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 (NAIS) 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. From September 2021, NAIS will also offer A Levels as an alternative pathway in Sixth Form.
From the outset, NAIS was an extremely popular school, opening with a significant cohort despite several other highly regarded schools opening in the vicinity. Its popularity does not appear to have waned based on Parent comments to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. The following are recent remarks from 2021, commenting on the strengths of NAIS.
"The openness and approachability of the teachers, their care towards the children and their high expectations in terms of academic and personal achievement and development."
"Fantastic teachers who go over and above."
"NAIS is a student-centred school with teachers' focus firmly on the education and well being of each child, with lots of individual attention. Many of the teachers know and understand each individual child and work accordingly with their ability. As a school, NAIS is buzzing with energy when you visit with children being both polite and confident, whilst appearing to have a great time. Children that are less able are supported very well throughout their learning. The key staff members who interact with parents makes themselves available to talk easily and freely."
And not only parents have positive views.
Teachers told us:
"I wish I had joined this school earlier in my life, great employer with loads of opportunities for students and staff alike. Very well organised, great teaching comradeship, very progressive teaching with excellent student results. Wonderful caring community."
"Expect to work hard, if you are willing to work hard you will enjoy it; this school is rigorous and expects the best from staff and students so it is important you buy into that."
The NAIS 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 NAIS 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 NAIS 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?
NAIS 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.
As mentioned earlier, in January 2021, NAIS announced that it would offer A Level examinations in addition to the IB Diploma programme from September 2021. According to Principal, Matthew Farthing, this decision was made as a result of requests from current students at the school who wished to pursue A Levels rather than the IB and wanted the opportunity to do so at NAIS. Full details can be found in the following article.,
The options available for the first year are Art, Biology, Business Studies, Chemistry, Computer Science, Design Technology, Drama, Economics, English Language/Literature, Geography, Maths, PE, Physics and Psychology. Students will take three or four subjects and are also offered the Extended Project Qualification (regarded as equivalent to one further A Level and comparable to the IB Extended Essay)
IB options are based around the 6 Options Groups of Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics and the Arts, together with the additional core requirements of Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay and Creativity, Activity and Service.
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 NAIS 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 Nord Anglia 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.
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.
The results announced in July 2021 were again based on Centre Assessed Grades as a result of the cancellation of examination due to the Covid 19 pandemic, based on predicted grades from the school, together with assessments submitted by students which were marked by IB Examiners.
The school left no-one in doubt that its students had continued to flourish, despite the effects of the on-going pandemic. A total of 56 students achieved a 100% pass rate and an average score of 39.4 - the second highest score in the UAE based on data provided to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. 100% of the cohort achieved at least 30 points, with 89% achieving 35+ points (the level required for entry to most Red Brick universities in the UK) and a resounding 54% of awards were at 40+ points, the level required by the world's elite universities.
Only one school - North London Collegiate School - scored a higher average, but with a cohort of half the size and with no historical record of results at the school, only future results under exam conditions will show whether these grades accurately reflected the ability of the cohort.
NAIS also announced (at least in part) its I/GCSE results for 2021. The school did not include the number of students or the examinations entry number. However, it did reveal that 48% of all entries achieved an A* grade (Grades 9-8), that 97% of entries were awarded Grades 9-5 (A*-C+) and that 100% of entries achieved Grades 9-4 (A*-C).
In July 2020, NAIS announced its second set of IB Diploma results. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these were based on calculated grades following submissions of work over the course of the two year programme, together with teacher assessments.
29 students took the IB Diploma, up from 20 a year ago. Not only did all students pass the Diploma, but they achieved an impressive average point score of 37.1 (up from 36.5 last year). In total, 37% of students achieved 40+ points, 70% achieved 35+ points and 97% achieved over 30 points. The highest achievement for an individual student was 44 points, one off the perfect score of 45.
The school also announced its (i)GCSE results in August 2020, noting that with a cohort of 89 students and a total of 786 exam entries, 46% of exam entries were graded 9-8 (A*), 71% of exam entries were awarded grades 9-7 (A*-A), 89% of exam entries were graded 9-6 (A*-B), and 100% of exam entries were graded 9-4 (A*-C). 100% of students achieved 5 A*-C/ 9-4 including English and Maths.
The first small cohort of 20 IB students in 2019 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.
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, NAIS 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.
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 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.
What about the facilities?
NAIS 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 and with another school (the Australian International School Dubai, which opened in September 2021) and several other residential buildings nearby, there is no doubt that access to the school is becoming something of a challenge - as commented on by parents in our ongoing school survey.
Despite the issues around traffic and access, the design of the school itself is impressive. The three 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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NAIS 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 work completed in 2020) has added to these already impressive facilities, creating more sports facilities, language labs and improving the space and facilities for Post 16 students.
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 had clearly been acted upon. At the third inspection which took place in February 2019, the school was again rated Very Good.
In line with the KHDA's announcement in September 2019, NAIS was not inspected in the 2019-20 academic year, instead receiving a shortened one day visit for which no new inspection report was issued.
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 so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you may find it here.
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 NAIS 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.
If there is one area in which the school could improve, parent comment would suggest that this is in regard to communication - and more particularly responses to parents from the administration."Administrators should have a responsibility to be responsive". This has been something of a challenge at NAIS from its early days, and appears to remain one. Access to and from the school is also proving to be something of a challenge.
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.
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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 NAIS 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.
Nord Anglia International School 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 [email protected] The school does also offer a discount on full payment of fees at the start of the academic year. 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.
Nord Anglia International School Dubai is a Best of school, a ranking determined by parent surveys on the site. It can be found in the following Best of rankings:
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