Sunmarke School is the most recent school to join Fortes Education, the owners of Regent International School (RIS) in the Greens. Five years after its opening, initially in large part as a Secondary school due to the transfer of RIS Secondary students, it is now a fully-fledged all-through school offering the English National Curriculum, including A Levels, and the IB Diploma and Career-related programmes,
Sunmarke school, which opened in September 2016, is housed in a 3,000 capacity purpose-built facility in Jumeirah Village Triangle, with very up to date facilities, experienced secondary staff from sister school Regent International, whose Secondary section moved to the new campus, and classes up to Year 13 from the outset.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received considerable feedback from parents at the school. Most speak of the sense of community, good communication and particularly the focus on development of the whole child with its Positive Education approach.
Recent feedback on positive aspects of the school (June 2021) include:
"A very happy parent of two kids in the secondary school. Beside the impressive facilities and very strong academic track record, the school is remarkable in ensuring it’s ‘positive education’ philosophy is lived and breathed every day. Far from being just a tag line applied by a marketeer, the pastoral care and support for the children is second to none."
"The most important thing about Sunmarke is the fact that it is a school that listens positively and take prompt action and my child’s progress is its number one priority."
"Focuses on the individual. Mutual respect. Building a genuine relationship with child and parent."
"No bullying policy, positive education, good teachers and organization."
And it seems that not only are parents impressed by the school. We have also received feedback from students which appear to reflect the views shared by parents:
"My school is not only academically strong but also pays attention to the needs of the children like sports and mental health."
"It’s just an amazing, caring, responsible school to go to that will change your outlook on learning all together."
"Well being of students is also very important to the school not just academics."
In its third KHDA inspection, Sunmarke improved its overall rating from Good to Very Good - only one rating away from the highest Outstanding rating. It is clear from the inspection report for 2018-19 that the school has made significant progress, with many of the individual performance ratings across all six key performance standards having improved. For more details, skip to What the Inspectors say.
Perhaps more impressively, in October 2019, Sunmarke underwent a voluntary British Schools Overseas inspection (whereby schools are assessed based on measures used by UK Department of Education standards), and achieved the highest Outstanding rating. The report can be found here.
Five years after opening, Sunmarke's student numbers have grown to around 1,500 - though only half of the school's capacity, leaving substantial capacity for the school to expand. The largest nationality group for students is British, who represent about 20% of the student body. In common with most international schools in Dubai, children come from a wide range of backgrounds and, in Sunmarke's case, from over 80 different countries; about half are non-native English speakers. Sunmarke also educates over 60 Students of Determination who are supported by specialist staff and resources as part of the SEN team.
The owner of the school is Fortes Education, and many of Sunmarke's staff were recruited from Regent International School, the group's other long-established school in the UAE. Regent has been rated Good for eight years in a row, improving to Very Good in 2019.
Read our interview with Fortes Holding Director, Sanjay Mankani here.
Per the most recent KHDA report (from 2018-19), some 124 teachers and a further 16 teaching assistants work with students; the teacher:student ratio of 1:11 is around the average for a premium-priced UK curriculum school and should ensure that students receive plentiful individual support and attention. Staff turnover, at 15% in the past academic year, is well below the UAE average of 20-22%. This is a positive indication of a good working environment in a city where teachers are usually provided with two to three year contracts and often move on to pastures new regularly as a result.
The school states that its mission is to "empower students with a high-quality value-based education that inspires students to achieve their fullest potential and flourish in a changing world".
The school offers the National Curriculum of England and Wales, following the Early Years Foundation Stage programme in FS1 and FS2, and the Cambridge International programme through to IGCSE and A Level.
In October 2018, the school was the first in the UAE to announce it would add both the IB Diploma Programme and IB Career-related Programme to its post-16 offering.
It is now one of three schools committed to this combination - the others are Repton School Dubai and GEMS Wellington Academy, Dubai Silicon Oasis, which both, unlike Sunmarke, offered the IB Diploma programme initially and are now expanding to A Levels in addition.
This is significant. In doing so, Sunmarke became the first school in the UAE to offer a range of significantly different pathways for students, all within the same school. In very broad terms, the IB DP is an academic programme focused on all rounders. A Levels tend to be focused on a narrower range of subjects for specialists. The IB CP offers a programme for more vocational, less academically oriented students. Note the IB CP is a pathway to both university, and the world of work.
The school will use the BTEC offering as the vocational element of the IB CP. Subjects currently include Business Studies, Creative Digital Media Production, Information Technology, Hospitality, Travel and Tourism. In addition, Sunmarke offers select ASDAN Short Courses and Preparing for Adulthood programmes which tend to be of greater interest to students with additional learning needs.
