At a glance
The Story til Now
Sunmarke school, which opened in September 2016, is housed in a 3000 capacity purpose built facility Jumeirah Vilage Triangle, with very up to date facilities, experienced secondary staff from Regent and classes up to Year 13 from the get go.
Read our interview with Fortes Holding Director, Sanjay Mankani here
A claimed USP of the school is that despite top tier facilities, it has reined in the temptation to demand stratospheric fees. These range from 44,900 AED to 72,900 AED - hardly cheap, but 22,000 AED lower than KHDA’s approved tuition fees. Whether the school could attract students if it charged 100,000 AED per annum is of course an entirely different matter. At the moment, the supply and demand equilibrium very much balances in the favour of parents, and all schools have to be realistic when it comes to pricing.
Except for language specialists, all teachers at Sunmarke are from the UK and are trained in Positive Education (PosEd), which drives the ethos of the school. PosEd, as described on Sunmarke's website, "brings together the science of Positive Psychology with best teaching practices to enable individuals, schools and communities to flourish. PosEd drives a person to learn more effectively, and be more resilient, creative, productive, successful and healthy."
The owner of the school is Fortes Education, and many of Sunmarke's staff have been recruited from Regents International School, its other venture in the UAE. Regents has been rated Good for seven years in a row which clearly affected the school's ability to meet the KHDA inspection guidelines.
Read our Visit Review HERE!
Recruiting staff from an established UAE school clearly makes sense - staff are used to the UAE, settled in, and to some degree able to hit the ground running.
What about Facilities?
The facilities at Sunmarke School are in line with other tier 1 schools and include: large, well-resourced, IT-enabled Classrooms; 3 large well-resourced Library Media Centres for each phase of the school; dedicated Activity Rooms for co-curricular activities; large and inspiring ‘Discovery Centre’ for EYFS children; 9 world-class science labs with large resource banks for lab work; 4 state-of-the-art ICT Labs; 3 Fine Art Labs; Professional Studio for dance and movement; ‘Black Box’ Studio for drama, performances and public speaking; 600 seat Auditorium with professional lighting, recording and sound for the performing arts; FIFA-18 sized Football Pitch.
We have had fairly limited feedback from parents so far, but initial reaction is positive. Parents so far would almost universally recommend the school to other parents, and children look forward to going to school. Sunmarke is clearly doing a good job in terms of inclusion.
All in all a fairly successful launch.
For parents who are currently a part of Sunmark School, please fill in our Parent Survey here.
What do the Inspectors Say (2016/2017)
For their first inspection, Sunmarke School received a Good rating which is impressive for a school in its first year of inspections. Part of Sunmarke's strength is that the school operated in part as Regent International School, which has received a Good rating for the past seven years.
Overall, attainment and progress of students was almost equally split between Acceptable and Good with Mathematics in the Secondary and Post-16 rated as Very Good.
Arabic and Islamic Students has progress to make as attainment and progress is rated as either Weak or Acceptable. The report recommends that the school, " improve students’ progress in Arabic by using the very good practice of language teaching in the modern languages faculty; improve students’ progress in Islamic education by adopting the strong practices which are evident in other departments."
Teaching is a strength of the school. The report notes that "Teachers have strong subject knowledge, they are clear about students’ next steps in learning and understand how they learn best. Teachers in the Foundation stage make sure children learn through being active and independent."
It is almost impossible to miss the site of Sunmarke School which opened its doors from FS1 to Year 13 in September 2016. Located close to the intersection of the Al Khail Road and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Highway, it is ideally placed to serve a large number of communities inland from Dubai Marina. The school is a very large 3-sided building painted in bright yellows and reds and stretches upwards over 3 floors. A sizeable outdoor, synthetic grass playing field is at the heart of the building.
