WSA Visit, November 2018
Our second visit to Kings Nad Al Sheba took place in November 2018, driven by a change of Principal and following the announcement that the school will expand to Secondary from September 2019.
Go here to read our original Visit Experience from May 2017.
Our first impressions suggested that not a great deal has changed since our previous visit 18 months ago, but first impressions can, indeed, be deceiving. The departure of the previous well-liked Head, Darren Gale, was the first immediate evidence of major change.
We were greeted on arrival by Ms. Kate Fuller, the new Principal, who took over her tenure at the school in September 2018, following a number of international positions, latterly for a UK-owned international school in the USA. Ms. Fuller’s own daughter is a pupil at Kings Nad Al Sheba and she was, therefore, in an ideal position to walk us through the school, to discuss changes in focus for the curriculum and to discuss future plans. Ms. Fuller can best be described as a bundle of energy and enthusiasm, and our tour took place at an active pace. Wherever we go, Ms. Fuller is greeted with enthusiastic smiles and welcomes. She is clearly popular with both staff and students.
In common with the Kings Al Barsha and Kings Dubai schools, Kings NAS is also organised between two curved-fronted buildings that hide much more space behind them, with the Early Years located to the right of the spacious site, and the Primary school to the left. There is much more to see behind these buildings, however. To the rear lie the Sports and Performing Arts Centres, together with a range of specialist rooms including a Theatre, Black Box Studio, Recording Studio and a range of classrooms and specialist labs including Science, STEAM, Food Technology, Design Technology and Art. Still further behind the school lie the vast range of outdoor sports areas.
Ms. Fuller tells us that classrooms located in these two buildings will be the home to Year 7 and 8 classes once they open, until such time as a full Secondary section is complete. The Secondary School will follow the UK curriculum to IGCSE/GCSE. No final decision has been made in terms of whether the school will follow the IB curriculum for Sixth Form (as had been mooted in the past), or whether it will follow the lead of the Al Barsha school in offering A Levels. However, students will follow the IB MYP methodology (project and research based) so that they will have the capability to manage either curriculum for Sixth Form. The final decision will be based, to some extent, on input from students and parents at the school.
Additional facilities have been added to the school since our last visit, including a Dining Room in the Primary School where children may eat hot or cold meals, supervised by their teachers who eat with them and focus on appropriate behaviour and manners. A popular Parent Café (also used by staff) has been provided for parents to meet whilst waiting for older children. Outdoor sports facilities are now complete including a range of outdoor play equipment (including a climbing wall). Care has been taken within the Foundation Stage to provide resources and activities that enable children to follow their interests in an environment that is calm and does not over-stimulate them.
Ms. Fuller explained that curriculum changes and improvements have focused largely on languages, Music, ICT, Social and Emotional Health and development of support for children with SEND. The provision of Arabic has always been a particular focus of the Kings Schools, starting with Kings Dubai which pioneered Arabic for children as young as FS1, long before it became the norm to do so. At Kings Nad Al Sheba, children start formal Arabic at FS2. The location of the school means that there is a growing Emirati population within the school and a focus of the Kings NAS team has therefore been to drive curriculum development for both native and non-native speakers.
This has been achieved through an inclusive approach to Professional Development for staff including Arabic teachers. One of the Deputy Heads has taken Strategic leadership across all three Kings schools for the Arabic and Islamic team, with a focus on curriculum development, Pedagogy and Best Practice for the Teaching and Learning curriculum. The team at Kings NAS believe this has enabled vast progress in the delivery of a subject that has tended to be the Achilles Heel of many international schools in the UAE. The owners of the Kings Schools (an Emirati family) are also engaged in linking their language to the school through cultural involvement and investment in the schools. Increasingly, the local Arabic and Emirati community is involving itself in the life of the school including through representation of a local Parent-Governor.
In addition to Arabic, the school also offers French from Year 1 and Spanish for students in Years 5 and 6. The staff responsible for these languages work with the Arabic staff and also through a cross-curricular approach – using Maths or Physical Education lessons to introduce the language terminology, for instance. There is also a cross-curricular approach to ICT which is taught across different subjects, whilst also being offered discreetly in respect of coding. Music is taught for 40 minutes each week with whole class Ukelele and Xylophone lessons and a Choir that performs in both English and Arabic. Further instruments are taught as part of the range of ECA’s.
We are informed that two further key areas of focus for the school have been Physical, Social and Emotional Health Education and SEND provision. Physical, Social and Emotional Health has included a focus on whole-school values, developing close local connections and involvement in the community, with charitable efforts including children taking ownership of raising funds.
