Sunmarke School Experience

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,
Parents' Rating
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3.7 out of 5 based on 107 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Very good
Availability 2021/22
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Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
AED 62,000
Annual fees
AED 44,900–73,900
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2016
School year
Sep to Jul
Teacher turnover help
18%
Principal
Dr Neil Hopkin
Owner
Fortes Education
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
Main student nationality
United Kingdom

Nearby nurseries

0km • EYFS curriculum
0.8km • EYFS curriculum
1.5km • Creative Curriculum curriculum
1.9km • EYFS curriculum
2km • EYFS curriculum
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LET'S GO

How does the school feel?

Sunmarke School is located in the fast-developing Jumeirah Village Triangle area of new Dubai. This was our third visit to the school, and the school is gradually transitioning into maturity, becoming something of an established player on the UAE education scene.

The school is a community focused, and conveniently located for the increasingly popular area of new Dubai in which it is located. It has excellent facilities and a design that has not only been well thought out but presents stylish and attractive features in every area.

The school has adopted the ‘positive education’ philosophy developed in the Geelong School in Australia. It is embedded in all aspects of school activity, and the intense focus on wellbeing is central to our impression of the school. As we found with Sunmarke’s sister school Regent International School, ‘positive education’ is a phrase used by leaders, staff, parents and students alike.


The Early Years Library, a bright and welcoming space

Touring the School

We were guided on our tour by two sixth form students, who were unfailingly polite and highly enthusiastic about their school. Both were keen to retain alumni links to the school once they had moved on to University.

The four storey white, grey and red modern blocks house this large school (total capacity: 3,000 pupils). The layout of the blocks form a horse-shoe frame around an astro-turf football pitch. The school is softened slightly by vegetation around the site, whilst more garden spaces have been incorporated into small but attractive courtyards within the campus.

Classrooms are spacious and furnished with all the appropriate equipment and furniture, and all feature bright, colourful displays. We observed that there was a sense of fun combined with focus and purpose in the classes we visited. We noticed many children using ‘break out’ and corridor seating areas for small group work – most obviously in the primary phase.


A typical Sunmarke Classroom

Use of iPads and/or smartboards was evident in almost every classroom.  Areas for relaxation are either within the small garden areas in various courtyards or shaded benches dotted around the campus, either on ground level or on the rooftop. The sports hall is huge and well equipped. We were led through two dining areas/cafes for primary level children which looked inviting and quite popular. Specialist subject classrooms are all spacious with state-of-the-art equipment. We saw a media room, a series of IT suites, design technology, music and science labs which all impressed. An amazing half indoor/outdoor swimming pool is also available to all.

The architectural design of the site has included several clever uses of the roof. Shades have been put up above climbing frames for younger children along with basketball courts and tennis courts. Back at base we were shown the main entrance area where all pupils meet at the start of the day. There is also a vast staircase, which on the day of our visit was in use for a rehearsal space for the end of term performance. A nearby wall shows the historical timeline with images illustrating the development of Dubai.

Meeting the Principal

We met Keith Miller, who has been Executive Principal of Sunmarke since the school opened, but who has now taken on an 'oversight' role within the Fortes Group. He is succeeded by Neil Hopkins, who joins the school from Nord Anglia Shanghai.

Mr Miller tells us that after 33 years in education, he still “has the passion and loves the challenges” which makes getting out of bed each morning easy! Having spent 25 of those working years in challenging inner city UK schools, one of the pleasures of working in a school like Sunmarke is that “we get do things we could only dream of at home”.


The huge stairway

The philosophy of Positive Education is, for Mr Miller, what sets this school apart from other schools in Dubai.

“Our focus in on student wellbeing” he says. “That is not some sort of check point… We have created an infrastructure where wellbeing is truly top of the agenda. Happiness and self-assurance are absolutely key, but never at the expense of progress. Some 82% of our Year 11 students exceeded their CAT target by at least one grade. That combination is for me what makes a truly high quality education”.

Having achieved a highly creditable ‘Very Good’ in the school’s third KHDA inspection cycle Sunmarke School is ambitious not only to be rated Outstanding but, as Mr Miller puts it, “to be considered one of the best schools in the Middle East”. He went on to say that “We are now Very Good, yes, so we are on that journey - but the job is not done yet. The next phase is arguably more difficult but we know how to get there. We will continue to enhance wellbeing and our positive education agenda”.

When asked about the school’s greatest accomplishments, Mr Miller replied;

“Outcomes! We have happy young people and happy staff. Our academic outcomes are through the ceiling. We have worked hard to change our curriculum structure to cater specifically to our student body. We have 27 GCSE options and a huge variety of pathways to university at Sixth Form. [The school offers A Levels, the International Baccalaureate (both the Diploma and Certificate Programmes) plus some BTEC options]. I can confidently say that this level of choice means that our school is now in a position to flourish”.

Last words from Mr Miller?

“I want people to know that we are a school with the highest expectations. Sunmarke has a ‘huge heart’ as evidenced by our strong pastoral and support system. What we do best is to enable children to achieve their potential”.

Speaking with Students

We met a panel of seven Sunmarke School students, representing Year 7 to Year 12.
We began by asking what makes their school unique and the answers were certainly diverse! One young man said that sporting achievements (particularly athletics and volleyball) were his happiest memories of his time at Sunmarke. Another described the Sunmarke “difference” as “the opportunities we have to express ourselves”.

We also found it interesting that many children noticed just how good their school facilities are, with one remarking that “other schools can’t compare!”.


