Located in Al Quoz, Oaktree Primary School opened in September 2016 with almost 200 students. The school teaches children the UK national curriculum from FS 1 to year 6.
Oaktree Primary School is located on the site of the previous German school in Dubai and is well designed for a primary school. The building is traditional in design spread over two floors and with a separate kindergarten section with its own outdoor space.
The school is owned by Athena Education which also owns the long-established Grammar School Dubai. The school was set up under the leadership of Mr Christopher McDermott, well known as the previous principal of the outstanding rated GEMS Jumeirah Primary School.
Following his promotion to oversee the Athena schools, the Principal's position has been taken over by Mr. Craig Dyche-Nichols, a former colleague of Mr. McDermott at GEMS who was hand-picked to join the school at its opening. Mr. Dyche-Nichol's philosophy matches that of Oaktree Primary School - to promote creativity, character, excellence and a love of learning for the children in his care. His main aim is to make Oaktree Primary School truly outstanding.
Mr. Dyche-Nichol's previous experience includes positions in Primary, Secondary and all-through schools having included Head of Middle School and Vice-Principal. He has worked in the UAE for seven years.
Prior to the opening of the school, the swimming pool was rebuilt to be more suitable for primary age children and is now an attractive feature.
All of the outdoor play areas have also been completely relaid and there is plenty of green space for children to enjoy.
A highlight of the school is the large library located on the second floor and children also have access to a large indoor hall which can be used for performances and indoor sports.
Classrooms are light and bright, all fitted with interactive whiteboards and appropriate furniture and resources are available.
The school currently offers classes from FS1 to year 6. With the small number of students currently attending the school and the accordingly small class sizes (no more than 12 per class), children who attend Oaktree primary school receive a significant amount of attention from class teachers where the student to teacher ratio is 6:1.
There are currently 28 nationalities in the school, with approximately 21% being UK passport holders and a significant number of French-speaking students (10%), who have joined the school because of its classes for French native speaking children.
Teachers have been recruited primarily from the UK, Ireland, Syria and Yemen. All are experienced primary teachers (mostly gaining their experience in the UK, with 4 staff having previous experience in the UAE and Oman). The majority have 3 to 4 years postgraduate experience which means that they are up-to-date with current teaching practices.
Following a rigourous process of recruitment, the Principal is determined to ensure that there is excellent communication between staff and management and this is assured by a daily staff meeting followed by weekly professional development sessions.
The ethos of the school is very much focused on a sense of positivity. The goal is to achieve a sense of happiness among staff and children through a feeling of security and sense of purpose. The school aims to ensure that children are contented but determined and success follows on from this. This approach is based on positive psychology and a goal of positive education with protection and care for staff and students.
The curriculum is mainly project based with the projects changing every half term (in FS this is every three weeks). The school follows the national curriculum for England and Wales with an additional weekly UAE themed lesson. Projects aim to integrate core subjects but the school does not make tenuous links between subjects and if necessary these will be taught separately.
The curriculum leaders, Key stage leaders and vice principal coordinate the themes which are adjusted to support children's interests and learning.
A weekly newsletter is sent to parents and this includes suggested activities to support the projects going on in school with creative ideas. The school has a policy of home learning (not referred to as homework), and is trying to be family and child centred by offering a balanced approach. There is a major focus on reading and workshops are provided for parents so that they can learn how best to support their children.
The school uses a UK based platform, Education City, through which tasks are set where children can find worksheets, reading and creative tasks to carry out. Each child has their own login. The system marks work undertaken by the child and sends this to the teacher. Parents are aware of the options on Education City and can choose to have their children do more for less work at home if they feel that the works set is insufficient.
There is a particular emphasis on supporting children with additional learning needs. The school employs a counsellor for inclusion who not only works on a one-to-one basis with children, but also adopts a more holistic approach which includes working with staff on a proactive basis. This starts with spending time on the playground watching how children interact with each other and also through providing parents with top tips for how to promote positive behaviour at home.
The school works with The Developing Child Centre to offer speech and language support and occupational therapy. There is a combined approach between the school and the centre and parents are invited to attend sessions and to join in with the support being offered to children. Eight children have one-to-one shadow teachers and the Developing Child Centre is also providing training for teachers and teaching assistants at the school. Children also have access to a specialist SEN teacher who also works with them on a one-to-one basis.
The school provides a sensory room which children are able to access as needed. Children being provided with additional support have a range of learning needs including general learning difficulties, speech and memory issues and autism. Learning support staff are fully integrated with in the classrooms and shadow teachers participate in weekly meetings with the specialists. Gifted and talented children are also being assessed using GL assessment tools and the school ensures strong parental involvement.
Oaktree Primary School has worked very hard to create an environment where it is normal for children to come and go from the classroom for specialist sessions. This includes children who are native French speakers and who have five lessons per week with native French-speaking staff to ensure that they continue to learn as they would in their home environment.
There is a strong focus on parental involvement with open coffee mornings, a parent teacher association and a personalised approach to parents and children. Parents at the school with whom Whichschooladvisor met, were universally happy with the school and their children's progress within it. All spoke of the excellent communications between staff, parents and children, the focus on each individual child, the lack of staff pressure on children and a structured but friendly environment where staff were kind in their ways.
Most parents with whom we spoke were new to Dubai and chose the school for its family -like atmosphere, the responsiveness of staff and a balanced but strong approach to the academic side. All stated how keen their children were to attend school, how happy is parents they were in their interaction with the school and the fantastic progress that their children are making. Overwhelmingly, the feeling was that they could not have made a better choice.
Children with whom we spoke were also at one in terms of their feelings about school. They repeatedly commented on how the teachers were so nice, really creative and amazing! Because of the size of the school, the children found it easy to make friends and liked being in a smaller environment.
The size of the school means that even when it is full, the feeling of a small school and a strong community will be retained. In Dubai, where bigger is often felt to be better in relation to schools, Oaktree seems to be going against the common view and we hope that it continues in this way.
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