Scholars International Academy, Sharjah (SIA) is set on a seven-acre plot located in the Muwaileh school district. From the school’s unassuming exterior, it could be mistaken for almost any other school in the emirate; however, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com believes that under the surface this unique little school has rather a lot going for it.
In the UAE, the name 'Scholars' needs little introduction. The original Scholars school, which opened in Dubai in 1976, still sends a slew of students annually to the world's top universities – and parents are always clamouring for places on the waiting list. Scholars International Academy, Sharjah (SIA) is a newer addition to the Scholars’ family at just over a decade old.
The Scholars International Group (SIG) has been educating children for 45 years, creating high-calibre, achievement-orientated schools which develop the next generation of leaders. Scholars schools hold solid reputations, employ dedicated and experienced staff, and offer consistent and committed leadership from the top down – and SIA is no different. SIA is one of only 2 schools in Sharjah that is accredited by British Schools Overseas (BSO), and is also a full member of British Schools Middle East (BSME).
SIA’s vision centres on empowering unique individuals from within a student-centred environment:
“Our aim is to develop in them critical skills and sense of challenge required for success in a rapidly evolving international society, to make our students respectfully assertive yet culturally tolerant and respectful.”
The school’s mission is to fulfil this vision by allowing for individual differences and learning styles, all the while encouraging students to enjoy learning. SIA employs a holistic model of nurturing ‘the whole child’ by paying equal attention to academic, personal, physical, and social growth. This is a school that thinks about the wider community: their campus is environmentally-friendly, and SIA teaches all of its students strong ethical and moral values that they can take out into the world.
At the helm of this endeavour is Principal Paul Lieblich, who is recognised world-wide for his ground-breaking work on the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. He earned a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Colorado, and also holds a Masters of Education in Diagnostic & Prescriptive Teaching, SEN from the College of William & Mary. Dr. Lieblich has previously served on the IB Advisory Board, has held leadership positions in schools across the world from China to Switzerland, and is recognised as a National Distinguished Principal by the US State Department Schools Overseas Program.
While the Dubai original employs predominantly Indian teachers, the majority of teachers at SIA come from the UK and Republic of Ireland. All of them are “highly qualified and have immense teaching experience”, which is not surprising for a school that has high expectations for its teachers. All teachers at SIA “hold degrees awarded by a UK higher education institution or equivalent and hold Qualified Teacher Status. The Arabic team teaching staff hold education degrees from universities in their home countries”.
There are over 60 subject and classroom teachers at SIA, and their input extends far beyond their own classrooms. Teachers contribute heavily to school life in a variety of ways: teachers get involved with the school house system; they work with the American University of Sharjah to run informative webinars about university admissions for Years 11 to 13; there is a pastoral care leader who regularly presents school-wide programs on student wellbeing; the Design, Technology, and Art team create exhibition spaces and events to show student work; and the PE department runs specialist sports clubs and competitions for interested students.
SIA emphasises the role of the teacher in a student’s journey, where the teacher is “central in both caring for students wellbeing and monitoring student progress both academically and socially, encouraging involvement, commitment, and high standards of work and behaviour”. Form teachers are especially important, and are aware “of friendship patterns, family structures, leisure interests, contents of student records, social development, problems at home/school and relationships with other students and staff”. As a parent, you can certainly rest easy knowing that every teacher in the school is invested in every part of your child’s development and wellbeing.
SIA has over 50 nationalities at the school; the largest groups of students are represented by India, Pakistan, and Egypt. Overall, the mix is relatively even between boys (54%) and girls (46%). The length of the school day at SIA is in line with many schools in the UAE – for Foundation Stages 1 and 2, the day runs from 8:00am to 12:20pm, and for Years 1 to 13, the day runs from 7:40 am to 2:20pm.
SIA follows the National Curriculum for England enriched with the Cambridge programme and teaching methodology. The SIA school programme is divided into three phases: Early Years (ages 3 to 5), Primary (ages 5 to 12), and Secondary (ages 12 to 18). Classes are co-educational until the end of Year 4. From Year 5 until Year 9, classes are split by gender.