With a specific focus on technology, the school will offer a wide array of pathways for learners in this field. Students can choose in KS4 from BTEC Level 2 IT, iGCSE ICT, and iGCSE Computer Science. In Sixth Form, students will have the options of International A Level IT, A Level Computer Science, BTEC Level 3 IT, and IB ITGS.
Except for language specialists, almost 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."
Whilst Pos-Ed drives the ethos of the school, technology appears to underpin almost all aspects of learning. Sunmarke is a STEAM-enabled school capturing where education is at today – where science, technology (digital literacy and coding), engineering and maths converge with the arts and humanities, developing children as thinkers, innovators and leaders.
STEAM enables students not only to make the intrinsic connection between subjects but also innovate and share solutions naturally. Students understand how to work with challenging problems that enable them to think laterally, in order to present and apply creative solutions to problems using STEAM Steps – 'Think, Make, Share'.
In support of this focus, the school operates a 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) programme where students bring in laptop and tablet devices that can connect to the school network, internet, Virtual Learning Environment and e-library. They are able to work with greater interactivity, connectivity and collaboration, access information faster, and share, publish and submit their work online.
Sunmarke is one of a relatively few schools in the UAE that has quickly adapted to delivering a dedicated Computing Curriculum to all learners from Year 1 to Year 13. Topics include Programming (through a number of computer languages), Coding, Hardware, Software Development, Computational Thinking, Computer Logic, Networking, Computer Communication, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, e-Waste, and Emerging technologies.
Aside from the core curriculum, Sunmarke also offers over 60 co-curricular and extracurricular activities that include clubs for sports, the performing arts, drama and theatre, journalism, music, maths, science, robotics, debate, public speaking,and a wide range of other options designed to support students' social, physical, emotional and cultural growth, as well as interests, and teamwork and leadership skills. The more IT focused of these activities include dedicated computer building, robotics, game making, First Lego League, among others.
Sunmarke School is located on a large site at the edge of Jumeirah Village Triangle, closed to the Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Highway and the Al Khail Road. The building stands on three sides of the plot, and spreads over 5 floors including roof top sports facilities. Whilst the building appears to be very large from the exterior, it has been designed in sections, so that the youngest children are catered for on the lower floors, and the Secondary and Sixth form classes are on the higher floors. This means that younger and older students rarely, if ever, come into contact with each other.
The facilities at Sunmarke School are in line with other tier 1 schools and, given the particular focus on technology, include laptops and tablet connectivity in large, well-resourced, IT-enabled classrooms, a blend of Smart TVs and interactive whiteboards, blended learning labs, and a digital library housing hundreds of e-books, educational apps and online resources. In fact, there are three well-resourced Library Media Centres for each phase of the school, dedicated Activity Rooms for co-curricular activities, a large and inspiring ‘Discovery Centre’ for EYFS children, nine science labs with large resource banks for lab work, and four ICT Labs.
Find out more about the facilities and our first hand impressions by reading our Sunmarke School Experience HERE!
However, the school has ensured that there a both creative and sporting facilities in addition to the technology-based ones, including three Fine Art Labs, a professional studio for dance and movement a ‘Black Box’ Studio for drama, performances and public speaking and a 600 seat Auditorium with professional lighting, recording and sound for the performing arts. Sports facilities have also not been overlooked, with a FIFA-18 sized Football Pitch, large indoor gymnasia and swimming pools.
Sunmarke also has a dedicated nursery on the premises, part of the Jumeirah International Nursery Schools which are also owned by the same group.
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com encourages all schools to be transparent about their students' academic achievements. Ultimately, whilst examination results should not be the be-all and end-all of education, they are an important consideration for parents and students.
Sunmarke has been somewhat selective in the information it has been willing to share, generally not providing information about the number of students who were entered for the exams and the number of exams taken. In general, the larger the cohort, the greater the challenge to obtain high results.
In both 2020 and 2021, examinations were cancelled for all public examinations. Instead, schools have been responsible for providing Centre Assessed Grades (based on teachers' predictions). This has been highly controversial, since it has been shown, based on comparisons with previous years, that there has been grade inflation across the results of all public examinations.
In 2021, Sunmarke revealed the results of its IB students for the first time. Bearing in mind that the school has only one year's history in relation to IB students, results were based on the Centre Assessed Grades and assessment of assignments submitted by students, which were marked by IB examiners. Again, Sunmarke was highly selective in the information it has revealed, informing WhichSchoolAdvisor.com only that all students entered for the Diploma passed it with an average point score of 37. All students achieved 30+ points, whilst 92% achieved 35+ points and 16% achieved 40+ points - ranking them within the top 5% of students globally.
