At a glance
The Story so Far
The Nord Anglia Education School offers the National Curriculum of England and Wales to Year 11, eventually to be followed by the IB Diploma for post-16 students. Teachers have been recruited predominantly from the UK, but with a fairly typical UAE mix from other native English-speaking countries, such as Australia, Canada and South Africa. All are said have a minimum of three years teacher experience.
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Currently Nord Anglia Dubai is open to Year 11 and already full in almost all year groups. The school's current population is, approximately, 1365 students.
What do the Inspectors Say?
For this first KHDA report, Nord Anglia Education School has been rated as Good which indicates that the school was well prepared for its first review. Overall the inspection team noted:
- The outstanding provision and children’s outcomes in the FS.
- Students’ attainment and progress in English, mathematics and science in the secondary phase.
- Students’ personal and social development, their appreciation of Islamic values, their awareness of the heritage and culture of the UAE, their contribution to the community and their care for the environment.
- The breadth of the curriculum, the range of languages on offer and the commitment to innovation and to the teaching of technology.
All of this is quite impressive for a school's first report. The FS stage of the school is Outstanding in almost all indicators, making this a very special place for Dubai's littlest learners.
The report notes that beyond the academic attainment and progress of the students, there is a focus on whole child development due in part to the amount of activities on offer. "The large majority of students participate in the extensive, varied and exciting opportunities that the school offers. Students are proactive and resilient and their positive attitudes have a positive impact on their learning," explains the report.
Furthermore, there is an inclusive ethos at the school that promotes a happy community where all students feed valued. "The large majority of students across the phases demonstrate exemplary behaviour... Students feel valued and as a result they demonstrate self-confidence, are respectful and take pride in all they do." This was clear to WSA in our tour of the school; student art is proudly on display and overall there is a learning "buzz" on campus.
An area of focus for the school is Arabic and Islamic Education. Attainment and progress across the school in these subjects was found to be almost exclusively Acceptable with Secondary Attainment in Arabic as a First Language rated as Weak. However, the school has brought in a new Arabic teaching specialist from Scotland so chances are that this is one area of the school that will improve.
Another area for development is the school's SEND program. Although currently rated as Good, the report notes that "Modification of work in the classroom to meet the needs of students with SEND is improving but is variable across subjects and phases. Regular rigorous monitoring of in-class support by SEND staff is not fully in place to identify where improvement is needed."
What about the Facilities?
Nord Anglia Dubai occupies a large rectangular plot of land in Al Barsha 2, close to the Hessa Street and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road junction and within reach of all the residential areas around Arabian Ranches, as well as Dubai Investment Park, Emirates Hills and Umm Suqeim. Access is via a private road, with plenty of space for parking and no other buildings in the immediate vicinity. The school owns the land directly in front has been developed as a sports field for football, rugby and other grass sports.
The school building itself is L-shape and 3-storey, with a very modern appearance, set off by the shading outside the windows. Internally, classrooms are set around two large quadrangles that are used for meeting areas and central common areas, including assemblies and other gatherings that do not require use of the large, 450 seat theatre/auditorium, which is at one end of the building.
The interior of the building is light and airy, with a spiral central staircase in front of the reception, as well as a lift to the higher floors. There is a very novel and appealing special pathway, painted with a grass border, (via a tunnel) to the separate Early Years section of the school. The pathway leads to a circular-shaped classroom environment for the school's younger children.
Early Years classrooms are all bright and inviting, with small class sizes (the school has a maximum class sizes of 18 in EYFS grades, and up to 20 from Year 1 onwards), supported by a teacher and teaching assistant. Each room has windows to both the interior courtyard and exterior of the building. The Early Years section also has a dedicated library, an indoor, multi-purpose space used for PE, and an outdoor play area which features a fabulous pirate ship, already a firm favourite judging by the reactions of children during our visit.
The main building houses the remaining classrooms and specialist teaching areas, including IT labs, science labs, art and DT rooms, music rooms, fully sprung floored dance studios, libraries, as well as a canteen serving hot meals. Again, all the classrooms in this main section are light and bright, with windows opening to both the exterior and to the interior railed corridors that overlook the internal quadrangle areas. One of the unusual offerings of the school is its Lego room, which will be used as a centre for children to participate in robotics competitions, which are becoming increasingly popular globally.
