Nibras International School was founded in 2005 and is based in Dubai Investment Park. After 10 years of inspection, the school has yet to achieve a rating above Acceptable. A recent change in ownership is expected to address this long-standing situation.
The story so far...
Established in 2005, Nibras International School (NIS) is a school with a chequered history. Despite being by no means a new school, the previous owners appear to have struggled to make the investment in staff and resources necessary to raise standards beyond the Acceptable rating that the school has achieved for twelve years in a row - since inspections began.
The announcement that ISP - the International Schools Partnership - which currently educates 45,000 students in 12 countries, spanning locations as diverse as Mexico and Costa Rica, the USA, UK, Spain, Qatar and Malaysia - had taken over the school should at last mean that the necessary investment will take place. The Group employs 7,000 plus staff operating 46 schools with 14 different curricula.
Nibras School promotes itself as an 'affordable American School in Dubai'. Its motto is Learn. Lead. Influence. The school says it is 'dedicated to igniting the torch of learning in every child. Our curriculum ignites curiosity and leadership on a global stage. By promoting students’ interests, we develop curious, knowledgeable, self-aware citizens who have the integrity and drive to build a better world.'
In addition to Nibras International School, ISP also owns Reach British School and Aspen Heights British School in Abu Dhabi. It is also the organisation behind The Aquila School, which opened in Dubai in September 2018. The ability to call on key staff at other schools and to organise staff training and development workshops across all the UAE schools is a significant factor in raising teaching quality and retention of staff and has been an immediate focus of the new leadership.
In June 2020, ISP announced that Dr Jay Teston would join NIS as the new Principal for the 2020 – 2021 academic year. Dr Teston has over 33 years of experience as an educator, with 25 of these years at schools in the USA.
Dr. Teston completed his Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership in Florida, USA, a Master of Science in Special Education Degree in Pennsylvania, USA and holds several Educational Certificates from the USA, Italy and England. The change in the principal position came about as Michael Cipriano, the previous principal of NIS announced his retirement earlier this year.
NIS informed us that the school is also strengthen senior leadership positions - a KHDA recommendation in the last report - with the new team representing a variety of top level positions in the field of education, including experienced directors, inspectors and divisional heads from K-12 private and international schools.
Student numbers have inevitably reduced over the last two years in line with almost all Dubai schools as a result of economic circumstances. The current cohort in 2020-21 is under 1,000. Students come from over 70 different nationalities, 'creating a diverse atmosphere to nurture multi-cultural understanding, learning and personal growth'.
The largest proportion of students come from Arab countries, with 19.1% from Egypt and 12.5% from Jordan. The next highest nationality group is students from the USA at 5.4%.
According to the 2019-20 KHDA inspection report, the majority of the 76 teachers are from the UK, although the school informed WhichSchoolAdvisor that in 2020-21, teachers come from all over the world - the USA, United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada, India, Ireland, Egypt, Lebanon, and many others.
Although they may not be directly from the US, teachers have experience in the American curriculum and have extensive knowledge in the education field. NIS says it has teachers who earned their degrees in American colleges and universities, as well as those who finished their specialization in America. A good majority of teachers have advanced level degrees.
Teacher turnover has been an ongoing issue at Nibras at all levels. Whilst still high at the end of 2016-17 academic year at 33%, it had improved considerably compared with 48 percent at the end of the 2015-16 academic year. However, the turnover in 2018-19 was again over 30%, and this will no doubt be one of the major challenges that the new Principal will need address. Sixteen new teachers joined NIS in September 2020. A substantial 15% of the school budget is spent on professional development.
With a teacher to student ratio of 1:14 for both Elementary and Secondary school students, this is as expected for a school offering a mid-range fee environment. Average class sizes are 17 - 20 students with a maximum class size of 20. There are between 3 and 6 classes in the Elementary section and two to three classes in the Secondary School.