As mentioned earlier, there is general evidence of grade inflation - the global IB average score was raised from 31.34 in 2020 to 32.99 points in 2021, a further significant leap from the figure of 29.62 in 2019, when students last took the IB examinations. This appears to be more marked in the UAE, where the average has grown from 2019, when it was 32.26, and 2020 when it was 34.41, to 35.89 in 2021.
We would anticipate that there will be a correction in 2022 when students are expected to sit exams in the usual way. As a result we would strongly encourage families considering results as a factor in their decision about their choice of school, to look at the history over the previous years where possible.
The school also revealed its 2021 A Level and IGCSE results. At A Level, 50 students were entered for 133 examinations. Some 30% of all entries were awarded an A* grade, whilst 60% A*-A, 98% received A*-C grades and 100% were awarded A*-E representing a 100% pass rate. The highest achieving student achieved 4 A Levels at A*.
At IGCSE, 105 students were entered for 939 examinations. Of these, 20% of awards were at Grade 9 for GCSE, 36% of entries were awarded A* (grades 9-8) 58% achieved A*-A (grades 9-7), 80% achieved A*-B (grades 9-6), and 96% were awarded A*-C with an overall pass rate of 96%. 92% of students achieved a minimum of 5 I/GCSE's at grades 9-4 (A*-C) including English and Maths.
In 2020, the school shared some of its A Level results. In A Level Mathematics, 93% of students gained outstanding results (Grade B or higher) with over 60% of the grades awarded at A*- A. 75% of students exceeded their expectations. Overall 48% of all grades were A*- A with 77% gaining at least a B grade. The overall pass rate for the academic year 2019-20 was 99%. Other high attaining subjects included Business Studies and Physics with 85% of students awarded a top grade of A*- B. The school did not reveal the number of students entered for the exams, or the number of exams awarded.
Although the school should have had its first cohort of IB students complete their studies in May 2020, the school did not reveal any information in this regard.
With a cohort of 92 students who were entered for a total of 911 exams, the school also shared its IGCSE results for 2020. 27% of exam entries were graded 9-8/A*, 49% of exam entries achieved grades 9-7/A*-A, 76% of exam entries were graded 9-6/A*-B, and 96% of exam entries achieved grades of 9-4/A*-C. In addition, 92% of students achieved 5 passes at 9-4/A*-C grades including English and Maths.
2019 A Level results were also revealed selectively. According to the school, students achieved outstanding grades across the Humanities, Arts and the Sciences as the school's Year 13 cohort more than doubled in size (though the number of students was not revealed). 29% of all A Levels were awarded A*- A, 52% were A*- B, 78% of results were A*- C and 99% were A*- E (this is a percentage of all exam entries).·
BTEC Level 3 students also gained strong results with 58% of all BTEC students achieving a Distinction Star (*) and Distinction, whilst 85% were awarded with Distinction Star (*) to Merit and 100% of all BTECs were awarded Distinction Star (*) to Pass. A Distinction Star (*) is the equivalent of an A* at A Level for University admissions. Again, no information about student numbers were provided.
Also in 2019, IGCSE 93 students entered 879 exams, with 47% of results at A*-A (9-7) 80% A*-B (9-6), 90% A*-C (9-4) and 86% of students obtained 5 passes at A*-C including English and Maths.
In 2018, the school revealed only that 51% of A Level results were grades A*-B, and 80% were A*-C, with no details of A*-A. GCSE results were 91% A*-C and 79% A*-B.
The school apparently recorded good IGCSE results in 2017, its first year of operation, with 40% gaining A* to A grades, 70% A* to B and 90% A* to C. It also released its A Level results, again, with no details of student numbers or overall pass rates. 30% achieved A* to A grades, 51% of grades were A* to B and 80% A* to C. We assume that these are the percentage of exam entries that achieved these grades, and not students.
The school requires students to take mandatory core subjects for IGCSE including English Language and Literature, Mathematics and Statistics, Science - Biology, Chemistry and Physics, a Modern Foreign Language, a Humanities subject, Technology, and "one free-choice option". A Level subjects include Physics, Mathematics, Psychology, Biology, Further Maths, Government & Politics, Chemistry, History, Media Studies, English Literature, Geography, the Extended Project Qualification, Economics, Fine Art, French or Arabic.
For their first inspection, Sunmarke School received a Good rating which was impressive for a school in its first year of inspections - empirically it does not seem possible to rate more highly than this on first inspection, even if the KHDA tells us it is possible. Its second inspection, which took place in February 2018, also received a Good rating. The school was also inspected by British Schools Overseas in October 2019 and was rated Outstanding - two full ratings higher than the first inspection of 2017, when the school was rated Good.