SIA’s approach to teaching is about creating dynamic and engaging learning environments, unlocking a student’s potential, and finding and nurturing the learner within each child:
“Sports, languages, technology, performing arts, multi-cultural interactions, and community service are among the many programmes that balance our strong academic core to promote well-rounded student leaders.”
An SIA education begins with the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which is designed to give children a broad range of knowledge and skills that provide a solid foundation for future schooling. The EYFS programme focuses on the seven key areas of: Communication and Language; Physical Development; Personal, Social, and Emotional Development; Literacy; Mathematics; Understanding the World; and Expressive Arts and Design.
The school’s primary section delivers the National Curriculum for England, following Cambridge Education International for the core areas of English, Mathematics, and Science. In addition, as per Ministry of Education (MOE) requirements, Arabic Language is taught to native speakers and foreigners, and Islamic Studies is mandatory for Muslim students. The school has specialist teachers for the arts, music, and PE/sports, and weaves its key learning values throughout the curriculum – Curiosity, Communication, Reflection, Resilience, Motivation, Creativity, and Collaboration.
The Secondary programme at SIA is divided into different sections which all end with formal examinations. Years 7, 8, and 9 follow the Cambridge Secondary Curriculum for Mathematics, English, and Science, aligned with the National Curriculum for England. Aside from the core subjects, students also take Humanities, PSHE/Global Perspectives, French, Art and Design, Performing Arts, and PE. Students also continue with Arabic, Islamiyat, and Ishtimayat, as per MOE requirements.
Years 10 and 11 offer the IGCSE curriculum. Students take the compulsory subjects of English, Mathematics, and Science, and can choose from the optional subjects of Art, Business Studies, French, Geography, History, ICT, and Physical Education. Core PE is compulsory for all students, and Arabic, Islamiyat, and Ishtimayat continue to be part of the curriculum.
Study at SIA ends with A-Levels in Years 12 and 13; the school offers both Edexcel and Cambridge International Examinations. Edexcel subject options include: Biology; Chemistry; Physics; History; Geography; Mathematics; and Psychology. Cambridge International Examination subject options include: English Language; English Literature; Business Studies; and Geography.
SIA itself describes its academic program as “rigorous”, and this extends to time spent outside of lessons as well. SIA offers paid extra-curricular activities, which are run by external providers and include: golf; tennis; football; gymnastics; dance; athletics; badminton; basketball; cricket; handball; hockey; netball; rounders; rugby; swimming; softball; volleyball; Maths and Science clubs; a painting club; and a baking club. These sport offerings are “designed to meet the needs of all students, including those who are not athletically gifted, and actively teach cooperation, fair play, and responsible participation” – this is reassuring to see in a well-known school that could easily fall into the trap of competitiveness and selectivity.
A particular highlight of SIA is its offering of the popular Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, the world’s leading youth achievement award. The award comprises of four sections, and is about developing skills and attributes that will be needed throughout their lives:
“It offers young learners the opportunity to develop into independent, caring, risk-taking and responsible well-rounded adults . . . Participating in the award is a personal challenge and not a competition against others; it pushes young people to their personal limits and recognises their achievements.”
In addition to the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, house competitions, overseas trips, sports Olympiads, and the student council ensure that children have a well-rounded school experience. Health and Nutrition subjects are also taught as part of the curriculum, and homework is compulsory for all students in order to develop their learning outside of classes.
As can be seen, SIA is dedicated to creating an environment for students which supports their social, physical, and emotional well-being. At the heart of this is the House System, the centre of student life at SIA – there are four houses, and each student is assigned to a house from Year 1 until graduation. The four houses are: Blue House (Dolphins), Green House (Falcons), Red House (Arabian Horses), and Yellow House (Scorpions). Each house is overseen by a faculty advisor, the Head of House, and elects their House Captain and deputies. In addition, four Primary Captains oversee house activities in the Primary School, helping younger SIA students interact with the house program and learn about school spirit from an early age. All of this means that teachers and students have plenty of opportunities to get involved and take extra leadership roles.