NIS has been accredited by NEASC - a requirement for all US curriculum schools in Dubai (rare exceptions have been made for schools who have previously obtained accreditation previously - a small number in reality).
NEASC is an independent, voluntary, non-profit membership organisation which connects and serves over 2,000 public and independent schools, technical and career institutions, colleges, and universities in New England plus international schools in more than 65 nations worldwide. NEASC accreditation attests to a school’s high quality and integrity and ensures that the High School Diploma issued by NIS is recognised by Colleges and Universities within the US and overseas.
What about the curriculum?
NIS teaches an American curriculum that is based on the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) Standards, as well as other US National Standards (for non-AERO subjects) and UAE National Standards (for Ministry of Education subjects). These standards provide a framework for curriculum consistency from KG through grade 12 in alignment with research-based trends and ongoing developments worldwide, especially in the US.
AERO is a project supported by the U.S. State Department’s Office of Overseas Schools (A/OPR/OS) and the Overseas Schools Advisory Council to assist schools in developing and implementing standards-based curricula.
Additionally, NIS one of a few mid-market US curriculum high schools in Dubai to offer the Advanced Placement (AP) Program. Advanced Placement (AP) is a programme in the United States and Canada created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. Some American colleges and universities grant placement and courses credit to students who obtain high scores on the examinations.
Advanced Placement courses on offer include: Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, Psychology, Biology, American Literature and Composition, and American Language and Composition. These are offered in addition to the PSAT and SAT tests already available at the school.
NIS has introduced three distinct academic streams for high school students which are Mathematics and Science, Commerce and ICT, and Humanities. Choosing a stream is designed to enable students to follow courses to enable them to come that much closer to their university and career pathway of choice. Each stream has a course pathway that ensures students take the courses that meet the requirements for entry into the university programs of their choosing.
Once a stream is chosen, students can potentially change his/her mind as they research more about various careers. All streams include the mandatory courses students must take. The elective courses vary per stream and are geared towards that stream.
Students receive career counseling from middle school onwards. This gives students the opportunity to make informed choices about their electives according to their chosen career pathway, which will then be related to their chosen stream in high school. The school’s university counselors ensure that students who already know where they want to study after high school stay updated with the admissions requirements of that particular university. Through partnerships with the American University in Dubai, the Canadian University of Dubai, and the University of Balamand, NIS ensures that its students are at the forefront of scholarship opportunities in every program.
In addition to the focus on the academic success of students, NIS also aims to develop students' whole character and skills. A wide range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities are offered through a partnership with Just Play LLC in addition to an in-house teacher led program. A swimming program is already underway, in the temperature-controlled pool and NIS has recently entered into the DASSA Sports league with first successes achieved in U19 Football as Division champions, a 4th place in U16 Football, 3rd place in U16 Basketball Girls Division, 2nd place in the U16.Basketball boys Division and participation in the U19 Volleyball league.
As part of the ISP schools, Nibras is also participating in the ‘ISP Buddy Exchange Programme’. This specific program enables reciprocal exchanges between ISP schools for a period of one month for students aged between 14 – 17 years of age. The program delivers a unique international and cultural learning experience; enabling students to develop their language skills, share good practice, and cultivate long-term friendships across the world. It offers students amazing and diverse learning opportunities within a safe and secure environment. This builds on the involvement of NIS students in Model United Nations debates which the school also entered for the first time two years ago.
With COVID-19 putting constraints on travelling, the ISP Virtual Buddy Exchange Programme (VBEP) was launched for students, ensuring that they did not miss out on this important learning opportunity.
NIS states that is is an inclusive school and promises support to students who require it - be this for Students of Determination or those with Gifts and Talents.
The school has a team of SEN professionals, including a Head of Inclusion/SEN Coordinator for the whole school, an SEN Teacher for Grades 2-5 and an SEN Teacher for Grades 6-12, who come together to determine the level of support a child needs or whether or not the child is eligible to receive special education services. The purpose is to design a support system aligned to the student’s specific area of need, so that we are able to help the student succeed in learning the curriculum.