Unusually for a new school, Sunmarke has been able to offer all year groups from Foundation to Sixth Form in its first year. This is a direct result of the transfer of the Secondary school from Regent International School (under the same ownership) which has now reverted to a Primary only campus in the Greens area (a 10 minute drive away). In order to be able to open the Secondary School at Sunmarke, the owners had to agree to a full KHDA inspection within the first year of operation (instead of the usual third year). This is extremely unusual and demanding for a school that is inevitably still in a settling-in phase. The inspections usually require 3 years of tracking by the school of its students; only 60% of the data (from former Regent students) will be available.
To lead such an ambitious development and to ensure that the school “hits the ground running”, Fortes Education has employed Keith Miller, a former Principal with GEMS Education in the UAE and with 27 years of Senior experience in the UK. Mr. Miller is responsible for all of the Education activities across the Fortes Group, which also includes the Jumeirah International Nursery schools and Regent International and splits his time across the entities. With 725 students at Sunmarke School, this has certainly been a successful opening. Approximately 300 children have joined the new Primary school, with over 400 students transferring from Regent or joining the new Secondary school. Again, unusually for Dubai, this school is not bottom heavy (with a larger number of primary than secondary students) which tends to be the norm. At an overall capacity of 3,300, Sunmarke will eventually be a very large school indeed.
Mr. Miller tells WSA that he chose to join Fortes Education because of the smaller nature of the group and the opportunity to work hand in hand with the owners, who are ambitious and may well expand their network in the future. He has been involved in hand-picking all of the staff who are now in place. Although responsible for the oversight of the school, Mr. Miller’s main focus is on the strategic development of Fortes Education.
This includes ensuring that the focus on a unique curriculum area at the school the “Education for Human Values” programme which has been in place at Regent for several years is maintained. The school has been working with Geelong Grammar School in Australia to develop their Positive Education (Pos-Ed) programme and mindfulness across the school community. The programme is designed to enable students to have an in-depth understanding of their own character, stresses that may affect them and how to address such issues. Sunmarke School offers a Mindfulness room, outdoor spaces for exercise aimed at de-stressing and Counselling support. The aim is to strike a balance between Academic excellence, Positive Education and Personal Development. Parents are also encouraged to strike a balance in their lives with Wellness Wednesday enabling parents to participate in Yoga, First aid and other activities.
Another key area of development for Mr. Miller is the curriculum. STEM subjects (Science, Technology, English and Maths) are at the core of the curriculum, but the aim is to offer a much broader educational experience. Currently offering the UK curriculum throughout the school, Sunmarke has already applied to the International Baccalaureate organisation as a Candidate School to offer the IB Diploma programme. This will be offered in addition to A Levels. But plans for alternative qualifications do not stop there. In addition to the academically demanding IBDP, Sunmarke will also aim to complement this with the IB Courses programme, which requires a lower number of subjects.
To complement the A Level programme, the school is also investigating BTEC pathways at level 2 and 3. These are generally more vocational fields of study. The school has already appointed staff with IB experience in order to ensure that they are able to move towards these goals. And in order to ensure that the Community, Action and Service elements of the IB programmes are in place, a similar programme has already been implemented within the school providing peer mentoring between Secondary and Primary students as well as peer to peer programmes in Secondary school.
Another area of focus at Sunmarke is measurement and assessment of students right from the initial application process and throughout their time at the school. A range of tools is utilised including CAT IV and GL testing, but additionally the school recognises that many students are bi-lingual and that they need to assess verbal and non-verbal reasoning skills and the intellectual potential of students. Once a student has joined the school, data is captured 6 times per year and analysed. If a student is not making expected progress, the curriculum is the first point of review and not necessarily the student’s performance. This approach is also fundamental to Sunmarke’s aim to offer support to students of all abilities – including those who are academically more able and also those with additional learning needs. The school is able to support Wave 3 SEN provision and is always willing to consider a student provided that there is capacity within the school.
We were shown around Sunmarke by two Senior students – Abigail (who moved from Regent and is in her 4th year with Fortes group schools) and Avinash, who joined Regent in FS1 prior to its move to the Greens. Both were really impressed with their new school. Year 10-13 students were each provided with a plan of the building prior to moving into it in order to be able to orientate themselves and they found this to be very effective.