Nord Anglia International School Dubai is well equipped for sports facilities, with a large gymnasium housed on the ground floor and a purpose-built, shaded outdoor swimming pool area on the second floor, which includes two pools (for non-swimmers and swimmers) and overlooks the expansive playing fields located at the back of the school site.
What about Student Achievement?
Academically, the Nord Anglia group globally has been extremely successful, with students regularly achieving excellent results at IGCSE and the IB diploma. The academic focus of the school is reflected in its small class sizes – no more than 18 students in EYFS and 20 from Year 1 upwards in each class.
An incredible 25% of Nord Anglia IB Diploma students from among its 31 schools achieve 40 points or above, compared with a global average of 5-6%. One of the areas of particular focus in Dubai is the teaching of foreign languages for native speakers, with languages as diverse as Chinese, German, French and Spanish being offered. The school has recently become the only international school in the UAE to act as an official HSK testing centre for Chinese speakers.
It is early days but the school's first cohort of exam takers - those taking Chinese, French, German and Spanish IGCSEs - got either an A or A*in their exams. If that is indicative of things to come, the school will have more than lived up to its promise.
Nord Anglia International School Dubai, makes no secret about the fact that it is academically selective, and we understand that the school was true to its policy, refusing places to students whom they felt the school might not be able to support adequately, or where they felt that parents might not be willing to support the school fully in its goals.
What about Inclusion?
Nord Anglia Dubai aims to offer an inclusive environment with some support for students with special needs - although this it points out is limited. The school says it mostly focuses on Gifted and Talented extension work but some support can be provided for children with, for example, moderate dyslexia. The school does not have an educational psychologist. More information on the level of learning support can be found in the Q and A.
Info about Extracurriculars
Music and Sports are seen as key elements of the curriculum (the Principal is rumoured to have a drum kit in his office...) and the school also offers a number of languages (French, German, Spanish and Chinese) for native and non-native speakers, as well as Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Underscoring its credentials as a school that cares more than just about the 3Rs is Nord Anglia's partnership with the world famous Julliard.
Julliard's Performing Arts programme has been rolled out and it is a significant coup for the school and its students. The undergraduate music school is widely regarded as one of the world's best.
Plans for Parents
Nord Anglia plans a Parent Advisory Board that will liaise with the Principal in looking at the strategic direction of the school, and a strong commitment to a very Parent-friendly and engaged environment. There is a Parents’ Association that will organise social activities aimed at growing the school community and this has already taken charge of the Parents’ Café on the ground floor.
What are the Fees?
Nord Anglia Dubai is clearly setting itself up as one of the emirate's top-tier schools, and fees do reflect that. Fees range from AED 62,160 in Nursery (FS1) to AED 89,096 for Year 11.
An extremely ambitious school which is a branch of a leading international chain, Nord Anglia Dubai has quickly established an excellent reputation. There is a clear emphasis on respect and manners as well as academic achievement without the loss of a sense of fun. The early years department in particular is outstanding but there is much to admire throughout all areas of the school.
NAS is fairly new to Dubai as it opened its doors in September 2014. As an organization it’s one of the 43 Nord Anglia schools internationally. The group was originally founded in 1972 in Hong Kong.
The school follows the English National Curriculum and is an all through school with children from aged 3 to 18. So far the school has children up to year 11 so has its first full cohort of GCSE students this year. In sixth form the full IB diploma programme is offered.
The school is based in Al Barsha 2 close to Hessa Street and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road. Although the school campus occupies a large plot and the grounds are beginning to look a bit more mature, the site is surrounded by construction work in every direction.
There are three storeys in the modern L shaped block buildings and classrooms surround two large central common areas. The architecture is clean, stylish with huge rectangular windows throughout with tasteful, primary coloured block designs and sensible shading. There are now a few established palm trees and other vegetation which break up the formal structure. As yet, there is no organized car park but there is ample space at the front and back for parents to park.
Touring the School
We were greeted by security and after signing in, we were directed to the reception area. Immediately a sense of light, space and the elegance of the architecture lifts the eye and is welcoming but at the same time makes one feel small. The open spaces are huge and bright due to the arched skylight windows above. Long colourful house flags dominate one skylight rooftop while another is festooned by a striking display of international flags. In between these, an eye-catching and stylish wide spiral staircase reaches from the ground to the top of the building.