The Student Support Team provides specialist support to students in various ways:
❖ Individualized Education Plans (IEP) that specify the structure of support, category of eligibility, the student’s areas of need and strength, and interventions and goals
❖ Tiered levels of support based on the student’s response to interventions
❖ Accommodation and modifications that are tailored to the student’s individual needs
❖ Specialized in-class support
❖ A variety of assessment methods to monitor performance and progress
❖ Training and support for all staff and Learning Support Assistants
❖ Regular communication among parents, teachers, and the Student Support Team
According to the KHDA. the level of support for students of Determination is Acceptable. The most recent report noted "Leaders recognize the importance of demonstrating a commitment to inclusive education, and to developing a more targeted and focused improvement strategy to address key areas of development. A governor of inclusive education has recently been appointed, which is helping to provide the necessary resourcing and systems of accountability."
What about academic achievement?
Students at NIS participate in International Benchmark Tests including PISA and TIMMS and these tests enable the school to compare student performance internationally, between grades and over time. Detailed reports provide information about a student’s strengths and areas of improvement in all subjects.
In common with many US curriculum schools, NIS students' progress and attainment are measured through MAP tests, a program which gives parents and students an opportunity to see and develop their strengths and weaknesses in English, Math and Science.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was also informed that students have an 80% AP Pass Rate and that 85% of the students go on to tertiary education.
Some of the Universities to which NIS students have been accepted include University of Calgary, McMaster University, and University of Manitoba, all in Canada, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire Campus, and San Diego City College in the USA, University of South Wales, and UWE Bristol International College, in the UK, and Emirates Aviation University, American University of Sharjah, Ajman University, and University of Wollongong in the UAE.
What about the Facilities?
Nibras International School is located on a very large site at the main entrance to Dubai Investments Park. It is surrounded by grass playing fields and has plentiful outdoor space and facilities for both sports and play. Outdoor play areas have recently been refurbished as part of the investment in the school by its new owners. The building itself - in the shape of an E over two floors - is spacious, offering large rooms, all with outdoor aspect, which have recently been updated.
Dedicated Music and Art & Craft Rooms are provided which include art, music and dance facilities to encourage young artists and musicians of all abilities and across all age groups to get involved and build their self-confidence, imagination and creative skills. Specialist music teachers ensure all children have the opportunity to learn the instrument of their choice.
Specialist Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Google For Education facilities have received additional investment with a computer laboratory with internet and multimedia facilities, 3D printing equipment, and two 65-inch interactive screens. 120 Chromebooks and 120 iPads are available for classroom use and electronic keyboards and Sibellius (score creation software) enable students to compose their own music and record in notation. KG children have access to Blue bots – remote-controlled, programmable characters. NIS has two well-resourced science laboratories for middle and senior school students.
NIS students have access to a large floodlit football field with real grass (one of the largest of any school in Dubai), a tennis court, an indoor dance studio, a 25m indoor heated swimming pool, and a separate training pool for early years children.
What the inspectors say
The most recent KHDA inspection (2019/2020) took place in November 2019. The rating was again Acceptable.
Unfortunately, there was little evidence that the school had moved forward in terms of the six Key Performance standards. There was only one improved measure and eight downgrades. All others remained as per the previous report. However, on a more positive note, we should add that Nibras achieved the 'Developed' rating in the Distance Learning Evaluation carried out by the KHDA in support of the online learning requirement in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The inspectors noted the following strengths of the school in the DSIB annual inspection:
Inspectors noted that children in the Kindergarten (KG) make good progress in all their subjects due to the investigative learning environment created by teachers. Across the school science students achieve good progress by relying on the scientific method to guide their analysis. However, students progress has weakened in English in Elementary, Middle and High School. Student progress and attainment is largely acceptable across English, Math and Science, but largely weak in Arabic (both native and non-native speakers) in the Middle and High School section.