Sunmarke must therefore have been very proud to achieve a Very Good rating on its third inspection in 2018-19. The inspection took place in March 2019. In line with the KHDA's announcement of September 2019 that schools rated Very Good or Outstanding will no longer be inspected on annual basis, the 2018-19 report is the last to have been issued. The school will now participate in a one day review process annually and no new report will be issued unless there is a change in rating.
In reviewing the inspection report, it is evident that the school has made very significant progress in the previous twelve months. The inspection team commented that "improvements in students' achievements are evident across all core subject areas, especially in Science". This is borne out by improved ratings in six of the eight measures for Science attainment and progress. Progress in English and Maths remains Very Good across the school, whilst attainment has improved to Very Good in English at the primary level. All other ratings remain unchanged.
There has been progress in Arabic as an additional language, where attainment has improved in the Primary section and progress has improved in Secondary. Unfortunately, attainment remains Weak in the Secondary section, as it does for Arabic as a first language in Primary and post-16. Islamic Education is now rated Acceptable across the school. However, until and unless this weakness is addressed, these ratings may well prevent further improvement in the school's overall rating.
Having said this, 16 of the ratings across the key performance areas have improved to Outstanding in this report. whilst a further 16 have improved to Very Good. No ratings have declined.
The KHDA inspection team identified the strengths of Sunmarke as:
Overall, the KHDA inspection team recommended the following actions that Sunmarke should implement:
Inevitably, though not expressly stated, these areas of improvement are largely related to the teaching and assessment for Arabic-based subjects.
To read the full KHDA inspection report, which we strongly recommend in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings, go here.
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has large amount of feedback from over 100 parents so far, and initial reaction is positive with an overall rating of 4.2/5 or a positivity rating of 84%.
82% of parents would recommend the school to other parents, and similar numbers are satisfied with feedback, discipline and the academic performance of the school. Interestingly, however, despite 82% of parents having positive views on the latter criterion, 29% still feel that their children require additional tuition outside school.
Their children not only look forward to going to school, but also feel 'quite a bit' or a 'tremendous amount of belonging' to it. Whilst just over half of parents (56%) feel that fees offer good value for money, 14% (almost 1:6) disagreed with this statement, with 22% having considered moving their child to a different school at some point. But close to two-thirds of parents feel that their children are receiving an education is that is of a better standard than they would receive at home, and this may well be the deciding factor for those who have considered an alternative. Sunmarke is also clearly doing a good job in terms of inclusion.
For parents, teachers and senior students who are currently a part of Sunmarke School, we would encourage you to share your experience with other potential members of your community. Please help others and complete our Survey here.
Some 140 parents responded to the KHDA pre-inspection survey. 96% of parents were satisfied with the quality of education being provided, with almost all feeling that "they are receiving value for money and that school leaders and staff listen to them. Parental comments are positive, with praise for teachers, positive education, informative reports, extra-curricular events, inclusion, school management and their care that their children receive".
Students - some 388 from years 6 to 10 - who responded to the school Wellbeing Census expressed high levels of optimism and satisfaction. They have good relationships with their teachers and there is always someone in whom they can confide and with whom they can share any concerns.
Sunmarke is clearly a school with high ambitions which is making strong progress in many areas. Based on the vast majority of the key performance measures, it is a school that is already performing well at a Very Good level, with areas of Outstanding performance.
As one of a small, but apparently growing number of schools in Dubai to offer both A Levels and the IBDP as the school graduation courses, Sunmarke will be going head to head with its competitors in this narrow field - the other schools who have announced their intention to offer both programmes include GEMS Wellington Academy Dubai Silicon Oasis, Kent College Dubai, Nord Anglia International School Dubai and Repton School Dubai. With fees at the lower end compared with these competitors, it will be interesting to see how Sunmarke retains the quality of teaching and resources (which IB in particular is known to demand) from its lower fee base.
As the school grows, the challenge will be to maintain the high standards, something the school should be proud to show as it continues to develop.
A claimed USP of Sunmarke School is that despite top tier facilities, it has reined in the temptation to demand stratospheric fees. These range from AED 44,900 in FS1 to AED 73,900 for Years 12 and 13 - hardly cheap, but AED 22,000 lower than KHDA’s approved tuition fees. It will be interesting to see if the school tries to charge a premium for IB students, which has happened in other Dubai schools. The costs of operating a dual curriculum at this level should not be underestimated in terms of staffing and resources.
Sunmarke School 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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