The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls is probably one of the most prestigious schools in Abu Dhabi, targeted as it is, largely though not exclusively, at the daughters of some of the city's most important families.
The story so far…
Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls (SZPAG) is a highly regarded school based in the Al Bateen area of Abu Dhabi providing a high quality education for female students only from Grade 4 through to Grade 12. Both boys and girls are accepted from KG to Grade 3 inclusive - this is in line with the school's sister establishment, the Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys, which was launched in 2015. Established in 2000, the exclusive Girls Academy accepts applications for registration from international and UAE students “of good standing.”
The Academy offers a KG to Grade 12 bilingual learning programme based on American and UAE Ministry of Education curricula. The school is accredited by NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges) and CIS (Council of International Schools), both organisations that testify to the high quality of the education provided.
The school’s focus is very much based around a saying by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father of the UAE – “Education is like a lantern that lights up your way in a dark alley.” The school aims to ensure that its students realise their commitment to the community through its core purpose to ‘Honor the past and Educate for the future.’
The school provides an environment where students are expected to flourish academically and socially. It aims to provide an education that transforms lives and inspires children “to be curious learners, who are confident to think creatively, underpinned by values of honesty, integrity and a sense of social justice.”
At the time of the last ADEK inspection, in the 2017-18 academic year, just over 1,500 students attended the school. The vast majority (some 89%) were from local Emirati families, with a small contingent of students from Jordan (3%), the USA (2%) and Pakistan (1%). Students are fairly evenly split across the school, with approximately 20% in the KG section, 43% in the Elementary section, 25% in the Middle/Secondary section and 12% in the High school section.
Students are supported by some 112 teachers and 41 teaching assistants, providing a teacher:student ratio of 1:14 - sufficient to ensure that students receive personalised attention and adaptation of the curriculum to meet their individual needs. Staff turnover, at 19%, was around the average of international schools in the UAE which runs at 20-22%.
Teachers are said to know their students well and encourage each student to reach their full potential and to achieve their aspirations. The Academy wants every student to have the opportunity to learn about themselves, the world and to shape and develop the role they will play in the future.
Furthermore, the Academy aims to develop young adults who leave the school with a secure sense of identity, tolerance and resilience, who are “well-rounded, confident young women, who are ready and able to embrace the challenges and opportunities of adult life.”
What about the Curriculum?
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls (SZPAG) offers a KG to Grade 12 bilingual learning programme. Education is based on the UAE Ministry of Education requirements together with the US curriculum using the common core standards aligned with the state of Massachusetts.
The school is accredited by NEASC, the North-East Association of Schools and Colleges, ensuring that students who leave with a High School Diploma from SZPAG have a qualification that is recognised not only by colleges and universities in the USA, but around the world. Whilst accreditation is a requirement for all US curriculum schools in Dubai (and NEASC is the agency of choice), this is not the case in Abu Dhabi. SZPAG is one of a limited number of US curriculum schools in the emirate to have full accreditation. The Academy is also accredited by the Council of International Schools providing it with worldwide recognition.
The school has now been rated Very Good by ADEK – the Abu Dhabi regulator – for its past two inspections.
The curriculum scope and sequencing of each subject is designed to support the developmental needs of students, helping them to transition between the various sections, starting with the Early Childhood programme in Kindergarten, Elementary (Cycle 1), Middle School (Cycle 2), and High School (Cycle 3). The programme is delivered in both English and Arabic by an internationally diverse team of educators.
The curriculum is said to be distinguished by its focus on rigour, differentiation and innovation with an overriding alignment and appreciation of the UAE National Identity. The school commits to incorporate 21st century skills into every subject studied. Core subjects in Kindergarten include Math, Reading, Science, Social Studies, Writing, ICT, Art, PE and Arabic, whilst in the Elementary School (Grades 1-5) Islamic Studies, Arabic Social Studies and Music are added to the curriculum.
In the Middle School (Grades 6-8) students study Math, English, Science, Social Studies, French, ICT, Art, Islamic Studies, Arabic, Arabic Social Studies, PE, Geography, History, and Drama. In the High School sections, further options are provided including Business, Drama, Psychology, History, Health and Geography, with Career Guidance an additional area of support.
The Academy provides a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, providing opportunities for students to develop outside of the classroom, building their skills of confidence, teamwork and leadership.
A range of supplementary programmes in both Arabic and English subjects are available with staff enabling students to explore core academic subjects further by offering study support, creative new ways to experience literature and drama, sports activities, arts and crafts across several mediums, community service opportunities, and educational leadership roles.
Many after school activities offer cross curricular credit and experience including travel, debates with students from around the world, utilising planning skills to attend camping and hiking trips, competitions against other students in sports contests, and creative tasks including writing, drawing jewelry-making and fine art, and fundraising to support charitable causes and campaigns.
