The second Nord Anglia Education school in the UAE, opened in Dubai in September 2014, following the British International School of Abu Dhabi (BISAD), which has been established for a number of years in the capital.
Opening in 2014 on its own large site, with a purpose-designed and constructed three storey building, Nord Anglia International School Dubai (NAS Dubai) part of the Nord Anglia Education Group of over 30 international schools, offers the National Curriculum of England and Wales to Year 11, followed by the IB Diploma for post-16 students.
The NAS Dubai population currently sits at 1745 students. The Secondary school is home to 702 of these children, Primary 734 and Early Years 309. The 161 teachers and 90 teaching assistants mean that classes are kept small, with a teacher:student ratio of 1:11 and maximum class sizes of 20 students across the school.
Teachers at NAS Dubai 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 teaching experience.
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Clearly teachers are largely happy with their employment, creating a stable environment. A staff turnover of 10% is half of the normal range of 20-22% found on average at international schools in the UAE.
In our previous review, we stated that NAS Dubai was an ‘academically selective’ school. The school is keen to point out that this is no longer the case, with Principal Matthew Farthing describing the school as ‘wholly inclusive’. As with most UAE schools, children are assessed prior to joining. Currently there are some 125 children at NAS Dubai who are designated students of Determination and who are provided with specialist support. There is also a focus on extension work for students who are gifted and talented. More information on the level of learning support can be found in the Q and A.
What about the curriculum?
NAS Dubai follows the English National Curriculum to Year 11, when students sit their first external examinations - iGCSEs. English, Mathematics, Science and Computer Science, a language (Arabic, French, German, Mandarin or Spanish) and a choice of either Geography or History are considered "core" subjects, in preparation for the IB Diploma, and are taken by all students. The school also encourages early entry for English and Maths (in common with more selective academic schools) in Year 10.
NAS Dubai students sat their first IB Diploma examinations in 2019. For full details go here.
The small cohort of 20 IB students performed exceptionally well with an average IB point score of 36.6 (compared with the global score of 30 points), and a 100% pass rate.
IB options are based around the 6 Options Groups of Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics and the Arts. Full details for the 2019-20 options may be found here.
Underscoring its credentials as a school that cares more than just about the 3Rs are Nord Anglia's partnerships with US-based Juilliard School of Performing Art, UNICEF, and MIT (the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology).
Juilliard's Performing Arts programme is a significant coup for the school and its students. Hailing from New York, the Juilliard undergraduate music and performing arts school is widely regarded as one of the world's best. Positive feedback from NAS students, parents and staff is telling here; this collaboration has clearly become a fundamental aspect of day to day life in the school. The partnership established with Nord Anglia provides a unique curriculum and exchange of specialists from Juilliard.
A second, equally significant collaboration with UNICEF is also making an impact at Nord Anglia. Throughout the school, children have the opportunity to work on projects aligned with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. Again, not just a ‘headline’ – the children we met spoke proudly of these projects and wore badge indicating their involvement in specific areas.
Lastly, innovation and STEAM at the school has been strengthened by a partnership with MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Students from across the NAS Education group have the opportunity to travel to Massachusetts and Warsaw to take part in MIT conferences and teachers have regular MIT led training and workshops. In the classrooms, students tackle STEAM topics and problems across the curriculum.
What about the facilities?
NAS Dubai occupies a large rectangular plot of land in Al Barsha South, 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 Sports City, 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 surrounding plots of land are very much still building sites (as are a significant, currently separate portion of the school grounds), and parents report fairly regular changes to parking and access to the school as a result.
The 3 storey school building itself is L-shape has a very modern appearance, set off by the shading outside the windows. The reception area features a quirky uneven floor (it’s a ‘bridge’, hiding the secret entrance to Early Years!) – something that most visitors to the school seem to remember and mention! Adjacent to the reception area is the parent run café, Chatterbox, surrounded by tables, chairs and sofas, making this a welcoming space and a seemingly natural hub for the school.
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 impressive 450 seat theatre/auditorium, which is at one end of the building.
The Early Years section is separated from the remainder of the school. Classes sizes in Early Years are now level with the rest of the school at 20 (an increase from 18 reported in our previous review). All Early Years classrooms are ‘double size’ meaning that 40 children share one very large room, with two teachers and four teaching assistants. Classes circle a well-resourced central play area and we felt that the large double classes and open plan play areas had been sensibly designed with free flow and child initiated learning in mind. The Early Years section also has a dedicated library and an indoor multi-purpose space used for PE and activities such as LEGO and construction.
The main building houses the remaining classrooms and specialist teaching areas, including IT labs, science labs, Art, Food Technology and DT rooms, Music rooms, fully sprung floored dance studios, libraries, as well as two canteens serving hot meals. One room has been purposefully designated for Robotics.
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NAS 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. The current construction work (due for completion in 2020) will add to these already impressive facilities, creating more sports facilities, language labs and improving the space and facilities for Post 16 students.
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 20 students.
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.
In its early days, the school's first cohort of exam takers in 2016 - those taking Chinese, French, German and Spanish iGCSEs - got either an A or A*in their exams. That was indicative of things to come. For the first full cohort of iGCSE students, the school achieved 71% A* to A and 98% A* to C. This places the school second in the country.