A little bridge arches over a cute entrance tunnel for the youngest of the community who have this special route into school. A grand piano is also sitting ready in the middle of the open space. NAS is working with the Juilliard Music School from NYC and has regular visits, performances and master classes available to students. These open performances have become a feature of the school and music can often be heard throughout the building during class time. This central area is also a spot for weekly busking sessions by the pupils themselves who are given encouragement to perform in public.
The three floors of the building all have wonderful colour schemes along with some impressive art work by the students on show on the ground floor. Our tour guides were Maria and Svenja, the two highly enthusiastic marketing representatives who were eager to highlight all of the key features of the school. We began our visit by exploring the early years ‘paradise’, the indoor central space for play and learning, an extraordinary array of climbing equipment, scientific learning apparatus, sand and water play areas along with building paraphernalia. When we visited it was ‘all stations go’ as the little ones along with their teachers and assistants made good use of all of the adventures available. This space is central to the oval building that houses the early years section and each classroom has access to it. Every class has a teacher with a qualified TA and there are specialist teachers from other areas of the school who come to share their knowledge.
Along with Arabic, Chinese is studied from day one at NAS so there is great respect for languages here. Classrooms are large, bright and decorated with visually exciting displays of the children’s work. For example we saw space themes, pirates, witches, Antartica, jungle and many others.
We progressed through the school to see more of the primary followed by the secondary sections which move up through the three storeys. The specialist classrooms are all spacious, state-of-the-art and fully equipped. We were specially impressed by the DT, Art, Music and Home Economic departments which all look outstanding.
A Year 9 group were packing up after a busy Home Ec lesson and they had just made bread and a two course meal. The library we saw was huge, well-set out and inviting. The science labs were impressive along with a specialist state-of-the-art lego room. The dance studio we observed was beautiful along with a wonderful indoor multi-purpose sports hall. The large auditorium is fabulous and we were able to have a peek preview for ‘Hairspray’, the upcoming show.
An indoor swimming pool was in full use as we passed by. Outdoor facilities include a huge covered climbing frame/play area for primary and a well set out running track around a sports pitch.
There is a real sense of order in this superbly designed school. The students move around in groups and look at ease. They are friendly as we cross paths. The atmosphere is purposeful, professional and very focused. Our next experience was a chat with two parents who were available to give their view of the establishment.
Chatting with Parents
Niamh has two children aged seven and 11 at the school and Liz a ten and a thirteen year old. We asked why they had chosen NAS and it had been on friends’ recommendation. They realized that to choose a new school was a bit of a gamble but the Open Day they had attended was so impressive that their confidence had been won. They also both appreciated the proven history of the Nord Anglia brand internationally.
They were most impressed by the pep talk by the then head Mr Mike Embley who laid down the principals of the school’s commitment and parental expectations. Niamh and Liz spoke of the ethos of the school which is ‘the children wants children to be children’ and there is a real ‘hands on’ style of learning here.
Another area that struck them was the teaching of Mandarin from early years and they told of how pupils have even been understood when communicating in China. They both praised the community feel of the school where everyone tries to help and they are ‘surrounded by smiles’. Even though there has been fast growth in numbers class sizes have been kept to a maximum of 20. These parents appreciate what they describe as ‘an open door policy’ where parents issues are dealt with at once. An area of challenge they agreed to be the Arabic department which they feel still teaches in a rather ‘traditional style to a stern curriculum where no deviation was allowed’. It was also mentioned that as the school expands to sixth form there could be some space issues in the future.
We asked about learning support available to students who need that bit extra. Our parents described the department as well run and that the children feel very important rather than different. Acccelerated classes for the ‘gifted and talented’ are also part of this department. A withdrawal group is run by staff to manage individual pupils who may have behavioural issues.
We inquired about the homework expectations at NAS and it was thought to be good and well-organised. Throughout primary it is set on Tuesday and expected in on Sunday. At secondary it is considered a top-up of what they are studying in class and takes one to two hours each evening. We asked if as parents they thought NAS to be good value for money and the response was ‘expensive but what they’re getting is good quality.’
The school uniform is quite strict with dark tartan skirt or shorts, a dark green blazer and white shirt or blouse with tie. As parents they appreciated that Zaks the provider has a shop on site but that it is expensive and ‘of OK quality’. It was also mentioned that all blazers for little ones and for all times of year in Dubai ‘was a little unnecessary’.
