A popular and successful school, Raha, was again rated Outstanding in its latest ADEK report. Its ambitious Principal has what he terms ‘a rather long to-do’ list’. With its broad mix of nationalities across pupils and staff, Raha has a ‘new world’ feel in an environment designed with a semblance to a traditional Arabic village. A second branch campus was launched in September 2020 and offers enhanced sports facilities that will be used by both schools.
Raha International School is a very popular, and one of only two IB Continuum (through), schools in Abu Dhabi having now passed its twelfth year of operation. It is located in the suburb of Khalifa City A in the heart of the Raha Gardens area – a popular residential area for all nationalities and close to the Etihad Head office and airport. The school caters to over 2,000 students in the current academic year. The school has had long waiting lists for the past several years.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received limited feedback from parents and students at RIS - rather a shame given the high regard in which the school appears to be held from an academic standpoint and in terms of demand from parents for places.
One parent comment from the 2020-21 academic year noted;"Outstanding Adek rating, good reputation, gardens campus is very nice, new Khalifa city campus is brand new and surprising unattractive. Friendly admin staff' location of gardens campus is great, Khalifa city campus is difficult to reach. Most teachers are nice."
Additionally, feedback from a student noted "Strengths: supportive and caring teachers, overall great environment, parents are well educated by the school about all the things happening/going on in your specific grade and in other grades. Weaknesses: Facilities are a bit outdated in some buildings, the Arabic language department's aims/teaching goals are not always clear."
The opening of a new campus - Raha International School Khalifa City - located only minutes away from the current one has been welcomed. Expected to be larger than the current site, altogether both campuses will have a combined total student cohort of 5,000, with the new campus absorbing 3,000 of them. The new school opened from KG to Grade 3 in September 2020 and will open the remaining grades to Grade 8 in September 2021.
Latest: New Branch Campus opened in 2020, read our Hard Hat Tour article..
Parents interested in either school will find that all admissions (and school management) activities are centalised between the two campuses. This means that both will be managed as one operation. One important aspect of this is that applications for places will be managed across both campuses and although parents may state a preference between the two campuses, an offer at the preferred campus is not guaranteed.
The school achieved an Outstanding rating from ADEK for the second time during its inspection in 2017-18. This was something of an achievement, given the relative lack of IB curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi. No subsequent inspection has taken place due to the Covid 19 pandemic which halted inspections in the 2019-20 academic year.
The pupils are from a wide variety of nationalities, over 80 in total. Some 15% of students are Emirati, 15% ex-pat Arab and the remainder predominantly Western nationals from, among others, the USA and Canada, who make up just over 20%, together with the next largest nationality group, being Indian, at 6%. The class sizes are 24 children in EY 1 and 2 with 7 classes in each grade. G1 to G10 have a maximum of 26 per class with 6 classes across each grade. G11 and G12 have around 22 per class, although this number varies between courses.
The nationality of the teaching staff also varies, coming from the UK, USA, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Australia and the UAE. Staff turnover is slightly below average at approx. 18%. The broad mix of staff and students gives the school ‘a new world feel’.
At the end of March 2022, Taaleem announced the departure of long-standing Principal, Iain Colledge, who, after joining Raha in 2016, was widely felt to be responsible for the growth in the Gardens school, the ADEK Outstanding rating and the development of the Khalifa City sister school which was also under his leadership. Mr. Colledge has moved back to the UK to join Ros Marshall, previous CEO of Taaleem, at Bright Horizons,
Mr. Colledge has been replaced by Ms. Pali Nahal, who joined Taaleem's IB curriculum Uptown International School as Head of Primary in 2017, subsequently being promoted to Vice Principal and latterly as Acting Principal during 2021.
The school does not currently offers the IBCP (Career-related Programme), which is usually offered in combination with the UK-based BTEC qualification, to offer a more vocationally-focused curriculum. The Principal, Mr. Iain Colledge, strongly supports the IB curriculum; it will be interesting to see if he seeks to develop this increasingly well-regarded additional qualification also. RIS has, in the past, offered the IBDP Courses curriculum, which is a scaled-down version of the full Diploma, but no longer appears to do so.
Raha, in common with all Taaleem schools - the group has led the development of support for students with additional needs throughout the UAE - is an inclusive school.
The SEN department, which includes a team of 16 specialist staff, is seen as an important one, as many children need fast-tracking in their English to attain a good understanding or require support because of specific additional learning needs. The school also employs a Full-time Counsellor in the Primary school and in the Secondary school who support students with Social, Emotional and Behavioural counselling. Deputy Heads and Assistant Heads of school address any disciplinary issues.
As there are students joining Raha from around the world, the school provides an ‘English as an Additional Language’ (EAL) programme to support students in the English language. This programme comes at no additional cost, unless an Inclusion Assistant is required.
What about Student Achievement?
