Merryland International School is a UK curriculum through-school catering for students from age 4 to 18, located in the Mussaffah area of Abu Dhabi. It is one of the oldest UK curriculum schools, having been established in 1978 as a Kindergarten, before expanding rapidly to Primary. The school relocated from its villa location to a purpose-built facility in 2010.
The Story so far...
Merryland International School is indeed a school with a story. Founded by an Indian national, Mrs. Susheela George, who relocated to the UAE following her marriage, the original Merryland Kindergarten opened in April 1978 at a villa in Najda with seven students. Within six months, the school had 70 students and was forced to relocate. Mrs. George gained her early experience in Southern India, following completion of her university thesis, where she implemented the Dalton Method of Education for adult education.
On relocation to Abu Dhabi, she initially implemented the same curriculum described as "an intricate and efficient technique of coping with the demands of the individual capacity of the learner and enabling the learner get accustomed to a systematic learning process at a relatively early age. It is a flexible system and focuses a great deal on an individually planned curriculum; especially in allowing the individual learner gain a strong foundation in the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic."
Such was the popularity of Merryland Kindergarten, that Mrs. George went on to found two further institutions; Sherwood Academy (a CBSE curriculum school) which opened in 1987 as a sister concern and was initially located in the Buteen area, with 190 Merryland graduates as its first pupils, and the Sherwood O Level branch in Mushrif, set up to offer the UK curriculum. In May 2009, ADEK issued decrees to close or relocate all operational (villa) schools on residential plots by 2013. Merryland decided to construct a new state-of-the-art school on a plot allocated to them at Mussaffah. Students at the CBSE school were given three years' notice for parents to find suitable alternative schools, whilst parents of students at the O level school were given preference for admissions to the new school.
The school's vision is "To ensure that all learners in Merryland International school develop physically, mentally, socially and spiritually in order to function responsibly and productively in the present dynamic, technological and complex society. We aim to provide equal opportunities for all learners, impart training that will equip them with the necessary knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes required for work and life in a dynamic society, [and] raise a generation of confident, mature citizens".
Perhaps equally or more motivating is the short and succinct message to students from the school's Founder:
"For the future, I would like to leave my impressions as I see life and the world today, so that when you grow up, you will carry on your life with true values and pass it on to your children.
Remember dear children, earthly possessions will vanish. All the money and name you gained with pain will be like Alexander the Great’s empty palm. He conquered nations, but carried nothing when he died. That was the message on his dead palm.
Therefore dear children,
• Fear and obey God.
• Be wise to know good from evil.
• Fear evil for it will destroy you.
• Do good and be blessed all the days of your life".
Although the day to day management of the school is now in the hands of Aaron Grandon, Chairman & Chief Operations Officer, Mrs. George, now aged 75 years, still takes an active role in its operations. In 2017, she received a Doctorate and Professorship from Oxford University "for her commendable service in the field of education in the UAE for the last forty-five years". She attributes her success to the "3D formula" - Divinity, Dedication, Discipline.
Today, Merryland International School has over 2,500 students supported by some 160 teachers. The largest student nationality groups are Pakistani (27%), Indian (21%) and Bangladeshi (10%). The school also has a reasonably substantial Emirati student population of 11%. The school has a very small proportion of students with SEND requirements (1%). Teachers are predominantly from India, and with an enviably low staff turnover rate of 8%, this is clearly a school where staff are satisfied with their positions.
The school was one of only four to be rated Outstanding by Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department in the 2017-18 academic year. It achieved this whilst charging fees which are considerably lower than the other schools who were awarded the same rating.
What about facilities?
Merryland International School does not make much of its facilities - these are something that it clearly does not need to "sell". The most recent ADEK report notes that "the school is very well resourced and has a range of specialist facilities including a robotics laboratory, a library and specialist play areas".
With some 75 classrooms, a range of the state- of- the- art facilities which include multiple labs for Science subjects including Biology, Physics and Chemistry, and specialist facilities for ICT, including a Robotic Development Centre, a Planetarium and a Learning Centre for younger children, the school is well resourced. Merryland has introduced PC Lab carts in classrooms in order to widen the use of ICT across Arabic, English and Mathematics, and "to develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration, life and career skills, leadership and responsibility, and information, communication and technology literacy".
A custom-made multipurpose indoor stadium enables students to play basketball, volleyball, handball, badminton, table tennis and a range of indoor games, whilst the school is actively involved in cricket and soccer leagues. A temperature controlled indoor swimming pool is also available with an aim to provide intensive coaching to pupils who are interested in swimming.
What about the curriculum?
Merryland follows the Cambridge International Curriculum leading to IGCSE (in Grade 10), AS and A Levels. The International curriculum is designed to develop students’ skills in creative thinking, enquiry and problem solving, and to prepare them for the next stage in their education. Merryland International is not only accredited by Cambridge University, but has also been recognised by CIS as its only Middle East brand ambassador as the Cambridge Pilot School for Outstanding performance in the Middle East.
