Scholars American International School Abu Dhabi opened in September 2016 in Shakhbout City – close to Abu Dhabi airport and increasingly home to a large number of new schools. This is the 4th school belonging to the SAIS Group which has operated schools in the UAE for 20 years. Sharjah American International School was established in 1997 in Sharjah.
All SAIS campuses are co-educational with separate classes for boys and girls from Grade 5 to Grade 12. However, it will be some time before students will reach the upper echelon of the Abu Dhabi school. SAIS Abu Dhabi opened with just 58 students from KG1 to Grade 6. 25 students joined KG, with the remaining 31 joining the Elementary years.
The school Admission policy is inclusive with student admission procedures for Grade 1 - 7 including formal tests in Mathematics, English and Arabic, together with an interview with parents and student. Interviews are held with KG children and parents to identify their needs and all are admitted. Currently the school supports a small number of children identified with SEND.
Not surprisingly, given the school’s location, the largest nationality group is Emirati at 60% followed by Yemeni (11%), Sudanese (6%) and Egyptian 5%, together with a range of other nationalities. Most children in KG enter the school with little or no English and students entering other grades have very varied educational experiences. All students are learning in their second language.
The relatively low number of students means that students are exceptionally well provided for in terms of teaching staff. There are 21 teachers and 3 teaching assistants providing a teacher-student ratio KG of 1:5 and 1:2 in the remaining grades. A staff turnover of 8% in the first year seems a high figure until the math calculation reveals that this represents 2 members of the original team.
The school’s owners were clearly determined to ensure that an experienced Principal would take the helm. Elham Al Abed, who is from Lebanon, has lived in the UAE for 30 years. Her career in the UAE started as an English teacher in Ruwais. She then moved to Al Ain and continued to work as a teacher and a Vice Principal. In 2001, Elham was promoted to Principal. She believes that outstanding teaching impacts learning and has always endeavoured to ensure that pupils receive the best quality education, which will prepare them to be exceptional citizens that can excel in a global environment.
SAIS promises to be forward-looking and to embody the very best of a holistic education. The school believes in giving students opportunities to explore and shine in a whole host of areas including academic success, extracurricular activities, sports, music, challenging expeditions, and civic action. Students are expected to develop a strong sense of community and build life-long friendships.
SAIS’s vision is “to create an open, collaborative school community that fosters the growth of responsible, confident, productive, and critical thinkers who are interested in the issues of their local and global communities and able to respond to different challenges”.
The school’s Mission is to “provide a Western education within a context that respects local traditions, to encourage academic excellence, to implement an inclusive learning environment that accepts students of all ability levels and provide for their needs, and to build responsible personalities that embrace 21st century learning skills and show interest in the important issues of the global community”.
As a new, purpose-built school, the building is new, extremely clean and well maintained. The school provides an attractive learning environment to stimulate students’ learning. Classrooms are spacious, equipped with ICT tools, and enable teachers to provide a variety of educational experiences for students. The school features facilities that include provision for Information Technology, Art and Sports in addition to core academics. Specialist facilities for Art, Music, Science, PE, Library and ICT are designed to enhance students’ learning opportunities. There are well equipped and shaded play areas for KG and Elementary. There are two large gyms; a large swimming pool and a small pool.
ADEK carried out its first inspection May 2017 when the school had been open for just 2 terms. Overall the school was rated Acceptable. This rating was generally given across all grades in most subjects - with the exception of English in Primary and Middle, where it was rated Good, and Islamic Studies, where conversely, it was rated Weak. Given the fact all students are studying English as an additional language, this was a positive rating. Senior leaders provide a clear vision and direction that has enabled the school to become established effectively following its opening at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.
The school's curriculum is aligned to the American Common Core Curriculum Standards (CCCS), providing clear outcomes for students’ attainment and progress. The school uses a specialist Mathematics and Science curriculum that is also fully aligned to the CCCS. The curriculum is well balanced and is enhanced by additions to the core subjects of Art, Music, PE, ICT, together with French in Grades 5 and 6. In addition, Social Studies is taught in Arabic and English.
The school develops links between subjects through project-based learning. Students choose to undertake projects with a combination of subjects from Mathematics, English, Science and Social studies. ICT is integrated into the curriculum subjects, with smart boards and computers in each classroom.
ADEK noted that most students behave well, are interested in their learning and show respect to each other and to adults. Parents are supportive of the school; communications and reporting are good. The good care, guidance and support create a safe and happy learning environment for the children and students. Students’ personal development was also found to be good. Their attitudes are positive in lessons and around the school.
Most children were found to have positive attitudes to learning, though students’ interactions and collaboration skills were acceptable in most subjects. Whilst there are clear benefits to the low teacher:student ratio (driven by the limited student numbers), this also inhibits the effective development of collaborative skills in a minority of classes.
In a majority of lessons, most students were reliant on their teacher to guide them through their learning, where they had difficulty in working independently, though in the more successful lessons, students showed good ability to work independently and took more responsibility for their own learning. On a positive note, a majority of students had begun to show a growing confidence in their English communication skills and were able to express their own ideas, which will enable them to develop greater independent learning skills.
Students participate in environmental and other activities, for example; recycling, sports, art and music clubs. They have opportunities to work on science or social studies projects and participate in extra-curricular activities. They are able to play an active part in events such as the school science fair, spelling bee in English, National Day and Flag Day celebrations. The curriculum fully embraces the development of a clear understanding of UAE values, culture and society. It is fully integrated into the social studies regionally based curriculum and other subjects often link the learning effectively with aspects of UAE culture.
The ADEK report identified the key areas for improvement as "improving the quality of teaching and learning with more effective use of assessment to identify the starting point of learning for each student in order to raise achievement across all subjects". They also noted the need to maximise the opportunities for children and students to be active learners throughout each lesson and to raise the standards in relation to Arabic in particular.
Whilst the school may have been disappointed with some of the feedback from their first inspection, they have met the minimum requirement in terms of rating and with their experienced Principal and small numbers, should potentially be able to make significant progress ahead of their second inspection in 2019.
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