The parking situation at drop off and pick up times is plagued by the constant construction which is very disruptive just now. A bus service is available and is run by an outside company. Niamh and Liz are both happy with the school trips on offer at NAS which range from a one night camp starting in year 3 to optional overseas trips such as skiing. In addition to this there are regular visitors to the school from all walks of life to teach and expand the children’s educational experience.
ECAs on offer are thought to be a very good selection. There are six different clubs per year group for free covering the academics, the arts, sporting squads and teams run by the teaching staff. Some outside providers bring specialist paid for clubs such as dance, fitness etc. Parents can also participate in language and fitness classes.
An active parent’s association group organizes social events and helps run the Chatterbox café, the popular hangout in the lobby for teachers and parents alike. Communication between the school and parents is regular via a website and weekly newsletter. Parents also receive emails from teachers every day explaining topics being studied in class. Formal parents evenings are run twice a year with ten minute interviews with each teacher and our parents agreed the quality was good. Each class elects a parent rep who communicates to others via WhatsApp so information is passed around with ease.
School food was our next topic for discussion and our parents were very happy with the choice and quality. A new company overseen by a lady called Julie provides fresh food cooked on site from scratch served to at least two canteens in the school. A sign of the quality of this is that fewer children bring their snack box. The food on offer ranges from fresh fruit salads to subway-style rolls, shwarmas, paninis and even an outdoor BBQ area for burgers and kebabs.
Finally we asked if education here at NAS is as good as in their home country. Our parents both agreed it was way beyond and would describe the quality as excellent and that their children were happy. It was mentioned that parents at NAS don’t feel the need to reach out for any additional tutoring for their children. The ethos here they felt was ‘deal with and cover any issues that required additional attention.’
Overall they feel that the teaching here is on exactly the right level and there is no undue pressure.
Talking with Students
Next, we were delighted to meet a group of students from various year groups to discuss NAS. Daniel year 11 and about to finish his GCSEs, Aryan year 9, Jessica year 8, Abbey and Jasper in year 6. This group between them have studied at NAS for two to three years. We asked what was special to them about the school and the teachers were mentioned first.
Our pupils really value the academic element, the performing arts, art studios, and overall involvement in learning. They described how solid they feel the school to be and this has happened in such a short time. They believe a strong community feel has developed and that everyone has settled in quickly. Nothing came to mind when we asked how could the school improve except the crowded canteen at busy times.
We received some lovely comments about staff-pupil relationships. One pupil felt that her tutor was ‘like a dad’. The students explained how they felt they could speak to teachers who were ‘very welcoming’. They spoke of the fair discipline policy and how in upper years teaching is very personalized. Student culture our group described as very friendly with the ‘right level of competition’.
They spoke of how fellow pupils look out for and help each other out. Bullying they believe is not tolerated as a pupil run anti-bullying community is effective and there is ‘a snappy reaction’ if there is any hint of trouble.
A student council led by children runs at NAS. Three representatives from each year can initiate ideas for the good of the community. The pupils spoke of how their uniform was relatively comfortable and one told us how putting it on made her feel more mature and settled down to study.
Our students feel most definitely challenged academically as there is always work to do. Daniel mentioned how ‘every teacher is on your case at GCSE level’. We asked about the quality of teaching and they expressed ‘beyond satisfcation’. The quality of fun in the primary years was emphasized. Stories that captured their experience at NAS were generally around school trips which they loved. Other highlights were the rewards system and year 5 & 6 talent show. One girl added how when she first arrived as a new pupil she was showered with hugs by her new classmates.
The friendship and loyalty among students is prized. ECAS on offer are considered to be of a good selection from homework club, to sports and robotics. IT is considered to be effectively used around school with Mac suites for graphic design, laptops and they can also bring in their own iPads. In primary smart phones are banned but in secondary pupils can bring them in but they’re not to be used in school.
Charity involvement is important at NAS with food collections and bake sales for Dubai Cares. Environmental issues are also covered via the Eco Club and recycling visits to Green City nearby. Our team would describe NAS to prospective students as ‘firm academically but with a great community feel. You’re pushed to the limit but it’s a good environment’. Finally they love that it is very student led. ‘Teachers want you to do your best’ and ‘pupils feel empowered’. ‘It’s a great school’.
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