Abigail and Avinash both mentioned how much they enjoyed studying in such a technology rich environment, but also how the new facilities enabled them to be involved in Performing Arts and offered an opportunity to move away from the traditional Maths, English and Science to more innovative subjects. Student numbers in the Sixth form currently are small, but the school has enable students to study a wide range of subjects and Abigail and Avinash feel that the Senior Staff listen to students and take their comments on board.
There are minor dislikes – they would like to see the Sixth Form students allowed greater independence (through being able to exit the school campus to buy food locally) and more study time outside school (study leave for exams). Their highest praise was for the teaching staff who both described as “unbelievable”. Teachers are great; neither student could find any fault with any of the faculty and found them motivating, determined to ensure students participate and are really supportive, enabling excellent relationships to develop. Both Abigail and Avinash remarked on how their teachers tailored the workload to the students and were passionate about their subjects. The teaching was described as caring, but also determined and, if necessary, tough in terms of ensuring that standards of work were met.
As we toured the school, both students pointed at the range of facilities. The school incorporates a Jumeirah International Nursery school on the ground floor which is separated from the rest of the building. Primary School is also located on the Ground floor currently. Classrooms are light, bright and spacious as would be expected in a new building. Large corridors allow for break-out areas and colourful displays of student work.
The more exciting, high-tech facilities are located on the first and second floors which are occupied by the Secondary school. These include Radio, TV and MAC studios, specialist Art and Music rooms, a Music Technology Centre, Drama and a Black Box Theatre. A very large Auditorium is close to completion. In addition to the Creative Art facilities, there are of course, Science Labs, Food Technology, Resistant Material and Textile rooms. Sports facilities have also not be overlooked with a double height Sports Hall with viewing gallery. There is also a very impressive Swimming pool facility. On-site catering facilities are provided for all age groups and Sixth form students have their own Common room with refreshments available and also plentiful individual study spaces.
Given that the school is only at approximately 25% of its capacity, it does inevitably feel a little empty in places. It will be interesting to see whether the common facilities – and particularly the sports facilities – will be sufficient as the school grows. The school does benefit from the option to use a park located opposite the school for other outdoor activities. Currently, there are over 20 different sports teams in the school and a total of over 40 Extra-curricular activities.
A Parent Advisory Council is being established that will participate in inspections of the school – carrying out student voice interviews and drop in sessions – and will also aim to identify priorities for parents. The Parent Teacher Association is growing and building contacts with parents across the school in order to engage them in school and community events.
In meeting with parents, we received mixed comments. Whilst no-one doubted the dedication and ability of the teaching staff and the progress their children were making –teaching staff were described as very open, approachable, willing to take feedback and keen to reach out to parents - parents felt that some organisational aspects were lacking. They acknowledged that the school had surveyed parents and made changes to Primary timings as a result, but felt that improvements could be made in relation to communication of the school calendar and the re-registration process which was felt to be far too early in the school year. Parents felt that the balance of older more experienced staff to younger staff was perhaps a little heavily weighted towards the latter, but acknowledged that their children seem to be making good progress and were well supported. They were happy that many of the former Regent staff had chosen to move to Sunmarke to maintain the stability. This was particularly noted among the PE staff and the very high safety standards at the school were also praised.
There is no doubt that Sunmarke School has much to offer. The fact that it has grown from an existing school with many of the staff, resources and students already established means that it has been able to knit key elements of the school together. Inevitably there will be minor issues as the school builds a new identity and community. We are impressed by the commitment of the school to an open policy towards students of all abilities and the development of the curriculum to provide a far wider range of Sixth Form options than has been seen to date in Dubai. It will be interesting to see how the KHDA feels about the new school within its Inspection framework, given the very short timescales involved to prepare for the first inspection. We would encourage interested parents to visit this school which already has a lot to offer and ambitions to offer still more.
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