We are welcomed to Oaktree Primary School in Al Quoz by the enthusiastic and personable new Principal, Ms Amy Milne. Ms Milne joined the school in June 2019 and is excited to be at the helm at a time of new beginnings for the school. Ms Milne joins the school from Horizon International School where she was Head of their (KHDA rated 'Outstanding') Foundation Stage.
Ms Milne guides us through the school’s welcoming, open plan administration and reception areas before introducing us to a panel of three Oaktree parents.
Our three Oaktree parents having children ranging from the very youngest in the school (in FS1, age 3-4) to nearing the end of their time in the school (Year 5, age 9-10).
The homely, small school feel had been a significant factor for all of our panel when choosing this school. One Mum commented that she had wanted “a small community school, like you get back home [in Scotland]. It has worked, because when it comes to my daughter…I feel that they just ‘get’ her”.
Another parent added that “…this place feels like home. They just keep things nice and simple”. The homely feel translated into their children’s school life, they all agreed, with one of the mums praising the school as a place that “kids have time to be kids…they are not swallowed up by this school”.
For all the mums we spoke to, the British Curriculum was another important attraction when choosing Oaktree.
Oaktree Primary is a school that has been through some significant upheaval in recent times, and the parents we meet were glad to have an opportunity to express their feelings on this. One summarised the challenges as “lots of ups and downs, but we’ve always been happy with the education in class”. The “ups and downs” refer to September 2018 to June 2019, a time when the school was without a permanent Principal.
Referring to this period, one parent told us that “it was difficult. We had no Principal for almost a full year. We knew it was hard all round and many teachers left…but since Amy has joined, things have turned around so fast. We are really happy with how things are going”.
The parents were united in their praise for Ms Milne, saying that the very best thing about her was how she “genuinely listens and then gets things done. The pace of change is amazing and her communication with us is excellent”.
Read more about Oaktree Primary School in our SCHOOL REVIEW HERE
The parents we spoke to also highlighted that, due to low student numbers in the older year groups, participation in competitive sports was limited. This was something they understood, but would like to see addressed by their new Principal, perhaps by “joining forces” with another small school to field teams.
Parents are happy with the practical elements of school life. The uniform is good and parents like that they can now buy it from a uniform shop in the school. Food is also good quality, with the special menus every Thursday a particular highlight! During the time the school was without a Principal, there were no school trips at all, so the parents were delighted that their children are now visiting a range of places including local theatres and the beach. The school had also arranged for a whole school community “picnic in the park” recently, which had been very popular.
Outside, traffic and parking were very well managed by the “attentive” security team and the bus service was described as “excellent”. Homework is kept “simple” but parents who wanted more could talk to their class teachers about their child’s specific needs.
Parents were keen to tell us that extra-curricular activities have “really improved this year” although one also said that as there was no bus service for children attending these after school activities, her daughter was not able to take part. This is something she would like to see changed.
Our parent panel praised the inclusive nature of the school. Children with additional needs “take part in absolutely everything” we were told. The parents say that children are encouraged to work with and support all of their peers, regardless of ability.
Overall, our parent panel would describe Oaktree Primary School as an inclusive, multicultural, happy and caring school.
After spending time with the parents, we sit down with Ms Amy Milne, the Principal of Oaktree Primary School.
Ms Milne describes herself as having “solid and broad experience” for this role with a career spanning 20 years in education (10 of which have been in leadership positions). Ms Milne is Primary trained and has extensive experience in Early Years education as well as working with children with additional needs. We began by asking her what drew her to a career in Education.
“Well, I’m from a family of teachers…but if I am honest they tried to convince me to do something else! I think they wanted an accountant in the family [Ms Milne laughs!]…but right from being a teenager this is what I wanted to do. It wasn’t really a choice for me, it’s just who I am”. Although Ms Milne does not have a classroom role these days, she stays close to the children by leading a weekly “whole school sing”, falling back on her own passion for singing and dance. She recently led the school’s first Christmas production, a fun addition to her hectic first few months at the school!
