Originally established in 1990 by Mrs. Ansari and Mrs. Jackson, the Sharjah-based School of Knowledge (SOK) offers the National Curriculum for England to children from Kindergarten to Grade 6. In 2012, the school was acquired by the St. Mary’s Group of Schools, an organisation owned by the Catholic Church.
When School of Knowledge (SOK) opened in Sharjah in 1990, it was operating from a villa in Ghafia, with only 45 students and 10 teachers. In 2005, the school relocated to Al Azra, and today boasts over 1,800 students and roughly 130 teachers. However, SOK still operates under the same three ideals: Academic Excellence, Character Building, and Leadership Training.
SOK’s Vision and Mission speak to excellence, success, and seeking new horizons for personal growth and worth, guided by a number of core principles. These include fostering honesty, charity, justice, and service to others; empowering critical and creative thinking; collaborative learning and co-operation; and preparing students to face the challenges of the 21st century as global citizens. In the school’s own words:
“Each toddler walking through the gates of School of Knowledge is viewed as a talent reserve and the school works relentlessly towards empowering each and every child.”
These ideals are reflected by the St. Mary’s Group of Schools, an organisation owned by the Catholic Church, who purchased SOK in 2012. The St. Mary’s Group began with the opening of St. Joseph’s School in Abu Dhabi in 1967, followed by St. Mary's Catholic High School in Dubai a year later. Both schools are highly respected for “providing high quality, affordable, value-based education”, and the group now additionally comprises of St. Mary's School Muhaisnah, St. Mary's School Fujeirah, and St. Mary's School Ras Al Khaimah. The values of the St. Mary’s Group, as stated on its website, are a core part of each school’s identity:
in the uniqueness of each student and supporting them in achieving their dreams
in encouraging an atmosphere of compassion, equality, tolerance and respect for human dignity
in safe and caring relationships built on a foundation of honesty, integrity, trust and forgiveness
in fostering charity, justice and service to others
in striving for excellence through a sense of responsibility and self-discipline
in empowering critical and creative thinking
in a collaborative learning environment with cooperation between students, teachers, school leaders and parents
in enabling students to become global citizens to face the challenges of the 21st century”.
The St. Mary's Group originally planned to extend SOK to include a Secondary school and offer A-Levels. However, a lack of suitable building has meant that this expansion has not been possible. Instead, the recently-opened Ras Al Khaimah school will provide preferential entry for students to continue within the St. Mary's fold, as is also the case with the two Dubai-based schools. While travel between the two Emirates is straightforward and quick enough for this to be a practical option for many families, all of the St. Mary's Secondary schools are over-subscribed, and therefore many SOK students end up moving to other Sharjah-based schools instead.
At the head of SOK is its Principal, Ms. June Amanna, and its Director, Sr. Bobina Soares. It’s wonderful to see a school that places such high value in female leadership, and the passion for holistic student development at the school cannot be overlooked. As Ms. Amanna says in her Welcome Message, “School of knowledge aspires all the students to focus on their goals and succeed in life . . . We have a dynamic, hardworking faculty who are involved in education to benefit the students. Every single day we revisit and reconnect with the continuing journey of our school”.
Student numbers by class are relatively high throughout the school, with 25 students per class in both FS1 and FS2, and an average of 28 from Grade 1 upwards (with a maximum of 30 students). The split of students between male and female is almost 50:50, with a slightly higher proportion of boys, and the majority of children are Pakistani nationals (some 70%), followed by Indians (18%), Sri Lankans (4%), and Bangladeshi (3%). Overall, there are some 21 nationalities represented within the school.
The majority of the teachers are Indian, and with a relatively low staff turnover of 15 – 20% (compared with a UAE average of 20 – 25%), it would seem that the majority of staff are happy with their employment. The teacher to student ratio of 1:25 in FS and 1:20 in Grades 1 to 6 must, however, be demanding, and all staff are expected to be qualified with either a Bachelor's degree and two years' teaching experience, or a teaching degree or Diploma.
