The Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys is a US curriculum school in central Abu Dhabi. Although predominantly attended by Emirati students, it is open to other nationalities. The school is highly rated, achieving a Very Good rating from ADEK on its second inspection.
The story so far...
The Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys (SZPAB) was founded in 2015, and has built upon the success and reputation of The Sheikh Zayed Academy for Girls which was established in 2000 to fulfil the vision of the Late President, H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. As an inclusive school, SZPAB aims to provide the highest quality of holistic education and development. The school is managed by the UAE's largest school group - GEMS Education.
In January 2021, it was announced that Neil Matthews, formerly Principal of GEMS Firstpoint School in Dubai, would be joined the Academy as the new Principal from May 2021.
The school accepts both boys and girls from KG1 to Grade 3, and boys only from Grades 4 to 11 with plans for natural growth up to Grade 12 in the next academic year. Although the vast majority of students are from the local Emirati community, the school offers places to other nationalities.
Maintaining an appreciation for the UAE's international community and world at large, the school’s vision aims to secure the future of the UAE by "providing strong community role-models who understand their heritage and traditions and are also equipped with the skills and life-long learning dispositions necessary to embrace the challenges of tomorrow and to take on leading roles."
At the time of the most recent ADEK inspection, in 2017-18, some 1047 students attended the school with 93% of students UAE nationals, 2% of students from Jordan, and 1% each from Egypt and the USA. Approximately 10% of students have been identified with some form of additional learning need. ADEK's inspectors found that "The identification and support of SEN students is an example of best practice." As would be expected with a relatively new school, most students are in the KG and Primary sections (70%), whilst the Middle school section and first grade of High school account for 30%.
Students are taught by some 79 teachers, supported by a further 30 teaching assistants. A teacher:student ratio of 1:12 should ensure that students receive individualised attention and curriculum enhancements where required. Although teacher turnover at 19% appears to be on the high side, this appears to be driven by recruitment of additional staff, rather than staff leaving the school.
What about the curriculum?
SZPAB offers a US curriculum following the Massachusetts State Standards. The school is accredited by NEASC, the New England Association of School and Colleges, which ensures that the High School Diploma which is awarded to Grade 12 students is recognised and accepted at US colleges and universities. SZPAB is one of a relatively small number of US curriculum schools in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi to have sought such accreditation, although it is a requirement for all US curriculum schools in Dubai.
The school says that it is "an American Curriculum school, with a strong Arabic and Islamic approach, with emphasis on local culture and awareness and with programs such as UAE National Studies and My Identity." Its aim is summed up in the school’s motto: "Honoring the past. Educating for the future."
In Kindergarten, the emphasis is on play based learning and includes a strong focus on developing reading and numeracy skills, to make sure that students are ready for the demands of the primary years.
From Grade 1, students study core subjects of English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science, together with Social Studies. These traditional subjects are complemented by studies in Art, Music, Drama, ICT (and French from Grade 6). Great emphasis is placed on students learning Arabic, Islamic Studies and UAE Social Studies. The school has been recognized as an Apple Distinguished School for 2018–2021 for its innovative integration of iPads to enhance learning which is linked to the Computer Explorers Club. The ADEK inspection report for 2017-18 notes that the school's "highly innovative use of learning technology is an example of best practice."
In addition, the school runs a range of special programmes designed to further develop leadership and innovation skills, as well as a greater knowledge of their country’s traditions and religion. These include The Leadership Curriculum, The My Identity Programme, and Qu͛ran memorisation programme, with an annual opportunity to travel to Mecca (after Umrah).
However, the focus is not purely academic, with a strong emphasis placed on sport, including football and swimming. Older students can participate in an annual international ski trip.
Private music lessons are also available and include Piano, Vocals, Strings (violin, cello), Woodwind (recorder, flute, saxophone, clarinet), Brass (trumpet, horn, euphonium, trombone, tuba) and Percussion (orchestral, drum kit).