This House System enables a wide range of activities and opportunities at SIA: there are a range of academic, sporting, and creative competitions; students can take part in the Model UN; each class elects a Student Council representative; and each house has a dedicated Eco-Captain who is working to achieve Green Flag status for SIA. House points are acknowledged during assemblies with a letter and book, and can be awarded for things like academic achievement, academic effort, attendance, behaviour, character, and citizenship.
Perhaps most important of all is the annual House Cup, “the most talked about competition at SIA . . . a hallmark for school spirit among SIA students”. Students have the opportunity to earn rewards for participation and for competitions that recognise academic excellence, sports achievement, model behaviour, good sportsmanship, artistic accomplishment, school spirit, and environmental awareness. These reward points are then totalled at the end of the school year – the house with the most points wins the trophy, thereby giving students a chance to celebrate their contribution to their house and the wider school.
SIA also has a number of additional initiatives available to students, in the form of enrichment programs and Sixth Form scholarships. SIA’s scholarships are “designed to ensure that students sustain academic growth in this two-year program and explore their utmost potential”. There are two levels of scholarship offered by the school:
As of September 2021, SIA will offer the Creative Minds Program (CMP) for FS1 and FS2 students. CMP supports working parents by offering a structured learning environment until either 3pm or 6pm, allowing for a more flexible pick-up time. During this time, children take part in various enrichment activities and explore their interests; this program costs an annual price of either AED 8,000 (for 3pm pick-up) or AED 12,000 (for 6pm pick-up).
SIA’s department for Special Education Needs (SEN) works with individual teachers throughout the school to help enhance the learning outcomes of SEN students. The SEN department offers additional support in group and one-on-one sessions, as well as individual education plans (IEPs) for specific students. Parents are involved throughout the whole process, and the school holds Zoom talks for the parent community to discuss topics that may affect students, such as cyberbullying, raising emotionally intelligent children, parenting the teen years, and more.
SIA also has a working group that helps the school to draft and facilitate a wellness policy, called the Wellness Committee. The Principal, Vice Principal, Administrator, School Nurse, PSHE Coordinator, Heads of House, Counselor, and three teachers from Foundation, Primary, and Secondary are all part of the Wellness Committee. This committee comes together at the end of every term to review the progress of the school in meeting the Wellness Policy goals and to take any necessary action.
Finally, SIA holds a wellbeing week and awareness days, which allow for discussion and advice on topics relevant to students. Students can also be referred to SIA’s Listening Ear Service, which began six years ago, to support students struggling emotionally at school.
Like many schools in Sharjah, SIA did not previously publish exam results in a comprehensive format. However, previous versions of the school website did show that in 2018, the IGCSE student cohort achieved 91 percent A* to C grades. That same year in the A-Level examinations, 25% of students achieved A* to A, 75% achieved A* to B, and 100% achieved A* to C.
With no examinations sat by students in 2020, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, results were based on 'Centre Assessed Grades' – students’ mock exam results were taken into consideration, as well as ongoing teacher assessment. The benefit of this was that the school made these results public.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com was advised by SIA that four students in Year 13 graduated with all A’s in their A-Level exams. Additionally, two students in Year 11 achieved A* in all nine of their IGCSE subjects. The school website further reported a 100% pass rate for all students taking the A and A2 examinations, and a 100% pass rate for all students taking their IGCSEs.
A summary of the exam result highlights can be found below:
91% Achieved A* to C
88% Achieved 5 A* to C
43% Achieved grades of A*/A
84% of students achieved A* to C in the A2 examination
92% of students achieved A* to C in the AS examination
38% of our graduating cohort got all A’s in their A2 subjects
67% of the graduating year were awarded A’s in their subjects
While we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com commend SIA for making these results available, we would still like to see more detailed information around student numbers, exam entries, and subject information (particularly for Maths, English, and Science, and the percentage of students achieving the UK benchmark of A* – C for 5 subjects). We’d also like to see grades based on percentage of exam entries rather than students, which would allow comparison with other UAE schools.