Inspectors commented 'The Ministry of Education (MoE) standards for Islamic education, Arabic, moral education and UAE social studies are presenting a significant challenge for the school and its students to achieve.' Given the school demographic, this must be an area of real concern.
Inspectors found that children quickly develop positive attitudes and behaviors, thus demonstrating their very good personal development. Students in the upper phases also exhibit a good level of personal development. They interact well with their peers and are becoming self-reliant in their choice of activities. Students are cordial and respectful in their conduct to one another and to staff. A majority have a clear understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and other world cultures.
The quality of teaching remains strong in the KG. Planning for discovery, and moment-by moment analysis, ensure that students are making good progress. The quality of teaching for effective learning in other phases of the school, has declined since the last inspection. The school has not made successful efforts to monitor and support the needs of developing teachers. This has led to a decline in students’ levels of achievement.
Inspectors were positive about the protection, guidance, care and support of students, noting that the school provides very good provision for the health and safety of all students and staff. Building maintenance, overall cleanliness, and effective child protection practices are now embedded in the culture of the school.
Two measures were also downgraded from Good to Acceptable in relation to the Leadership and Management of the school. The report states that 'frequently changing leadership is impacting adversely upon the process of school improvement. At the time of inspection, some leadership positions were vacant or only very recently filled. The support and development of teachers has been limited by these challenges'.
In terms of areas for improvement, the list is short but specific. There is a very clear cry to action.
Owners ISP, and new Principal Dr. Teston and his management team will clearly need to focus on:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Some 115 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey. Over 90% of parents reported that they were satisfied with the quality of education at the school and that it represented good value for money. Almost all believed that their children are safe at school. The large majority of parents considered that the school listens to their opinions and takes their concerns seriously. Parents stated that communication is regular and helps them to support the development of their children.
The school supports communication through Curriculum Workshops to which parents are invited to participate and receive weekly updates from staff. There is also now an active Parent Advisory Board with representation from across the school.
234 students, a representative sample of middle and high school students in responded to the KHDA's Well-being survey. Most students expressed medium to high levels of satisfaction with life. Their levels of distress were low compared to those of other students across Dubai.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a limited number of responses and most were not especially positive, rating the school 2.8/5. 70% of respondents were parents of KG and Elementary students. Whilst most parents believe that their children enjoy going to school, 30% were not satisfied with the academic performance of the school, whilst 40% were partially satisfied and all respondents felt that their child needed external tuition. 80% of respondents had considered moving their child to another school. Despite this, 60% of parents would recommend Nibras to other parents, though 30% would not. Whether the respondents were particularly disaffected parents is difficult to say.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Nibras International School, please share your experience to ensure a balanced view with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey here.
With the involvement of ISP, we had hoped to see a speedier improvement at NIS. The school is still rated Acceptable by the KHDA; our expectation was that it would be well on the way to a Good rating. This is not yet the case. This is a pity - NIS has a lot going for it. It is now one of only two mid-fee range US curriculum schools to the south of the city and the only US curriculum school in Dubai Investment Park.
With the appointment of a highly qualified new Principal, updated facilities and the attention from the owners that we would expect to see, we do believe that NIS is capable of achieving a higher standard of delivery.
For parents seeking a US curriculum school within the DIP area and a moderate fee level, whilst their children may not benefit from the highest standards as yet, we know that the school will be striving towards them and there is an opportunity to influence and to participate in the school's growth as it develops.
The mid-range school fees for Nibras International School start at AED 22,827 for KG1 and rise to AED 45,374 for Grade 10 - 12.
There is an application fee AED 500; the registration fee for new students (payable in two parts) is 30% of tuition, refundable against the first term's fees. The re-registration fee for existing students is 10% of tuition. Sibling discounts for two or more children of 10% for the younger child and 5% for the older are available.
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