The ADEK inspectors found that "The range of curricular and extracurricular choices is outstanding and there are very good links between areas of learning."
What about Academic Achievement?
Between Grades 2 and 10 SZPAB uses standardized MAP testing to monitor the progress of students in advance of their commencement of their High School Diploma studies. Students in Grade 8 also participate in the PSAT tests. The school has also introduced a specialized university and career counseling program.
What about the Facilities?
SZPAB is housed in a purpose-built modern building with a range of high quality indoor and outdoor facilities. Indoor facilities include five Science laboratories, two LEGO innovation Rooms, two specialist Digital Learning rooms, a Green Studio and specialist Music, Drama, Art and Technology Rooms, a Sportshall and Canteen.
Outdoor facilities include two Swimming Pool (a learner pool with a depth of 0.8 metres) and a 25m pool, a five lane running track, a Football/Rugby field, Basketball courts, a Skateboard park, Climbing apparatus, General outdoor play and picnic areas, Covered play areas and two rooftop play and picnic areas.
What the inspectors say
Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys was inspected for the second time in the 2017-18 academic year. In its initial inspection in 2015-16, the school was rated Good, during its first year of operation. In the 2017-18 inspection, the school achieved a rating of Very Good, a remarkable achievement for a school that was still growing rapidly and has not yet opened fully.
It is also clear that the inspection team have high expectations of the school; the report notes that "Under the leadership of an exceptionally effective principal, school leaders at all levels demonstrate an outstanding capacity to continue to innovate and improve over time." It is rare for ADEK inspection teams to suggest a capacity to improve that is greater than the current overall rating.
However, closer examination of the report indicates why the inspectors were so impressed and so confident in the school's continuing improvement. To begin with, three of the six key performances standards - those of Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills, the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, and Leadership and Management - were rated Outstanding.
Teaching and Assessment and the Curriculum - the two core elements of any school - were rated Very Good, which inevitably led to a rating of Very Good for Students' achievement. However, the KG curriculum was deemed to be Outstanding.
Inspectors defined the school's strengths as:
In terms of areas of improvement, the inspection team identified that SZPSB should:
There is no doubt that Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys is a highly effective school that is likely to become a target for many families in Abu Dhabi who seek a high quality curriculum and learning in an environment that strongly builds on the culture and values of the UAE.
If you would like to read the full inspection report to gain a deeper understanding for the reasons behind the ratings - and we strongly recommend that you do - you will find it here.
ADEK does not formally publish information related to the feedback from students, parents or teachers. However, the report includes references to "Students [who] have a very strong work ethic. Their highly positive attitudes to learning and to school result in excellent behaviour for all age groups. They are respectful of others, confident and caring. Students have excellent relationships with their peers and with staff."
In addition, "Teachers’ caring relationships with students promote active engagement in lessons. Well trained learning assistants strongly support learning in the classroom." Finally, the report finds that "Outstanding parental involvement has been central to school improvement and informs the school’s processes and planning. The school provides outstanding communication and detailed reporting. Community, national and international partnerships are equally strong and impact widely on students’ learning. opportunities."
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What about the fees?
Fees are - as would be expected - on the high end of the ADEK scale. with fees in KG1 and KG2 at AED 52,560, Grades 1 to 5 AED 57,840, Grades 6 to 9 AED 63,840, and Grades 10 and 11 AED 70,260. Fees for Grade 12 have not yet been published.
Admission to SZPAB requires that each student demonstrates academic and behavioral readiness through an application process that may include: confidential letters of recommendations and school records, assessments in Mathematics, English and Arabic, and an interview with School Personnel.
Admissions testing is required for all students from Grade 1 to Grade 10 for entrance and grade placement. Students must be at appropriate academic levels in Reading, Math and Arabic (native speakers) to enable them to successfully access the SZPAB curriculum. Students who are non-native Arabic speakers, or native speakers who hold passports from non-Arabic countries, may be exempt from the minimum language requirements.
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