Raha International is one of the few Abu Dhabi-based schools to offer the full range of International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes, from the Primary Years Programme (PYP) in Elementary, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Middle School and the Diploma Programme (IBDP) in High School. Seen by many as the "Gold Standard" for university entry, the IBDP has become increasingly highly regarded by the leading Russell and Ivy League universities. Raha graduates choose the UK as their most desired destination for higher learning at 33%, followed by the US at 25%, Canada at 21%, and mainland Europe at 20%. Find out more about the IB Diploma programme here.
In 2021, for the second year in a row as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, students did not sit the IB examinations, instead being awarded their results based on Centre Assessed Grades (predicted by their teachers) and on assessments that were marked by IB examiners.
With a steadily growing number of students participating in the IBDP, this year saw 134 candidates score an average of 35 points. Almost all students passed the Diploma (98.5%), with 82% achievng 30+ points, 52% achieving 35+ points and a resounding 28% achieving 40 points or more of the total 45 points available. This latter group represent around 5% of students globally and would be eligible to the world's elite universities,
In 2020, a cohort of 98 students participated in the IBDP and achieved a 95% pass rate. The average points awarded were 34, with 72% of students achieving 30+ points, 44% achieving 35+ points and 13% achieving 40+ points.
We would like to make parents aware that there is general evidence of grade inflation across the IB awards - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students last took the IB examinations. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 2019, when it was 32.26, and 2020 when it was 34.41, to 35.89 in 2021.
We would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way. As a result we would strongly encourage families considering results as a factor in their decision about their choice of school, to look at the history over the previous years where possible.
Raha International is one of the few UAE schools that has consistently provided this information.
In 2019, 83 students were entered for the IB Diploma examinations, whilst 7 students took the IBDP Courses Programme. 92% of candidates passed the IB Diploma, with an average point score of 31.7. 63% of students achieved 30 points or more, with 27% of students achieving 35+ points and 6% receiving over 40 points.
Some 86 students made up the cohort of students who took the Diploma programme examination in 2017-18 and achieved an average point score of 32.1, above the UAE average score of 31.41. The global average score for IB students worldwide was 29.78 (down slightly from just under 29.9 points in 2017). Any school that achieves above this average is doing very well indeed. The highest award achieved was 44 points - just one off the perfect 45 points available. This high-achiever will be heading to the prestigious university at Stamford in the USA.
Comparative data from 2018 to 2017 is shown in our chart below. It should be noted that some data was not provided for 2018 that was available in the previous year.
|No. of candidates registered in the session||86||75|
|No. of diploma and retake candidates registered||Not provided||Not provided|
|No. of subject entries in the session||Not provided||Not provided|
|No. of candidates who passed the diploma||77||70|
|% of candidates who achieved 40+ points||Not provided||8%|
|% of candidates who achieved 35+ points||Not provided||34%|
|% of candidates who achieved 30+ points||Not provided||Not provided|
|Highest Diploma points awarded to a candidate||44||43|
|Average grade obtained at the school by candidates who passed the diploma||32.1||32.5|
|Total number of candidates excluded from the statistics||Not provided||Not provided|
In recent years, one student was awarded a full scholarship to US Ivy League Dartmouth College and in 2017 another was accepted to Oxford in the UK to read experimental psychology. A Counsellor in the Secondary school provides Career/University application guidance to older students.
ADEK's 2017-18 inspection report notes that "Students’ attainment in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) examinations was above the Abu Dhabi, national and international average. This put the school’s students alongside the top 15 countries in the world, in line with the UAE’s 2020 target for international performance. In 2017, attainment in the IB Diploma overall was outstanding. Students’ attainment in recent Grade 12 MoE examinations, in Arabic and in Islamic education, was outstanding".
Designed with the style of an Arabic village in mind, the sand-coloured and double and three-storey classroom buildings surround several large piazzas with wide shaded pathways linking the campus. There are a lot of well-established palm trees and shrubs which help create an authentic garden feeling. There are a large number of open spaces and play areas.
The school has been divided into 3 sections, three separate EY1, EY2 and Grade 1 buildings located at one side of the campus (incorporating a new sports hall topped with a tennis court on the roof).
There is one full size football pitch, two tennis courts, three well equipped gymnasiums, ICT labs, one 25-meter swimming pool and one beginners’ pool and two main libraries. The canteen boasts both indoor and outdoor seating, with new misting fans being installed outside for the warmer months. The classrooms are well equipped with computers and interactive whiteboards as well as appropriate specialist equipment. Physical emotional welfare are looked after through the provision of a fully equipped health centre, Sensory room, Mindfulness room and Serenity Garden.
Sport, the Arts and Music are seen as integral to the whole education of the children and there is evidence of creativity around the campus. The school opened the Raha Arts Centre in September 2016, comprising a full theatre auditorium with orchestra pit and a capacity to seat 600 people, two changing rooms, two entrance lobbies which can also be utilised as gallery spaces, two drama studios/classrooms, two music classrooms, seven music rehearsal rooms, three art studios, a small black box theatre space and a kiln room.