In terms of the day-to-day, school starts for all students at 7.30am. FS students finish at 12.00pm, while students from Grade 1 finish at 1.45pm, resulting in a relatively short school day. However, SOK encourages students to get involved in the range of extra-curricular activities offered by the school, allowing for a fuller school day if desired. Parents’ visits occur three times a year, after each term examination (although SOK encourages parents to make appointments with teachers at any time if they are concerned about their child’s progress).
In common with all of the schools in the St. Mary's Group, SOK follows the National Curriculum for England. In FS1 and FS2, children follow the UK Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum, which is used in the majority of British-curriculum schools in the UAE. The EYFS curriculum is largely play-based, and incorporates a specific focus on developing key physical and intellectual skills, as well as developing inquiring minds and a collaborative approach.
Once children move into Grades 1 and 2, they follow a more formal approach to learning, with a specific focus on the development of English, Mathematics, and Science. Aside from the core curriculum subjects, SOK also offers Computer Studies as a compulsory subject, to ensure that all students become proficient users of desktops, laptops, and tablets. And as we see in all UAE schools, SOK offers the usual subjects required by the Ministry of Education (MOE): Arabic, Islamic Studies (for Muslim Students), and Moral Education. In Grade 2, students have the choice of an additional language, which may be French, Hindi, or Urdu. Students in Grades 4 to 6 will also have Social Studies added to the subjects, which includes aspects of Geography and History.
In addition to the core academic subjects, SOK prides itself on offering a range of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, to ensure the well-rounded development of its students. Co-curricular activities include lessons in karate (which are conducted by a black belt instructor during school hours); coaching in music and elocution; regular sports and games classes (conducted in school to enhance physical development); and a spacious Art room which provides students with all the materials required to explore and express their artistic flair. Swimming lessons are also offered to students in Grades 3 to 6.
Meanwhile, extra-curricular activities include Cubs and Brownies (offered to students in Grades 4 to 6) and Indoor Games (which includes Table Tennis, Chess, and Carrom). Excursions and field trips are organised every month, while debates and quizzes are held periodically throughout the school year.
As a result of Covid-19, SOK has introduced iPrimary, an E-Learning Programme for English, Mathematics, and Science. The programme is based on the latest National Curriculum for England approaches, adjusted for an international setting, and “delivers a seamless and consistent learning journey for the students and teachers, everywhere in the world”. The objectives of iPrimary focus on helping students to solve problems independently; ask effective questions and listen actively; think deeply, creatively, and critically; make connections between ideas and transfer learning from one context to another; take greater responsibility for their own learning; work together in different ways to develop thinking and knowledge; and develop lifelong learning skills to equip students for Secondary school and beyond.
The school has a Special Educational Needs (SEN) department, which consists of a counsellor and an SEN Educator. The SEN department works with class teachers to support children with additional needs, and shadow teachers may support students in class where necessary.
As is common with many UAE schools, SOK does not make the results of end-of-year exams public. However, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has had access to the results of SOK’s regular testing of students against the UK’s curriculum standards for English, Mathematics, and Science, and against MOE Arabic targets. Students achieving 90% and above are deemed to be ‘Exceeding the standard’, those scoring between 60 – 89% are said to be ‘Meeting the standard’, and those below 60% are considered to be ‘Below the standard’.
Mathematics is clearly a strength of the school, with between 60% and 70% of students between Grades 1 to 6 being marked as ‘Meeting the standard’. There tends to be a lower percentage of students ‘Exceeding’ as you move up through the grades. For example, by Grades 5 and 6, 7% and 6% respectively are scoring above 90%, while in Grades 2 to 4, this figure is around 12.5%.
Science scores range from 53% of students ‘Meeting the standard’ in Grade 1, to over 70% from Grades 2 to 5, and 84% in Grade 6. Again, those exceeding 90% drop away in Grades 4 to 6 (varying between 4% and 5%), while those below the 60% mark increases to 16%. English marks are similar to Science.