Outside of student exams, SIA also has achievements to be proud of – SIA recently participated in the International Olympiad Foundation, and had a total of 55 students representing the school in Science, Maths, English, and Cyber Olympiad. Seven students ranked in the Top 3 list for the UAE, and students won Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals.
Unlike schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah schools have not participated in regulatory inspections on a regular basis; while there were a few instances of inspections being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, schools did not generally publish the outcomes. With the initiation of SPEA (Sharjah Private Education Authority), the intention is that schools will be inspected using the common framework already in place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
However, SPEA has decided to seek a collaborative approach with the schools for this process, and although we understand that initial inspections did take place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, results of these inspections have not been published.
As a result of the pandemic, Sharjah schools have participated in Distance Learning Evaluations, implemented by the Ministry of Education throughout the UAE (these results have been published). In its most recent Distance Learning Review Report (2020), SIA’s implementation of distance learning was rated as Developed.
Inspectors noted that student attendance, participation, behaviour, and willingness to learn are strong features of the school. They felt that students were benefitting from “a range of learning opportunities which allow them to maintain continuity within their learning” and that “students have the necessary resources and IT skills to access the online learning programme”.
The evaluation also commended SIA teachers for providing students with clear learning outcomes and ensuring that essential content was being covered in order to maintain students’ learning momentum. They commented that lessons “are planned to ensure students make the best use of time, and students benefit from individualised detailed feedback to assist them with their learning”.
Finally, the inspectors felt that the school’s short- and long-term plans were responsive to recent changes, and included planning for the extended delivery of distance learning methods (should this become necessary).
The evaluation did, however, offer some suggestions on improvements that could be made as well.
Inspectors recommended clear guidance for students regarding working online, in terms of knowing what to do and who to contact should they feel unsafe. They further suggested the school implement robust processes “to support the wellbeing of students, for example to ensure their workload is manageable and their screen time is not excessive”. Finally, the report suggested the school further its communication with parents, in order to support them in their roles within the distance learning programme.
If you would like to read the full inspection report – which we strongly advise you to do in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings – you will find it here.
One thing that makes SIA unique is that it is one of only two schools in Sharjah to push for an external British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection, something absolutely worth applauding.
In 2016, the school was awarded a rating of 'Satisfactory and Improving' noting that SIA’s strengths were the high quality attitudes and behaviour of all students; strong relationships with parents; good spoken English throughout the school; and teaching – the majority of which were rated as 'good'.
One of the things the original report highlighted was “the positive impact of recent staff appointments and strategies to retain the ‘best'”, which “enhanced the quality of the teaching overall”. This is important because teacher retention is a common issue for Sharjah schools, where teachers either return to their home countries, or are drawn by the bright lights of neighbouring Dubai.
This report was followed up in 2019 by a second inspection, where the BSO inspectors found SIA to deliver a quality of education which is "at least satisfactory, and often good or excellent". The full report can be found here.
The 2019 BSO report found student behaviour to be “exemplary; they are polite and keen to learn”. They also found that students’ “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is very good and is a key strength of the school”. Staff were also commended, with the report noting that relationships between staff and students were good and that they had made some progress on issues identified in the 2016 report.
SIA’s key strengths were summarised in the report: students’ behaviour is exemplary; students’ attitudes to learning are positive; relationships between students are positive; the spiritual, moral social and cultural aspect of the school; the school facilities; the organisation of the school bus system; the work being undertaken in raising the profile of mental health; security; administration; staff; leadership in primary.
The report also offered some areas for development (although it noted that none of these were required by regulations):
SIA’s seven-acre campus is designed to invite “engagement, experimentation, and exploration”. Facilities on the campus include science laboratories; a performing arts area that houses a music room, drama room, design and technology room, art room, and yoga studio; two dedicated spaces for ICT (one for Primary and one for Secondary); a school canteen; a gym; and an auditorium. There is also the Campus Footprint, which accommodates facilities for outdoor activities and includes: two swimming pools (one Semi-Olympic 6-lane pool and one kid’s pool); a football field; a basketball court; cricket nets; and a netball field.
