Read our original Visit Experience here.
Since our last visit, student numbers have grown to close on 2,000 (at 1,975), a host of additional outdoor sports facilities have been added, the Secondary school building (the “doughnut”) has been completed and there is a real sense of a school that is well and truly established, building a history and a legacy for the future.
On arrival, we are introduced to our guides for the Secondary School, recently appointed Head Boy and Head Girl, Musab and Haya, both students in Year 12. Both look very smart in their non-uniform attire. Students are expected to wear smart business clothes unless participating in Sports activities. Musab is taking Arabic, Drama, Economics and History for A Level, whilst Haya is studying Drama, Economics, English and Psychology.
These confident, outgoing young people tells us that around 50% of students in the Sixth Form are new to the school and so the opening of their own Sixth Form Centre, with both work and community space, has really helped bring the whole Sixth Form cohort together. They are particularly positive about the facilities and resources available through the library, and also mention the support provided to students in terms of university guidance. As Drama students, both also appreciate the Open Mike sessions held outside in the Outdoor Auditorium, and connections to the Dubai Playhouse for drama performances. The Black Box space and Auditorium have been in use for some time and provide first class facilities.
As we walk through the two-storey Secondary building, we see a wide range of specialist facilities including various Science laboratories, as well as specialist rooms for Graphic Design, Design Technology, Fine Arts, Food Technology and Product Design (including 3D printers and a range of high-tech equipment). No expense seems to have been spared to ensure that the best possible resources are available to students at Kings Al Barsha Secondary. In addition to Academic scholarships, Kings offers a range of scholarships including Arts and Sports, and there is no mistaking the school’s obvious commitment to ensuring the best possible facilities are available to students of all abilities.
The Sports facilities at the school seem only to grow and grow! Stretching over an enormous area at the rear of the school, students have access to Football and Rugby pitches (used by the New Zealand All Blacks for training when attending the Rugby 7’s), Basketball, Netball and Tennis courts, and a Cricket pitch and nets (Kings Al Barsha hosts the Dubai Cricket League). An enormous new outdoor competition swimming pool is a recent addition, as is a new Dance auditorium. Further plans include an air-conditioned Astroturf Dome, which will enable students to continue to participate in outdoor sports, even when the Dubai weather would ordinarily make this impossible.
Following our tour, we met with three committed Kings Al Barsha parents, who, between them, have nine children in classes across FS2 and Years 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. We asked them about their reasons for choosing Kings Al Barsha initially, and perhaps more importantly, their reasons for keeping their children at the school.
Among their reasons for choosing the school were the reputation of the original Kings Dubai Primary school, the facilities at the Al Barsha school – particularly the sports facilities which were important for the older children, the very helpful and informative Admissions staff and the direct involvement of the school leadership in showing parents around the school.
Their experience since their children joined Kings Al Barsha has convinced both parents and students that they made the right decision. The academic staff ensured a smooth transition to the school with one parent describing her children as “anchored in the school”. The teaching approach is practical, not book-led, with a focus by staff on making sure that the school is “good for every child”. The parents commented on the quality of recruitment of the teaching staff and the strong communication with parents that focuses on positive news as well as any negative. Teachers know the children inside-out and children feel safe and comfortable with them.
All three parents expressed their confidence in the leadership (whose appointment also included input from parents), who are visible and approachable. The parents have found the school very responsive when they have had concerns, and willing to acknowledge errors. The parents also feel that there is a very strong sense of community, despite the size of the school. In summary, one parent – with the total agreement of the others – expressed her feelings as follows: “I want the best for the school, because the school really gives back”.
Lastly, we met with three key members of the Senior Leadership team to talk about where the focus lies in terms of their roles and aspirations for Kings Al Barsha. Alan Williamson, Principal during our previous visit, has now taken up the post of Director of Education, overseeing all three Kings schools. Rebecca Gray, now Principal of the school, was originally the Deputy Head of Primary; her position has now been taken up by Rebecca Munday. The third member of the leadership team is Mike Bloy, as Head of the Secondary School.
Ms. Munday firstly showed us around the Primary School. She told us that the Foundation Stage has now grown to 8 classes of 20 children in FS1 and a further 8 classes with 24 children in FS2. Each class has a qualified Teaching Assistant and there is also a team of 5 nannies who assist teachers with non-academic duties. Ms. Munday explained, that although based on the UK EYFS curriculum, the FS children follow an interest-led approach. There are no set themes and topics, but rather, children suggest or raise questions that they want to learn about, and the class teacher then develops activities to address the interest whilst incorporating learning objectives from the curriculum. FS children have access to a construction area, woodwork and a kitchen area for creative play and learning activities, as well as a shaded outdoor play area from each classroom.
From Year 1, children have a range of lessons with specialist staff, in addition to literacy and numeracy skills development. These include Arabic, French or Spanish, Music and PE. Kings Al Barsha is keen to expand its Modern Foreign Language provision and, in addition to French and Spanish, has also introduced an association with the Alliance Française for native speakers, and a range of additional Language Clubs as part of the school’s 90 strong ECA programme. Primary children also participate in six week blocks of Performing Arts activities, aimed at providing them with the skills and confidence to present themselves in any situation they may face. Every child has a personal challenge defined for his or her learning and is encouraged to display improvements they are making through their own display box mounted in the classroom.
Principal, Rebecca Gray, has a particular interest in the transition process for children from FS to Year 1 and from Primary to Secondary. Kings Al Barsha has addressed the latter through the implementation of a Middle School approach, where students from Years 5 to 8 are involved in activities together.
Ms. Gray also explains that another key focus of the Kings Al Barsha team is “staying ahead of the game” in terms of curriculum design, content and delivery. Lead practitioners work alongside classroom and subject staff to ensure that standards are constantly being raised across the curriculum. The same ambition to deliver “the best by every child” is clear across the Senior team, and no more so than when speaking to Mike Bloy.
Formally a Deputy Head at a well-known not-for-profit school in Dubai, we asked Mike what had attracted him to join Kings Al Barsha. He summarised his reply by mentioning the sense of community at the school (and across all three Kings schools), and the qualities that he believes the school stands for – caring, with vast scope for development for both the school and its students, and the opportunity and imperative to carve its way towards creating its own legacy.
Ms. Gray further underlined the strong sense of confidence (and self-confidence) that exists within the Leadership team, telling us that she believes Kings Al Barsha is a force to be reckoned with in the educational landscape of Dubai, “driven by the energy of the staff, an ambition to do things on our own terms and the school’s freedom and potential to create its own USP”.
At the end of the day, Mr. Bloy tells us, “Everyone at Kings Al Barsha has the right to be successful, and here we focus not only on every child, but on the whole child”.
- November, 2017
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 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 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’.
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.
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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