Within school, “Bucket Fillers” – recognising acts of kindness – have become a positive reinforcement for kind or good behaviour. Year 5 children recently focused on Healthy Eating and created salads and smoothies which were then sold to Key Stage 1 children for charity. As a result of their experience, the Year 5 students also made a presentation to IMG (located nearby) to persuade them that they should make healthy food options available to visitors to their attractions. Healthy activity through sport is also an important part of the curriculum; Kings NAS hosts the Dubai Football League every Wednesday afternoon.
All of the Kings schools aim to be inclusive and at Kings NAS there has been a particular focus on Speech and Language, perhaps a natural development, given the relatively high number of children who are English Language Learners in FS. With families from a total of 70 different nationalities, supporting non-native English speakers is a fundamental requirement. Simple steps, such as dual language labelling, as well as both 1:1 and individual support for children with additional learning needs is offered by the LINK team (Learning Inclusively At Kings). There is also significant effort to provide parents with data from whole school assessments to enable them to provide support for their children at home.
Following our tour of the school and meeting with the Key Stage One and Foundation Stage leaders, we are introduced to two parents, who between them have four children in FS2, Years 1, 3 and 5. We asked them why they had chosen Kings Nad Al Sheba – and, perhaps more importantly, given the vast range of schooling options now available in Dubai – why their children remain at the school. Both summarised their reasons broadly as the UK curriculum, the reputation of both the Kings group of schools, but also Nad Al Sheba in particular, and the sense of community which comes from this being a smaller school with very small class sizes and a strong academic focus. In addition, they felt that there is a greater opportunity for both parents and children to get involved in activities and to receive personalised support. There is confidence among the parents that Kings Nad Al Sheba is the right school for their children and that the recent and planned improvements, particularly realisation of the Secondary school, will ensure that their children can grow with, and influence, its development.
There is no doubt that Kings Nad Al Sheba has had a slow start in terms of student numbers, and has perhaps struggled with greater challenges – location, changes of leadership – than has been the case at Kings Dubai and the larger Kings Al Barsha schools. Both these factors now seem to have been, or are on the way to being addressed. A major new community being developed directly adjacent to the school will potentially provide Kings Nad Al Sheba with additional students, and certainly, based on our experience, the leadership of the school seems to be clear on its strategic direction and focus.
Based on our visit, the engagement of both staff and children that we witnessed, and especially on the feedback from parents that we received, it seems to us that Kings Nad Al Sheba is another of those hidden gems, waiting to be discovered and cherished by more families in the coming years.
The most recent addition to the popular Kings' franchise is located in a fast-developing area of the city. The campus is huge, spacious, well thought-through and beautifully designed. The small class sizes at present mean that there is a strong ‘family feel’. KSNAS has set ambitious targets for itself and it will be interesting to see if it can reach the heights of its original Umm Suqeim branch.
KSNAS is situated just off the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road, close to Dubai Silicon Oasis and not far from International City. The building is modern in design and consists of two storey long terracotta brick curved classroom blocks. The large white roof cleverly creates ample shading both at the front and behind.
To get to the campus you have to follow a gravel track road which starts by the side of another nearby school. Kings' campus is huge so all the facilities are spacious. A massive open garden area is in the centre behind the main buildings and this space is available for the secondary section to be developed in the future.
There is plenty of parking available both in the school grounds and outside the boundary railing fence. Security is obvious and alert as vehicles are checked and ID badges required.
Chatting with the Principal
The reception area is light, bright open and very spacious. We were welcomed by Megha, the marketing coordinator, who took us to meet Mr Darren Gale the Headteacher. Darren is a really enthusiastic spokesman for this new community and we were able to ask many questions about this UK, English National Curriculum school.
We began our interview by inquiring about Darren’s own journey through his educational career so far. He had been a Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) teacher in a large school in Bath and over the seven years he worked there became Deputy Head.
In 2006 he arrived in Dubai and worked as the learning and teaching director at Jumeirah College. In 2009 he moved to Aldar Academy in Abu Dhabi and worked as head of the secondary school then as principal until 2014. His next post was as headteacher of Springdales another school in Dubai. Darren then joined Kings' School Nad Al Sheba in August 2016.
We asked what he believes is unique about the school and he said that it is that Kings is ‘an authentic community’ and his belief that it is ‘a boutique school’. He also spoke about his strong belief in ‘thinking out of the box’. Darren has a keen interest in the start-up of a school and he aims to grow this Kings branch which currently has 286 pupils so that more ‘children’s lives can be touched in a positive way’.
