged and all agreed that this is constant and at the right level. Learning is described as personalized with reading especially emphasized. Learning support is available to those who need it at Kings where one to one teaching is offered where needed.
During SATS extra help is available and the scholarships on offer here our parents feel are ‘very encouraging’. We asked if education here is as good as in their home country – ‘yes, much better’ was the answer. ‘The facilities here are so much better’, ‘academically superior’ and ‘methods more advanced’ were some of the comments. ‘There is super support’, ‘they are up to date’, ‘there is great pastoral care’.
They described the wonderful ambience of shared ideas. They feel the teachers really know their children, their needs and character. There is respect and encouragement among the children. Within the house teams year groups mix very well and it’s like a brotherhood. House matches usually end each week in secondary years which is ‘fun and gets teachers and children together’. They believe their children are proud of Kings' School Al Barsha and the parents are confident the school will find every child’s potential.
One of our favourite moments on a school visit is when we speak to the children. Lotte, Joseph, Aaron and Siena are all in year 5 and have attended Kings' School Al Barsha from two to three years. They love Kings' School Al Barsha because every one has input and all are welcome. They feel they’ve made good friends and particularly love the sport on offer. Potential improvements here they see as maybe more subject setting in teaching groups. Staff/pupil relationships they describe as ‘easy’, ‘like family’, ‘lots of humour but quite strict’.
They mentioned how exciting it is to find out which teacher you will be with for the following year. Students really help each other but are pretty competitive in sport. In each class at primary level there is a worry box like a tissue box where pupils can post notes to teachers. They spoke of how children can usually sort problems out themselves but are taught that two wrongs don’t make a right.
There is a school council and there are a lot of leadership roles for pupils. The council is a good opportunity for children to make presentations and suggestions have effect such as more plants in the open spaces. Our pupils find their uniform comfortable, especially the PE kit. They feel challenged in school, that the quality of teaching is good and that staff are fair with deadlines.
Primary level pupils have two school trips a year and they especially loved the Umm Al Quwain adventure and local cultural visits. The values of Kings’ School Al Barsha come across in many ‘across the school’ events such as international sports awards days and the Festive Fair at Christmas.
Finally we asked how our group would describe Kings’ School Al Barsha to prospective pupils. The advice was ‘go for it’ when presented with the many opportunities on offer. They describe it as easy to immerse yourself and feel very comfortable. They love the mix of learning and fun with a special mention to the dress up day which was a highlight. There was great enthusiasm all round.
Our four student representatives took us on a tour so we could explore this new and large campus. We were impressed by the superb purpose built facilities, wonderful open plan art rooms, many science labs and large auditorium.
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