Raha International School was rated an Outstanding school for the first time in 2015-16, a step up from the previous rating of Very Good that the school received at the previous ADEK inspection and retained its rating in 2017-18. All six key performance areas earned the Outstanding rating.
The ADEK inspection team described the strengths of Raha International School as follows:
One of the strengths of the school is student attainment which is described as "outstanding overall, throughout the school. Students’ achievement in Arabic medium subjects is good overall in the primary and middle phases and very good in the high phase. Students’ learning skills are outstanding. Children’s learning through outdoor play in Kindergarten (KG) is an example of best practice".
Students’ personal and social development, and their innovation skills is also ranked as Outstanding across the board. As the report notes, "students’ personal and social development is outstanding. They are highly independent, innovative and internationally minded. They show outstanding awareness of Islamic values and understanding of Emirati and world cultures. Their knowledge and skills of enterprise are less well developed".
Teaching for effective learning and the use of assessment are also rated as Outstanding. Inspectors commented that "The effectiveness of teaching and are outstanding. Teaching is at least good in every subject and is frequently outstanding. Teachers have outstanding knowledge of their subjects and the highest expectations of their students. Assessment is regular and rigorous and contributes to the outstanding progress students make through the school".
Similarly, the quality of the school curriculum was found to be outstanding. "It is coherent and relevant and fully prepares students for each stage of their education. Every opportunity is taken to make links between areas of learning. The range of curriculum choices is outstanding. The provision for reading is an example of best practice".
Two further key performance measures were also rated Outstanding. "The quality of protection, care, guidance and support for students is outstanding. The school’s safe and secure environment promotes healthy living and positive relationships for all students. Identification and support for students with special educational needs (SEN) and those who are gifted and talented (G&T) are outstanding". Taaleem schools have been at the forefront of supporting children with SEND requirements throughout the UAE and clearly have proven the effectiveness of their approach at Raha International.
Lastly, the overall quality of leadership and management was deemed to be outstanding. "Leaders at all levels, in partnership with parents and the community, have sustained and improved the school’s performance. Strongly supportive governance ensures the school’s facilities and resources are of the highest quality".
In terms of areas for improvement, the ADEK inspectors recommended that the school:
If you would like to read the inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received limited feedback to its School Survey. Just 21 parents have responded to the survey, providing RIS with a rating of 3.3/5 - a positivity rating of 66%.
Around 70% of children are said to have 'quite a bit' or a 'strong sense of belonging' to the school whilst a similar percentage enjoy going to school quite a bit or tremendously. Parents are largely satisfied with the academic performance of RIS (with 71% completely satisfied, 19% partially satisfied, though some 10% are dissatisfied).
Therefore, surprisingly in our view, - given that 7 in 10 respondents said they were satisfied with the academic performance of RIS - all of the survey respondents have said that they believe additional tuition is required outside of school. There is some indication from parent and student comments to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that this relates to Arabic and Islamic Studies.
Parents are largely satisfied with communication and feedback - the school has a communicator app for parents to keep up-to-date with school activities - with 9/10 satisfied in this respect. Similar views are held with regard to the disciplinary policy.
And overall, 72% of parents would whole-heartedly recommend RIS to other parents, though 14% each were not sure or would not recommend the school. It would seem that the principal reason for this relates to the school's fees. Only 29% of parents agreed that fees represented good value for money, whilst 42% partially agreed. However, a significant 28% of respondents disagreed with this statement. It will be interesting to see in parental views change in this respect as children return to a more 'normal' in-school routine as the impact of Covid 19 reduces.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at Raha International School, and would like to share your experience with potential members of your community, complete our survey.
Two years ago, we wrote that it was difficult to see how Raha International could grow much larger, given the constraints of the site, and that parents woud be disappointed if it did not do so. The opening of the sister Khalifa City campus, under the same management and integrated with the Gardens branch was a clear indication of the ambition that the school has to develop still further to meet the demands of the community in which it is based.
The school is serving its very large and diverse community, and would appear to be doing so very well across the board, based on both local and international measures. The school is also clearly taking steps to make this as simple as possible with school buses serving the community for children from EY1 to G12.
Whilst direct feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been limited, our knowledge of, and personal meetings with key members of both Taaleem and Raha International School teams, encourage us to expect that the ambitions for the school, the ability of those involved to implement the necessary steps to fulfill those ambitions, and the demand from parents and students, will ensure that Raha International continues to develop in a positive direction.
Fees are on the premium end for Abu Dhabi at AED 39,330 in EY1 and rising to AED 61,900 in Grade 12. They are payable in three installments: Semester 1 in August, Semester 2 in December and Semester 3 in March. Materials are included in tuition fees for EY 1 up to Grade 10. Diploma textbooks for Grade 11 and 12 should be purchased for each course.
Raha International School, Gardens, Abu Dhabi 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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