He wants to keep things simple so that the ‘community expands and finds its direction organically’. Darren feels that there have been several great accomplishments so far which include the excellent TIMMS results, the community’s garden and many special event days. Plus, he said ‘the fact that there are many happy children who don’t want to go home at the end of the day.’
So far there are 39 nationalities in the school. He spoke of the challenge he faces with the recent ‘saturation of new schools in Dubai’. We asked how he would approach the school’s approach to the child. ‘Very holistic’, he replied.
He believes that by really knowing each child’s strengths and the fact they feel happy, safe and included, means they will perform their very best. KSNAS has a structured anti-bullying policy which Darren believes to be open, transparent and has a ‘no-blame’ ethos.
There are plans for a secondary section on this site and space has been prepared for future buildings to house this.
Darren describes the approach to homework here as ‘home learning’ which is usually reading and maths via e-learning. He feels that there is a focus on innovation everywhere within the school and it is embedded throughout the curriculum. There is what they call an Ice Room specifically for creative thinking where pupils are encouraged to ask questions and explore ideas.
KSNAS has no entrance exam but instead pupils undergo placement tests and there is an open acceptance policy. Scholarships are offered for those who are gifted in sport, art, music, performing arts or academically.
Kings' recruit their staff both locally in Dubai or in the UK where school leaders visit to interview candidates. All teaching staff are fully qualified with BA (Hons) plus PGCE or B.Ed with a minimum of two years’ experience. They offer regular training to staff and run leadership programmes for teachers.
The creative and performing arts are a strength here as there is a choir, a dedicated art room and a specialist drama teacher. Darren would like prospective parents to know the value of an actual visit to the school. He believes guests will be able to ‘feel the atmosphere’ and recommended the series of videos available on the school website. There are also blogs, newsletters and publications such as ‘Standing Out’ which takes the form of ‘You Said, We Did’ to enable parents to track progress in what he described as ‘this listening school’.
Meeting with Parents
We were next able to meet two parents from the school community. Wendy has a child in year 7 and one in year 10 while Sahar has a child of five years and one of six years. Wendy came with her family from the UK and looked at eight schools before choosing KSNAS as she felt it to be ‘head and shoulders above the others on friendliness.’ Sahar and family came from Majorca and after some research chose the Kings' Group and opted for KSNAS as there was space available.
Both parents feel they have observed how the teachers ‘hone into their child’s needs’ and believe that the academic achievement so far has been excellent. Wendy was particularly impressed by one of her children’s dramatic improvement due to the school’s effective action plan run by their ‘Achievement Centre’.
The school’s biggest challenge, they feel, is its small size and it’s in the early stage of its development. Our parents feel that there is a lot of homework set but not too much and they appreciate that the school is ‘hot on reading’. They believe the homework to be fun and includes many engagement activities such as making videos, preparing talks and designing posters. Sahar and Wendy both feel KSNAS is good value for money for its quality and results. Wendy added ‘you can never pay too much for the right education’.
Zak’s provide the school uniform and our parents agree that it’s easy to buy and maintain but feel the quality could be improved. Soon the PTA will be setting up a second hand uniform shop. The uniform policy here is quite strict and there is an insistence on hats being worn outside, no crazy haircuts or styles or nail polish.
The car park area can be very busy during dropoff and pickup times but the school attendants manage the process ‘very efficiently’ and ensure ‘parents park appropriately’. There is a bus service available which is outsourced but well run with an attendant on each bus.
There have been several school trips so far such as Miracle Gardens, beach and theatre visits, rainforest experience and a residential trip to Umm Al Quwain. The clubs and ECAs are pretty good in variety with 70% included in the fees and 30% paid for such as dance, golf and tae-kwondo. FONAS or Friends of Nad Al Sheba School is the name of the parent’s association and this is in its first year. There are a bank of volunteers offering ‘good support’.
The school uses the Communicator to pass on information to parents but the weekly homework sheet also contains reminders to parents. The school generally prefers to use emails and each class has a parent representative who attends monthly meetings. Parent’s evenings are held once a term where class teachers are available along with subject specialists. Generally our parents felt it’s easy at all times to get in touch with teachers.
Parents gather for evening events at regular coffee mornings or meet at Blooms the parent café. Wendy and Sahar believe that all the various nationalities mix very well and they described this as ‘sweet’. There is also a great deal of teamwork around lift sharing for example.
Our parents believe Mr Gale to be very supportive to them and the school community has become ‘the centre of their lives’. Parents use WhatsApp to keep in touch from day to day. There is no whole school canteen available so about 50% of the pupils bring their own snack while the other half choose a hot meal delivered by the Blooms company which our parents believe is pretty good value for money. The children all eat together in the dining hall.
