The School of Modern Skills (also known as the Modern Skills Schools) is a US curriculum school located in the Muhaisnah area of Dubai.
The School of Modern Skills (SMS), also referred to by the KHDA as the Modern Skills School, is a KG to Grade 12 US curriculum school founded in 2006 and is popular with Emirati families who make up approximately 85% of the total school population of 1,850. The school is co-educational from KG to Grade 3, before offering gender-separated classes from Grade 4.
Principal, Judith Vojta joined School of Modern Skills in January 2019. Her previous experience in the UAE had been for seven years with ADEK - the Education Regulator in Abu Dhabi - as an Academic Vice Principal, culminating in the responsibility for the opening of a new school as part of the Abu Dhabi New School Model initiative. The school received an A rating from the ADEK inspectors,
Commenting on her experience of SMS, Ms. Vojta writes:
"Everyday, I witness the incredible creative and engaging learning that takes place in our school. I observe dedicated, kind, and talented teachers nurturing and facilitating lessons where all children can show progress and reach their potential from KG to Grade 12".
She is supported by Vice Principal for Middle and High School, Neasa Ni Bhrosnachain and Vice Principal of the KG and Elementary sections, Nina Smith-Stanger. Students are supported by a teaching team of 127 of varying nationalities - at the time of the last KHDA inspection in March 2019, the majority of teachers were from Egypt. There were also around 30 teaching assistants. The teacher:student ratio was 1:14, a relatively low figure which should enabled personalised attention to individuals and groups of students. However, with staff turnover at 32%, it would seem that there was a degree of instability among the teaching staff. The average for international schools in Dubai is 20-22% per year, so this was definitely on the high side.
SMS provides an American Curriculum based on the Californian Common Core State Standards (CACCSS) for English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics within an international context in Dubai. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are adhered to for Science. The Ministry of Education programme is used for Arabic, Islamic Education and Social Studies.
According to the School of Modern Skills it offers "a rigorous academic program that celebrates student achievement in every grade. However, we also focus on the development of skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, innovation, and technology."
SMS applied for NEASC Accreditation (The New England Association of Schools and College NEASC), which is a globally recognized standard of excellence and a requirement for US curriculum schools in Dubai. The NEASC Accreditation attests to a school’s high quality and integrity and indicates that a school meets high level, challenging standards. The school received its approval for the NEASC Candidacy in 2019 and had hoped to receive this by 2020, but with the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic and the cancellation of all inspections as a result, it appears that this process has not yet been completed.
The curriculum in the KG section is based on skills, concepts, well-being, and knowledge and aims to complement the whole child. The school supports the development of Arabic language skills through speaking and listening, phonics, reading and early writing skills.
In Elementary School (Grades 1 – 5) classroom teachers deliver English, Maths, Science, Social Studies and PE in English. Arabic Language skills continue to be developed and the introduction of Islamic, Qaran and Social Studies delivered in Arabic takes place. There is a cross curricular approach to STrEaM (Science, Technology, reading, Engineering, art and Mathematics) including use of the activity room, field trips, and health education.
Middle School students in Grades 6 to 8 are exposed to a wide range of subjects, from the sciences and social sciences through to the arts and languages (French is added at Grade 6 to English and Arabic). Student learning is supported by local and international trips. Three STrEaM weeks are embedded in the Middle School curriculum, developing students' ability through an enquiry-based approach to learning.
In the High School (Grades 9-12), students select courses from a wide range of electives including Advanced Placement (AP) courses. As part of the curriculum, students are also prepared to sit for the SAT, AP, IELTS and EmSAT examinations.
Students are said to be offered a broad range of electives as well as numerous extra-curricular activities. The learning environments are interactive and student-centered and the Apple Education program and use of online platforms ensure that students are fully equipped with the technology skills they need.
The Inclusion Department in SMS provides an array of provision to students who require support with differing individual learning style and needs. Within the population of school, there is a broad spectrum of interventions and accommodations offered by the SMS Inclusion team to support the needs of all learners. All lessons are differentiated to support the needs of all learners, this includes students who are abled, gifted and/or talented as well as those for whom learning presents some challenges. SEN team of 13 including an Inclusion Champion.
The provision and outcomes for Students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents was rated Good in the last KHDA inspection with the DSIB inspectors commenting positively on the processes, systems and support provided by the school and its staff.
SMS does not appear to provide details of its High School students achievements through a High School Profile or similar document and it is not possible therefore to comment on the attainment of graduates. Students do participate in a range of standardised tests including MAP testing as well as SATs, and international benchmark tests including TIMSS and PISA.
