Sunmarke School is the most recent school to join Fortes Education, the owners of Regent International School (RIS) in the Greens. Three 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 and the IB Diploma and Career-related programmes.
The Story until Now
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.
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.
Three years after opening, Sunmarke's student numbers have grown to around 1,300. Clearly there is still 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 86 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.
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".
What about the curriculum?
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.
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.
What about Facilities?
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.
What about Student Achievement?
The school recorded good IGCSE and scores during its first year of operation, with 40% gaining A* to A grades, 70% A* to B and 90% A* to C. In 2017-18, 53% achieved A* to A grades, 79% A* to B and 91% A* to C. Unfortunately, the school does not reveal the number of students who sat the exams, nor the overall pass rate.
In 2017, Sunmarke also released its A Level results. Again, no details of student numbers or overall pass rates were provided, but 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.
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. Unfortunately, these results mean relatively little if the number of students involved and the overall pass rates are not revealed. In addition, the percentage of students achieving 5 GCSE's at grades A*-C including English and Maths is the most commonly used comparison for UK curriculum schools, but was not provided by Sunmarke.
It is to be hoped that Sunmarke will be more transparent in its reporting for 2019, and certainly for its first IB results in 2020, where a host of additional information is usually made available.
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.
As noted, Sunmarke will offer the IB Diploma and IB Career-related programmes from the 2019-20 academic year. The option of BTEC subjects supports the school in offering the IB Career-related Diploma.
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 May 2017 and 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 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, go here.
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.
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.
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".
Our WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey has had a reasonably large level of feedback from parents so far, and initial reaction is positive. Parents so far would almost universally recommend the school to other parents, and are very satisfied with the academic performance of their children who look forward to going to school. Fees are also overwhelmingly felt to offer good value for money and 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. 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, please help others by completing our Survey here.
What about Fees?
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.
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