However, bearing in mind that students need a score of 60 – 90% to be considered as ‘Meeting the standard’, to have such significant numbers of students performing at these levels is a real achievement. SOK clearly aims to maintain the goal of the St. Mary's Group of Schools – that of providing high-quality, affordable, value-based education.
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 (DLE), implemented by the Ministry of Education throughout the UAE (these results have been published). In its most recent Distance Learning Review Report (2020), SOK’s implementation of distance learning was rated as Developed.
Inspectors noted that student attendance “is well-promoted and participation within lessons is actively encouraged”, that all students “have equitable access to the learning materials, and this allows all to participate fully”, and that students are being “supported in their online learning by a dedicated wellbeing team which provides effective academic and pastoral support”. Inspectors also felt that teachers’ lesson plans were well-developed and therefore allowed for assessment opportunities within live sessions (in addition to regular submitted work):
“Learning outcomes and lesson objectives are shared during live sessions to ensure that students are aware of what they are learning and what they are required to do.”
Finally, the evaluation praised resource management and communication within SOK, noting that the school is utilising a range of methods to communicate with parents and other stakeholders, including online meetings. This process allows the school to ensure external members of the community are being consulted with, and are aware of expectations relating to the distance learning process.
In terms of areas for improvement, the report suggested the need for consistent deployment of a wide variety of teaching and learning methods across all subject areas. In addition, inspectors noted that teachers should pay special attention to the feedback that students received during live lessons, to support further individual progress.
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.
SOK is a significantly sized school for a Primary-only institution; it is housed in a light, modern, two-storey building in Al Azra. Facilities include a computer lab; an art room; a science lab; a well-stocked school library (junior classes also have their own classroom libraries); a clinic with a school doctor and full time-nurses; an indoor, multi-purpose sports hall; and a swimming pool which is accessible to students from Grades 3 to 6.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received only four reviews for SOK, so it can be difficult to judge precisely how parents feel about the school. Of the four reviews available, feedback seems mixed, although the responses don’t seem to add up to a particularly coherent picture – more reviews will be needed in order to judge.
In terms of the environment at the school, specifically regarding a sense of belonging and enjoyment experienced by the students, there is a fairly even split along the scale of ‘Little/None’ to ‘A Tremendous Amount’. Similarly, responders were split 50/50 in terms of whether sport at the school was inclusive or not.
Other areas look to be a bit more positive overall. 75% of reviewers totally agreed that the fees they were paying were good value for money, and the same number were satisfied with their child’s academic performance (although 67% did note that they felt the need to supplement school learning with additional tuition at home). Again, reviews were a bit more mixed in terms of the parents’ confidence in the school’s ability to meet their child’s specific learning needs, with the majority hovering the middle at ‘Somewhat Confident’.
Feedback did show that 100% of responders felt the SOK had developed their child’s ability to engage and speak in all situations, and that SOK had improved their child’s confidence either ‘A Great Deal’ or ‘A Lot’. The majority were also satisfied with the level of feedback they received and with the school’s disciplinary policy’s implementation; this was further reflected in the 67% of responders who were not at all concerned about bullying.
Perhaps the most confusing aspect of these responses is the fact that 67% of responders said they would recommend the school to another parent, a high number given the less-than-stellar feedback elsewhere. Indeed 75% of parents said they had thought about moving their child from the school (although we don’t know the reasons behind this).
Ultimately, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would need to get more reviews for SOK in order to produce an accurate picture of just how the community feels – however, for now, SOK certainly looks to have some strengths in the eyes of parents, even if it has other areas that need work.
If you are a parent, teacher, or senior student at SOK, please share your experience with other potential members of your school community by taking part in our survey.
Fees at SOK vary from AED 8,100 to AED 10,260 – very affordable by Sharjah standards for a British curriculum school. Tuition fees are paid in three instalments, one each term, and there is an AED 500 registration fee to be paid at the time of admission.
SOK is a selective school, and prospective students are both given an entrance test and interviewed. Granting of admission is ultimately decided by the Head of the School.
School of Knowledge 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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