2018 i/GCSE results for the school's second full cohort achieved equally impressive grades, with 36% of results at A* (9-8 under the new GCSE system),65% A*- A (9-7), 90% A*- B (9-6) and 99% A*- C (9-4).
In 2019, 92 students sat a total of 857 examinations. Performances at the top end were particularly impressive with 41% of results graded 9-8/A* including 24% at Grade 9, 66% were graded 9-7/A*-A, 85% at 9-6/A*-B and 98% 9-4/A*-C. 98% of students achieved a minimum of 5 GCSE passes including English and Maths. Incredibly, 75% of students out-performed their predicted grades.
Also in 2019, NAS Dubai’s first cohort of IB Diploma students received an incredibly impressive average of 36.6 points. The school achieved a 100% pass rate, with 25% of students achieving 40 points or more, 65% achieving 35 points or more, and 95% achieving 30 points or more. The school had a relatively small first cohort of 20 students, but our team felt this was a strong signal of intent that the school intends to position itself at, or certainly, near the top of the IB league table in the UAE.
For this first KHDA inspection, Nord Anglia International School was rated as Good - the minimum rating that the KHDA is targeting for all Dubai schools - which indicates that the school was well prepared for its first visit by the DSIB inspection team. The achievement of a Very Good rating one year on and only in the second inspection year, indicated that the recommendations from the first report have clearly been acted upon. At the third inspection which took place in February 2019, the school was again rated Very Good.
The fact that the rating remained Very Good may be regarded as somewhat surprising, given the school improved in 19 of the 81 key measures from Very Good to Outstanding. This was particularly noticeable in the ratings for Student Achievement, where all six key measures in the Primary School were upgraded to Outstanding. Science and Mathematics are also now rated Outstanding in the Secondary school section,
Learning Skills across all four sections of the school have now been rated Outstanding in Foundation and and the Sixth Form (up from Very Good last year) and Very Good in Primary, Secondary .
As tends to be the case in many international schools in the UAE, if there is an Achilles Heel, this is in relation to Arabic and Islamic Studies. Ratings are largely unchanged from a year ago, when Arabic was rated Acceptable across the school, both for native and non-native speakers, but Arabic first language attainment has remained Weak, and progress in Arabic as a second language has been downgraded from Good to Acceptable. This is in large part accounts for the overall rating in our view.
The other key performance measures of Students' Personal and Social Development and their Innovation skills; Curriculum, and Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of Students are now all rated Outstanding across the board. Teaching and Assessment is rated Outstanding in the FS section, but has remained Very Good in the rest of the school. Inspectors noted that "Lessons, particularly in the FS, are of the highest quality, being Very Good or better, most of the time...Whole school assessment systems are very rigorous and are used to improve the curriculum and teaching. However, assessment in Arabic and Islamic Education is not fully effective."
The Leadership and Management criteria have now seen School Self-evaluation and improvement planning also rated Outstanding, joining the measures for Parents and the Community and Management, staffing, facilities and resources. Inspectors commented that "The Principal and other leaders provide strong leadership and evaluate the school's performance accurately. In the short time since the school was established, they have improved many aspects of its work, a notable feature at a time of growth and change."
The KHDA inspection team describe the school's strengths thus:
Areas for improvement require the school to:
If you would like to read the full KHDA Inspection Report - and we strongly advise that you do - you may find it here.
The KHDA pre-inspection survey received a low 83 responses. 90% of respondents said that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided by NAS Dubai. They report that their children are safe and that parents receive about helping their children with their education. Most feel that school leaders listen to their views and act upon them.
Conversely, a substantial 558 senior students responded to the KHDA's Wellbeing Census in 2017. The views of students who responded to the survey were positive. Almost all had positive views in respect of aspects such as fair treatment and that staff care about them.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor Parent Survey received a substantial number of responses and these indicated that children looked forward to and felt a strong sense of belonging to the school, and that 83% of parents felt that the academic performance of the school was satisfactory (against a UAE average of 65%). Parents were equally satisfied with feedback from the school and its disciplinary policy. Whilst 84% of parents would recommend NAS Dubai to other parents, there were a substantial number of 13% who felt that fees did not represent value for money (55% felt that they did), and just over a quarter of parents (27%) had considered moving their child to another school.
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Having met a broad cross section of Nord Anglia parents, we noted how they demonstrate commitment to the community, the ethos of the school and to the functioning of the school itself. There is a Parents’ Association that organises social activities and school events.
Nord Anglia Dubai clearly considers itself one of the emirate's top-tier schools, and fees do reflect that. Fees range from AED 63,447 in Nursery (FS1) to AED 95,946 for Year 13. Scholarships are available, parents should enquire by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. The school does also offer a discount on full payment of fees at the start of the academic year. This was 3% in 2019. Sibling discounts are also available.
NOTE: Nord Anglia School Dubai declined to allow our team to take candid photos during our visit (their reason: child safeguarding). The photographs above are professionally taken and were supplied by the school.
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