Pearl British Academy, previously Aldar Island Academy, is a highly regarded British curriculum primary school owned and run by Aldar Academies,. The school, operating since 2007, is currently home to almost 720 pupils in FS1 to Year 6.
Located in the heart of Abu Dhabi Island, Pearl British Academy occupies a previous public school building. The school, operated by Aldar Academies (part of the Aldar Properties Group, but according to the organisation, run on a not-for-profit basis), is one of two Primary-only schools operated by the group. The other is the highly regarded - and similarly located and resourced - Al Muna Academy.
The school is led by Principal Barbara Heaton, who introduces the Academy as follows:
"Our vibrant school is proud of its family feel where our children are at the very heart of everything we do. It is somewhere where everyone has a place and belongs, somewhere where we work together, in partnership, to ‘nurture adaptable, creative future leaders in our high performing learning community’. As an inclusive British primary school located in the heart of Abu Dhabi, our curriculum and wide-ranging extra- curricular activities are firmly grounded in our school Values of Empathy, Agility and Hard Work. We highly value collaboration and social responsibility; creativity and risk-taking; practice and resilience."
During its previous ADEK inspection in 2015-16, Pearl British Academy was again ranked Very Good by the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department (ADEK), the second highest rating given by the authority. As a result of this continued highly-rated performance, Pearl British Academy was one of two Aldar Academies (and the only two schools in the Emirate) who were exempted from inspection in 2017-18.
In fact, so confident was ADEK of the Pearl British Academy's ongoing performance that it was not inspected until November 2019 - a full four years since the previous inspection - and was awarded with ADEK's highest inspection rating of Outstanding. Pearl British Academy joined Muna British Academy and Yasmina British Academy in being awarded the top rating within the Aldar Academies group.
However, in a surprise result, in the first post-Covid inspection of 2022-23, Pearl lost the coveted Outstanding rating, and was awarded the second highest, Very Good, rating.
The school's population of just under 710 students is drawn from over 50 nationalities. There has been quite a change in the population mix between inspections, with Jordanian students now representing the largest nationality group, followed by Emiratis (just under 16%) and Indian passport holders.
The 52 teachers are predominantly from the UK and with a teacher to student ratio of 1:13, an increase on 1:11 previously. This suggests class sizes of around 26 students.
With many children joining the school as non-English speakers, the focus on bi-lingualism (in both directions), means that the support from native-speaking English and Arabic speaking teaching assistants is fundamental to the success of language development.
Pearl British Academy also has a relatively low number of students who have been identified with additional learning needs (SEN) - some 3%. In common with the Aldar Academies, in general, this is an area of provision which is particularly strong, with the 2019-20 inspection report noting that "a team of well-qualified teachers and an SEN specialist provides exemplary support for these students, and their teachers, so students can make their best personal and academic progress."
Pearl British Academy often finds itself competing with the British School in Al Khubeirat (and Brighton College, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi and Repton Abu Dhabi) for the affections of parents. While the other schools have certain clear advantages - that they are connected to a highly regarded senior schools for example, Pearl's advantage is its size - with some parents appreciating the smaller dimensions (under 720 students, all at Primary level).
Pearl British Academy is also connected to the highly-regarded Yasmina British Academy through common ownership, which also has a strong reputation. Schools within the Aldar Education Group, located closer to Abu Dhabi Island, include Mamoura British Academy (girls only in Secondary school) and Bateen World Academy, which offers the UK curriculum in Secondary school, followed by the IB Diploma in the final two grades.
The school follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) for children in FS1 and FS2 and the National Curriculum for England for the remaining year groups, with additional lessons in Arabic Language, Islamic Studies and Social Studies. The school passes students through Foundation levels and Key Stages 1 and 2. Although the school follows the English National Curriculum in terms of the subject content, it has adopted an enquiry-based format (similar to the IB programme), where are all topics are subject-integrated and question based.
An enquiry-based approach to learning through open ended topic questions ensure students are engaged in learning from the very beginning. All enquiry units are launched with a curriculum trailer, which are shared with the students in class and with parents. Some enquiry units also begin with a "wow" day whereas other enquiry units end with a theme day.