Highlights of the campus include the school library and the Commons.
The library is the primary focal point for academic learning, housing storytelling corners, IT stations, quiet areas, and discussion spaces. Meanwhile, the Commons is the focal point for student social development. It is a large, covered grass area which offers an outdoor play area for children at break time:
“Situated between two wings, this covered grassy commons is a place for students to congregate, interact and engage with one another.”
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received a total of 10 reviews from parents of children at SIA. These responses are reasonably positive about the school, scoring it an overall rating of 3.5/5 – the equivalent of a 70% positivity rating.
In terms of student life at the school, feedback seems largely positive, suggesting an environment filled with motivated, happy students. 80% of children are reported to feel ‘quite a bit’ or ‘a tremendous amount’ of belonging, and the same percentage enjoy going to school either ‘quite a bit’ or ‘tremendously’. 67% felt that sport at the school was very inclusive, allowing everyone to take part, supporting the idea of an engaging, encouraging atmosphere.
Moving on to the experience of SIA parents, responses are similarly positive. The majority of parents (80%) agree or partially agree that school fees are good value for money, and 73% of responders felt either ‘quite confident’ or ‘extremely confident’ that SIA could meet their child’s specific learning needs. The majority of reviewers also felt that SIA not only increased their child’s confidence, but helped them to develop their presentation and public speaking skills as well. Finally, the majority (82%) of reviewers were either satisfied or partially satisfied with the level of feedback they were receiving from the school, and with the disciplinary policy in place at SIA.
Academic performance is of course always a key factor for parents when choosing a school, and in this area SIA shows solid results. The vast majority (91%) were at least partially (27%) or wholly satisfied (64%) with the academic performance of the school, although 50% of parents did feel that they needed to give their children additional tutoring to supplement school learning. However, this is not actually an unusual thing to see in such surveys, so it may reflect parent’s ambitions for their children rather than a lack of educational fulfilment on the part of SIA.
Ultimately, public opinion on the school is perhaps best shown by whether parents would recommend the school to other parents. An overwhelming 73% would whole-heartedly recommend SIA to other parents, with only 9% disagreeing – from this, you can be confident that SIA has a strong support base from those who know the school first-hand.
If you are a parent, teacher, or senior student at Scholars, please share your experience with other potential members of your school community by taking part in our survey.
Fees at SIA may be considered in the mid-to premium price bracket for Sharjah, although are considered mid-range for the UAE as a whole. Due to the staffing, newer construction, and general facilities and resources available, it is unsurprising that parents are asked to pay a little more.
Tuition fees range from AED 23,500 for FS1 up to AED 36,000 for senior years; fees are paid in three instalments, one during each term. There is also an additional resource fee that ranges from AED 1,920 for FS1 to AED 3,800 for senior years, and additional charges are applicable for external examinations. SIA offers sibling discounts at 10% for the 2nd child and 15% for the 3rd child.
Transportation fees are not included, and can be paid for separately in three instalments (one each term). SIA offers bus services from Dubai (Ghusais/Mirdif, Mamzar, Oud Metha, Arabian Ranches, Silicon Oasis, and International City), Ajman (Ajman City Centre, Ajman Corniche, and GMC Hospital), and Sharjah. Fees range from AED 4,750 in Sharjah to AED 7,450 in certain areas of Dubai, and vary depending on distance.
SIA is a selective school, and assessment is mandatory for all children seeking admission from FS1 to Year 13. The admissions procedure is made up of four steps: an online Q&A session; an online application; an assessment; and registration. All steps need to be booked by appointment, and the school notes that:
“There is no preparation required for the Admissions Test and it is not the only deciding factor as to whether a seat is offered. This is not an exam but merely a guide for us to identify each student’s capabilities and to allow the admissions team to make the most informed decisions regarding placement for your student, the class and class teacher.”
For entry into Years 1 to 13, the successful completion of the assessment and review of school documents is required. For Years 10 to 13, the successful assessment and review of school documents is followed by an interview with the Principal or Head of Secondary, specifically regarding subject selection.
Scholars International Academy, Sharjah 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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