The Academy also a range of special programmes for students designed to further develop leadership and innovation skills, as well as a greater knowledge of their country’s traditions and religion. These include the Spring of Hearts Programme for Holy Quran Memorization, an Environmental programme, The Leadership Curriculum, The My Identity Programme, and Computer Explorers Club.
What about Academic Achievement?
Students at SZPAG participate in a range of ongoing progress tests including MAPS testing and international benchmarking tests such as TIMMS and PISA in line with the UAE’s Vision 2020. Students increasingly also take SATS and AP courses in line with US College and University entry requirements - in fact the most recent ADEK inspection report notes that "all graduates now undertake SATs and an increasing number take advanced placement (AP) courses. A larger proportion of students now acquire the qualifications required to make competitive applications to international universities."
What about the Facilities?
The school’s buildings are modern and designed to enhance the learning opportunities for students. The premises and resources are described as of "exceptionally high-quality" by the ADEK inspection team.
Specialist facilities include a Library in Elementary School and Knowledge Centre in the Secondary school, ICT laboratories in both the Elementary and Secondary schools, a Mac Suite and three science laboratories in the Secondary School and one laboratory in the Elementary School, a Theatre and Dining room in the Secondary and a Gymnasium in each building. KG students have their own play areas.
What the inspectors say
Sheikh Zayed Academy for Girls has now twice been rated Very Good in its ADEK inspections in 2015-16 and most recently in 2017-18. This is the second highest rating awarded by ADEK.
In the most recent inspection, whilst SZPAG was rated Very Good for four of the six key performance standards which form the basis of the inspection, the school achieved the highest, Outstanding, rating for the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, and for the school's Leadership and Management.
Commenting on these two key performance areas, the inspection team noted that "a culture of kindness and mutual respect characterises the school. Students receive high quality pastoral and academic care and support to develop independence and make positive choices." In addition, they found that "the Principal and senior leadership team skilfully align the school’s work with the Board of Trustees to honour the vision of Sheikh Zayed. They critically evaluate the school’s effectiveness and ensure that all staff are engaged in continuous improvement."
Students' achievement was rated Outstanding across all subjects in the KG section, and predominantly Very Good in the Elementary, Secondary and High school sections. Arabic as a second language, however, was rated Good - a rating that would usually be seen as a sign of success in most international schools.
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills were largely rated Outstanding for students' Understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and world cultures, and for Social responsibility and innovation skills. However, their personal development was rated Very Good, rather than Outstanding, due apparently to lower than expected attendance rates of 93%. KG children were the exception, obtaining an Outstanding rating.
In terms of Teaching and assessment, and the Curriculum, both Teaching and Assessment were rated Outstanding in the KG section, whilst Teaching was rated Very Good across the other three sections of the school. Assessment was also rated Outstanding in Elementary, whilst Very Good in the Secondary and High school sections. The picture was almost identical for the Curriculum, with its Design and Implementation rated Outstanding in KG and Elementary, and Very Good in Secondary and High school sections. Its Adaptation to meet the needs of individual students was Outstanding in KG and Very Good across the rest of the school.
In terms of the strengths of SZPAG, the inspection team determined that these were:
The Academy was asked to focus on the following key areas for improvement:
If you would like read the full inspection report, and we strongly advise you to do so in order to fully understand the reasons behind the ratings, you will find it here.
Unfortunately, ADEK does not provide formal feedback from students, parents or teachers within their report. However, the report notes that "Students are respectful and compassionate to others, particularly those less fortunate. The school’s considerable charitable work led by students, supported by their parents, demonstrates their strong sense of social responsibility." A culture of kindness and mutual respect characterises the school, and teachers’ interactions with students are of a consistently high quality. Almost all teachers challenge and inspire students to be innovative using enquiry-based learning.
The school is said to engage parents very effectively in supporting their children’s learning and celebrating their achievement. Senior leaders take account of parents’ views, and parents have begun to respond to the school’s ongoing drive to improve attendance. School leaders are developing further approaches to sharing students’ learning and achievements with their parents on an ongoing basis.
If you are a parent, student or teacher at Sheikh Zayed Academy for Girls and would like to share your experiences with other potential members of your community, please do so by completing our survey here.
What about the fees?
Fees are at the higher end of the scale for Abu Dhabi, with fees in KG1 and KG2 starting at AED 30,520, rising in Grades 1 to 4 to AED 45,010. In Grades 5 to 6, fees are AED 51,220, in Grades 7 to 8, AED 56,910, in Grade 9 AED 62,910 and for Grades 10 to 12, AED 70,360.
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