In the early years, Merryland follows an internally developed curriculum in lines with the Early Years Foundation Stage for Kindergarten. The curriculum at Merryland is divided into five stages: Kindergarten, Cambridge Primary, Cambridge Secondary, Cambridge Secondary (IGCSE) and Cambridge Advanced. The school also complies with the Cambridge progression tests offered at the end of all stages, whilst the Cambridge ‘Check point examination’ tests students at the end of year 6 and year 8 in literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge to be on track for IGCSE.
In addition to the core subjects of English, Mathematics, Science, Arabic 1 and 2, Islamic Studies and Social Studies, Merryland also offers a range of other subjects including Urdu, Art, Music, ICT, Business Studies and Physical Education. There is a particular focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and Robotics.
What about Academic Achievement?
Despite comments in the ADEK report which notes Outstanding achievement, Merryland does not, unfortunately, publish its results in a meaningful way which would enable parents to receive a full overview of accomplishment. This is a great pity, and something we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would strongly urge every school to do, since it enables both the school and students to celebrate their overall achievement, as well as celebrating particularly strong individual results.
The ADEK report notes that "2017 International General Certificate in Education (IGCSE) data shows that students’ attainment is outstanding in all subjects, including in Arabic. Students’ attainment in Advanced subsidiary (AS) levels is very good in mathematics, IT Biology, chemistry and physics. Advanced (A) level data also indicates that students attain at a very good level in these subjects, and [are]outstanding in chemistry". Merryland does inform parents that students of the school received 12 outstanding Cambridge Learner Awards in the 2018 IGCSE, AS and A level examinations. These awards recognise "the exceptional performance of students and the committed services of the school".
Impressively for a school that is not largely Arabic first language, the 2017 External Measure of Achievement (EMSA) data for Arabic reading was also determined to be good overall when benchmarked against national expectations for Grades 5, 7, 9, and 11. Although students’ Arabic writing results were graded as weak, Grade 12 Ministry of Education (MoE) exam results were outstanding in 2017.
Furthermore, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data exceeded international averages in both subjects, whilst Programme for International Students’ Assessments (PISA) mock results for 2017 were above Abu Dhabi national averages in reading, mathematics and science and ADEK awarded the school for the "Outstanding Performance in PISA MOCK 1 Exam" – part of the “100 Days Mission” initiative in 2018.
Merryland students participate in a range of international benchmarking tests. In addition to PISA and TIMMS, in 2016, Merryland children achieved a number of awards for their outstanding performance in the International Benchmark examination conducted in English, Mathematics and Science by ACER, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).
What the Inspectors say
Merryland International was one of a small number of new schools to achieve an Outstanding rating from ADEK in the 2017-18 inspection programme. It joined Raha International, Brighton College Al Ain and Aldar's Al Muna Primary School with the top rating. In the first term of the 2018-19 academic year, Brighton College Abu Dhabi and the British School of Al Khubairat were also awarded Outstanding. The next inspection for Merryland will take place in 2019-20. It stands out already as the least costly of all of the Outstanding-rated schools.
The ADEK inspection team identified the school's strengths as:
The school was rated as Outstanding across all six key performance areas.
In terms of Student Achievement, inspectors noted that "Students’ achievement is outstanding, overall. It is outstanding in the KG, and in English, mathematics and science. Students’ achievement is very good in Islamic education, good in social studies and Arabic as a first language. It remains acceptable for Arabic as a second language. Students’ learning skills are outstanding". Whilst there is a clear division between the attainment and progress of students in the English-based subjects - which were rated Outstanding across the school - to achieve Acceptable across Arabic as a Second language, and Good or Very Good for the other Arabic-medium subjects is something that most UAE schools would be delighted to achieve.
Every other key performance measure across the school, for Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, for Teaching and Assessment, and Curriculum, for the protection, care, guidance and support of students, and for Leadership and Management were uniformly rated Outstanding. This is a remarkable achievement.
Of course, Merryland International certainly will not want to rest on its laurels, and ADEK will not permit it to do so. Areas of improvement identified, on which the school will be expected to focus and to make progress include:
To further raise students’ achievement in Arabic medium subjects by: raising teachers’ expectations of students’ learning, planning greater opportunities for students to speak, read and write in lessons, asking questions to challenge and deepen learning, [and] setting more challenging work that is closely matched to students’ needs, particularly for higher-achieving students.
We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com had rather a sense that many education watchers in the UAE were surprised by Merryland International's achievement of an Outstanding rating. Having now looked more closely at the school, its founder, and the way it presents itself to both students and parents, we are somewhat surprised that this school was not put on the map earlier. True, it does not have the splendid campus, extensive facilities and outdoor spaces, but nor does it have the premium fees. As the National noted "Merryland School has been rated outstanding in a new ADEK report, proving children can get a great education at an affordable price".
Fees at Merryland range from AED 23,500 in KG1 (FS2) and rise to AED 41,100 for Grade 12 (Year 13). There is a re-registration fee of approx 5% each year (which the school's website states is non-refundable - we hope this is an error).
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