To learn more about the curriculum and the facilities at Pearl British Academy, read our Experience visit.
The National Curriculum core subjects are: English, Mathematics and Science. Foundation subjects are Design and Technology, Information and Communication Technology, History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages (Year 3 upwards), Music, Art and Design, Physical Education and PSHCE. Following Ministry of Education regulations in the UAE, Religious Education is not taught.
Children from Year 1 are offered extra curricular activities on a termly basis. Information on available "ECA's" is sent to parents for children to select their choices at the beginning of each term and run from 2.20-3.20pm Sunday – Wednesday.
Pearl British Academy is located in a former government school. It follows the traditional two-storey building design situated around a central courtyard. All FS and Key Stage One classrooms are located on the ground floor with access to external spaces directly from the classrooms. Plentiful play equipment is available outside of the classrooms for the youngest children. Most classrooms are located around a central area which is used for combined and free-flow activities. Classrooms include latest technology with interactive White Boards and 3D technology, including Green screens.
The size of the site on which the school is located does invariably restrict the amount of outdoor space available, but The Pearl Academy does still manage to incorporate a multi-purpose sports hall/auditorium, a swimming pool, netball court, astro turf playing field and play areas with outdoor equipment.
Pearl British Academy had been rated Very Good with Outstanding features in the previous three ADEK inspections and Outstanding in 2019-20.
The most recent visit by the ADEK inspection team in May 2023 when it was awarded the lower Very Good rating must have been a considerable disappointment to the school.
The school had previously participated in its first British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection in 2017 and was rated Outstanding. No subsequent inspection has been published.
Pearl British Academy is also accredited by the British Schools of the Middle East (BSME). Members are committed to offering the highest standards of UK education. The BSME is also the focal point for the organisation of many sports and performing arts competitions among their members across the Middle East.
The 2021-22 and 2022-23 ADEK inspections did not follow the normal inspection process. For reasons that have not been explained (we assume to enable inspections to take place relatively quickly at all schools that had not been inspected in 2019 and 2020), the inspection team reviewed only four of the six key performance standards and issued abbreviated reports without commentary. The two key performance standards that were not evaluated (and therefore not considered for the overall rating) were the Curriculum and the Personal and Social Development and Innovation Skills of students.
Whilst the FS section of the school was largely rated Outstanding across all key performance standards that were evaluated, progress and attainment in the Primary section for Arabic, Islamic Education and Social Studies (largely rated Good), and English (Very Good) had not been maintained to the same level as Maths and Science, which had largely retained the Outstanding ratings.
Whilst Teaching and Assessment was found to be Outstanding in FS, this was also re-rated Very Good in the Primary section. Similarly, whilst Health and Safety retained the Outstanding rating across the school, Care and support was downgraded to Very Good. Leadership and Management were also a mix of Very Good and Outstanding.
With no explanation provided as to the reasons behind the changes in ratings, the report is of little genuinely informative substance and we would strongly recommend that you read the full previous report to gain an overall understanding of the best features of the school.
If you would like to read the full ADEK inspection reports for Pearl British Academy - and we strongly advise that you do so to receive a full overview of the reasons behind the ratings - you will find them here.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received a very limited number of responses to our Parent Survey, but these provide the school with a rating of 3.8/5. The number is insufficient to provide a representative view of the school.
If you are a parent or teacher at Pearl British Academy and would like to share your impressions and experience with other potential members of your school community, please do take our survey here.
Unfortunately, ADEK does not generally publish formal feedback on parent views about the schools, but the partnership between parents and the school was one of those measures that retained the Outstanding rating.
There is no question that Aldar Academies has found a formula for success in this small, friendly, but effective school. For families wanting to find a UK curriculum Primary school education with a distinctly Emirati touch, Pearl British Academy has much to offer.
Fees for the year are top end - at AED 43,340 in the FS1/Nursery section and AED 44,850 across all other year groups - but comparable with other leading schools in the capital.
Pearl British Academy 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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