Read more about Oaktree Primary School in our SCHOOL REVIEW HERE
So…what is exciting for Ms Milne about working at Oaktree Primary School? “You should see and hear the teachers now. The buzz we have after just one term is something amazing. We are all fired up! It’s my firm belief that if I can raise the teachers up, the students will get the very best of them…so that has been my focus since joining Oaktree. I know last year the school did loose a number of teachers, but this year, only three are leaving to return to their home countries. We are excited to see what our team can achieve!”
Echoing our parent’s views on improved communication at the school, Ms Milne tells us that her personal style is very much about partnering with parents. “I don’t believe in paying lip service to listening” she says, adding that “this school is truly open for our community. I say to parents, come and see me, come and have a coffee…any day. It’s been really important to set the tone of how we are going to work with our parents in the future”.
Ms Milne was proud of the progress her team have made in a short space of time, telling us that now it is time to “embed the changes and reap the rewards”.
During our morning at Oaktree Primary School, we are able to meet two members of the team, Ellese Phipps, Assistant Principal and Head of Inclusion, and Samina Minhas Head of Key Stage 2.
Our time with Ms Phipps was a little limited as she was about to accompany the parents of an older child to view potential secondary schools. As the child in question had additional learning needs, the school felt this extra level of personal support and attention was needed ahead of the transition to a new school.
Ms Phipps describes her current focus as “upskilling teachers” so that they can support every child in their class, regardless of need. Speaking about the overall atmosphere in the school at present, Ms Phipps told us that “we are on a journey”. She is also working on creating “Inclusion Champions” amongst the staff and supporting Continuous Professional Development throughout the school.
In Key Stage 2, Samina Minhas is enjoying working in a school that places “families at the forefront of everything that we do”. She tells is that it is an exciting time to be a member of the Oaktree team, a community in which everyone “wants the school to do well”. Ms Minhas is looking at how her team can continually improve provision and create a seamless transition from Key Stage 1. She tells us that she has a real sense of pride in her team and that the “great relationships” in the school are the key to future success.
Oaktree is a small school, perhaps without the “bells and whistles” of some of Dubai’s large premium schools, but with a sweet charm that reflects the nurturing ethos of the school. On arrival, our reviewer did initially struggle to find the entry to the visitor parking, however we were able to park in one of the RTA bays nearby. Parents later tell us that the RTA have granted them a “15 minute window” where they can park without a ticket for pick up and drop off. They find this very useful.
Ms Milne guides our tour of the school from the spacious and welcoming administration and reception areas. This space has an inviting atmosphere, beautiful décor and has been designed to create spaces where teachers and parents can stop for coffee and a chat. Ms Milne is keen to point out a new staff room, something the team did not have before and which Ms Milne insisted was vital for staff wellbeing! The teachers we meet there (all enjoying a few quiet moments for lunch) certainly agreed!
In the Foundation Stage, the classrooms are arranged in clusters, allowing for shared indoor learning and play spaces. One large multi-purpose area is used for soft play, music, construction and more. The classrooms are packed full of interesting activities and cosy corners in which children can read or play.
Entering the Key Stage 2 classrooms, we see a small class involved in Maths activities. They are working independently, in groups and with their teacher. Classrooms all have large windows and many surround the two internal courtyards, which act as play or group work areas. In one courtyard, we spot the school's two white pet rabbits...who clearly rule the roost in this space!
The school has a music room, art room, library, large multi-purpose hall and a room which Ms Milne tells us the students will use as an innovation area. Outside, there is a mid-size swimming pool (enclosed by high glass walls) and a small football pitch.
As the Dubai education market continues to mature and evolve, and with so many new, very large schools opening…the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com team wholeheartedly believes that there is a place for smaller schools such as Oaktree Primary School. A simple focus on good education in a nurturing environment is all that many young children need. The school has undergone some challenges but come out the other side with a bright and ambitious new Principal at the helm. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for Oaktree Primary School.
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