The school does say that as students prepare for their life post-High School and learn to cope with the pressures of international examinations, they are fully supported by a School Counselor, who meets with each student individually. The Guidance Counselor assists the students in choosing their courses based on their college and career goals, interests, and academic performance. The counselor supports students with the application process and with meeting college/university entrance requirements by arranging campus college visits and university fairs; providing school transcripts showing subjects taken and grades earned; assisting with personal statement/college entrance essays, and with registering for standardized tests.
Separate male and female campuses for Grades 4- 12, a range of specialty laboratories (technology, biology, physics, chemistry), two libraries, a hydroponics garden, a STrEaM activity room, multipurpose halls, a health clinic and canteens.
The latest technology (including Apple TVs), enhances all of these state-of-the-art facilities, helping students to learn, develop, and challenge themselves on a daily basis.
The school’s sports facilities are second-to-none too, and include a football field, two soft-surface playgrounds, an indoor swimming pool and two indoor gyms.
SMS was rated Acceptable by the KHDA' DSIB inspection team in the 2018-19 inspection round for the eleventh year in a row. The inspection took place only two months after the arrival of the then new Principal. As a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, inspections were halted in 2020, and this has meant that no further inspection of SMS has taken place, so it is impossible to judge how much influence her appointment has had.
Acceptable is the minimum rating required by the KHDA which has expressly stated that it wishes all Dubai schools to be rated at least Good. The regulator has even taken steps to email families whose attend lower-rated schools to encourage them to move their children to schools of a higher standard.
One word that is used several times by the inspection team is 'variable'. This refers to Student Achievement in all key subjects though the High School section fares slightly better than the rest of the school, and the quality of teaching in all sections other than the High School (where it is stronger). The curriculum had improved (rated Good for its design and implementation) and is now aligned to the Common Core Standards. However, its adaptation to meet the needs of individual students was still rated Acceptable.
The protection, care, guidance and support of students retained its Good rating whilst Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills are an increasing strength of the school, largely rated Good and Very Good and with one measure in the High School section rated Outstanding.
Leadership and management saw an improvement in the rating for Governance to Good, which is now equal to that of Parents and the Community, whilst the other three measures retained the Acceptable rating.
In a further positive note, the inspection team noted that the leadership of the school has a clear vision and a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the school with improvement planning focused on those aspects that require immediate attention.
The strengths of SMS were identified by the inspection team as:
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team identified that SMS should:
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings - you will find it here.
In common with all UAE schools following the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, School of Modern Skills was subject to a Distance Learning Evaluation which was designed to assess the standards of delivery of education via on-line learning. SMS received the second of three possible outcomes, that of Partially Developed.
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The 2018-19 KHDA inspection report indicated that the relationship between the school and its community was good. The Principal organises monthly ‘Coffee with the Principal’ morning and evening sessions to keep parents updated on school matters and to seek feedback on how the school is doing. There is also an active Parent Council which provides insight into policy decisions and enhances parent communication.
The inspection report noted that parents are positive about the quality of education that their children receive at SMS which provides them with regular opportunities to be involved in the life of the school and to be well-informed about their children's achievements.
Unfortunately, only a small number of 29 parents participated in the KHDA pre-inspection survey and of these, over a third were not satisfied with the quality of education being provided. It seems that the main concern was support from teachers in developing their children's learning skills. This is somewhat surprising given the feedback that the inspection team received during their visit.
200 students participated the KHDA's Well-being Survey and were positive about their school. Most had a sense of belonging and believed that teacher-student were good. They felt safe in school and agreed that there was respect among most students. They reported positively on their engagement in learning and agreed that they worked hard and were motivated to succeed.
It is three years since the leadership at SMS changed, and the lack of inspection visits to provide independent evidence of the progress that has been made in that time makes it difficult to offer an informed analysis of the current situation at SMS.
However, based on the experience and background of Ms. Vojta - particularly in light of her years in Abu Dhabi working within the public sector - and her leadership team, and the clearly positive impression that Ms. Vojta made on the inspection team so early into her Principalship, we would hope that significant progress has been made on the road to improvement at School of Modern Skills. The school is actively recruiting new students; we look forward to hearing further feedback about the school.
Tuition fees range from AED 16,171 in KG1 to AED 28,541 in Grade 12. However, the school charges a number of additional mandatory fees including school uniform (from AED 426 to AED 723), and Books and Stationary which range from AED 1,165 in KG and AED 3,772 for Grades 10, 11 and 12. Fees are payable in three installments of 50% in August and 25% each in December and March.
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