Wendy and Sahar both believe their offspring are challenged in their learning and that this has built confidence which extends beyond the classroom. Children here, they feel, are put out of their comfort zone and are encouraged to push themselves via the ‘Traffic Light’ system e.g green is the easiest option, red more challenging.
Learning support is at hand for those children who require it and our parents feel the teachers are inventive in their approach. Wendy explained how teachers quickly spotted that her child had gaps in his phonics, dealt with the issue and he now teaches these skills to younger pupils.
We asked if education at KSNAS was as good as their home countries and their response was ‘better by a mile’. Sahar and Wendy would describe the school to prospective parents as ‘friendly, personable and with incredibly high standards’. They feel Mr Gale to be ‘a personal friend’. They appreciate that he is always present to meet and greet parents and pupils in the mornings and likes to have music playing outside when pupils are entering school. He also visits each class at some time every day. They said that Mr Gale can be firm but that he is loved by the children and does a good job at empowering them.
They believe individuality is celebrated and that challenging children are dealt with very well. Our parents recommend viewing the school to pick up the atmosphere. They feel that the school finds the best in each child.
Speaking with Students
We were pleased next to meet seven pupils – Amin and Aaron are both in year 2 while Gemma, Eilidh, Ahmed, Kye and Jamila are years 5 and 6. As KSNAS is a new school the children are fairly new as well having been at the school from between 9 months to three years.
We asked what is special to them about the school and all agreed how welcoming, inclusive and friendly it is. With only 13 pupils per class they feel special, unique and like a family. The school would improve they felt if there were more pupils. They described the staff pupil relationships as friendly and that their teachers were helpful and great. The student culture they think is quite competitive but in a friendly way. Pupil leadership is encouraged and shared out between year groups. We inquired about bullying and the pupils said there was none but if any difficulty occurs it is handled well.
The student council consists of one pupil voted representative from each class and our group felt the council was taken seriously. For example they asked for more photos around the school and more sporting activities and their requests were granted. These pupils look smart in their uniform which they all like. Boys wear a light blue shirt, a tie and tartan shorts while the girl wear light blue shirt with tie and tartan skort or a pinafore dress.
Our pupils feel confident with their teachers, that the workload is challenging but gauged well. A variety of school trips have been offered such as visits to the JBR beach, Green Planet, the Escape Challenge Room and educational residential camps. We inquired about favourite days at school and International Day was considered a top day. Our group spoke of great food and dancing along with African and Indian drumming.
The school talent show is also an exciting event plus the focus this year was on the school show, The Lion King, where all years 4, 5 and 6 are involved. Our group are looking forward to seeing their tailor made costumes!
ECAs on offer are considered of a good variety with lots of sport and their swim team competes in several galas. These children love how IT is incorporated into their learning with the use of mini-computers and focus on coding and programming.
KSNAS connects with the community by several charitable activities such as Pink Day for Breast Cancer Charity, Happiness Day and book collections for the needy. Our pupils would describe KSNAS to prospective pupils as ‘unique, positive and small but mighty’! They wanted to highlight how good the Family Fun Day was being on a Saturday when the school was open with trampolines, bouncy castles lots of stalls and food served. Children were then tour guides for any interested parties.
A Tour with the Principal
Darren next led us on a full guided tour of the campus. The interior open spaces are huge, light and centre around an outdoor garden area. Other open areas are creatively used for displays, reading corners or individual teaching spaces. The open learning space in the foundation department is well supplied with play equipment, books and games.
Outdoor play areas are covered by the outdoor roof overhang with a decking floor and a whole variety of learning/play stations. Other shaded adventure spaces are provided with ropes, slides and climbing frames. A large newly planted garden is at the centre of the site so palm trees, shrubs and flowers will grow around the large green lawn. There are benches for picknicking outside and raised garden beds are set up for the school community.
Sports facilities are spacious, newly built and of an excellent standard. We saw large playing fields, sports courts, swimming pools, a multi-purpose sports hall along with an indoor soft play area for younger children.
Classrooms are colourful, spacious and well-lit as all have glass doors and windows that lead outside. We were shown an area for free activity and art and a beautifully set up IT suite. The library area is white, bright, stylish and a tree sculpture forms a focus in the centre. Books all look new and are well organized and displayed in a fun and attractive way.
A shelf by the entrance has a series of books wrapped up and colour coded for different age groups. This ‘mystery check-out’ system is designed to select a book randomly and discover what’s inside when it’s reading time at home, the aim being to open minds to as many genres as possible.
We were shown the cosy parent café run by the Bloom company serving hot and cold drinks and a selection of healthy sandwiches and snacks.
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