Students enjoying a drama lesson at Sunmarke

Relationships with staff are ‘brilliant’ according to the student panel. The children particularly appreciated how well the leadership team got to know them as individuals, not just their class and subject teachers. They said that in particular, their Heads of Year were ‘always involved, always checking in on you’. We smiled as one student said that the teachers “all seem to have their heads screwed on”. Let’s hope so!

Workload was said to be challenging yet manageable and students felt that any bullying was ‘quickly squashed’. The students love the range and quality of Extra Curricular Activities. They were particularly keen to highlight ‘Sports Heroes’, a Thursday afternoon programme where a large number of Sunmarke students had trained as Junior Sports Coaches and in turn train students with additional needs from schools across Dubai. Not only was this ECA impactful for the attending children, it was highly valued by the Sunmarke students, so much so that the activity always has a waiting list. Impressive!


Some striking student artwork at Sunmarke

Camps and school trips were also very much liked an appreciated, with a number of our panel having recently been to Kenya.

The only real improvement the students would ask for were 1) improve the food (which is very unvaried) and 2) somewhat relax the uniform policy, which they felt was unnecessarily strict (something our parent panel later agreed with).

Overall, the students agreed that Sunmarke is a ‘big school with a small school feel’.

Chatting with Parents

Our final chat was with a group of parents who had children in Year 5 to Year 13. Immediately prior to our discussion, many of the parents had been attending a ‘Positive Parenting’ seminar organised by the school. They later tell us that this type of seminar is a regular event.

Whilst we meet many keen and committed parents on our school visits, we have to say that the Sunmarke parents were exceptionally enthusiastic about their school. It was, at times, a (pleasing!) struggle to keep up with just how many things they wanted to say about their school, but we think we have eventually captured their many thoughts and observations below.

We began by asking why the parents had chosen this school. Comments were many and varied and included:

  •  “We liked how diverse and multicultural the school is”
  • “We came from Regent, and the transition was seamless”
  • “Not the only reason, but they made sure there was a seamless fee transition from Regent. They also offer loyalty and family discounts
  • “We were new to Dubai and looked at many schools. When I came here I thought “we have found home””

The most impressive features of the school include the warmth and the open door policy, which meant that any concerns are dealt with quickly. “At this school, I never feel I am the last to know!” said one Mum. Other, less positive, communication issues that were highlighted were that sometimes notice for school trips was too short and that with three children “I receive three copies of the same email!”. The schools uses apps such as Seesaw to communicate and hold regular curriculum workshops to ensure parents know how and what their children should be learning.


An Early Years class in full swing

The parents also liked the building and impressive facilities, but these were not the most important points. What really mattered to our panel is the ‘Sunmarke focus’ on character development and how children are allowed to develop at their own pace. “Children feel safe here. It’s just a safe and loving school” one parent said.

This feeling of positivity was echoed by the parent of an autistic student at Sunmarke School. Her child’s experience of the Inclusion provision had been excellent. The child had received 1-1 support since being in Foundation Stage and this had helped him to come on “in leaps and bounds”.

“The school has been so open to meeting his needs. They have modified the curriculum for him so that he can continue in a mainstream class. They consult with us regularly. I find the inclusion team adaptable and supportive”.

The same parent also stated that Learning Support Assistants were incredibly well integrated into the school.

As in so many schools, uniform is something of a sore point. Parents felt that the uniform policy was applied “too strictly” with a particular sore point being that children had recently had to wear their blazers during a fire drill on a very hot Dubai day. Other issues centred on quality, comfort and the uniform not washing particularly well.

Another frequent gripe for parents at Dubai schools is traffic and parking. However at Sunmarke, where many children live in the local community and walk or cycle to school, this is not so much of an issue and parents had no complaints.


One of the many open courtyards at Sunmarke

Parents felt that the breadth of curriculum and sheer variety of choice at Sixth Form meant that the school offered excellent value for money.

Such positivity is perhaps to be expected from parents who were willing to give up their time to speak to our reviewers. We have therefore consulted with the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com parent survey results to gain a little balance.

The below (anonymous) comments were gathered between February and June 2019:

  • "This is honestly one of the most impressive schools I have ever seen and we have attended too schools in 4 different countries. The leadership, results, culture and atmosphere are super"
  • "We are very happy with Sunmarke School. There’s a good atmosphere, friendly and good teachers, great facilities and a good mix of nationalities. Kids love to go to school every day!"
  • "Amazing school with great qualified teachers and staff! Simply amazing. My kids love this school"
  • "The GCSE space is Dubai is cluttered with schools offering almost homogenous products. I don’t see this school offering anything different or unique to its students, so I don’t understand how it will develop and maintain a long standing and durable competitive advantage over others. As new schools come up, the possibility of students moving to other campuses especially in secondary cannot be overlooked especially if new schools start lowering fees to attract students"
  • "Positive Education is at the expense of behaviour. Kids who misbehave get away with anything in the spirit of being "positive". Secondary students' conduct in the halls is unacceptable and staff and teachers turn a blind eye. They promise 24 students max per class, but they're at 27 in one of the sections. The school accepts new students mid-year. Uniforms are too expensive, but the quality is horrible. Unrealistic homework load that does not actually solidify learning. I wish they would improve on these things because I would like to have peace of mind when my kids go to school"

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Sunmarke School has much to offer. Clearly the Positive Education ethos is popular with many, but not all (as the above comment testifies). The fact that it has grown from an existing school (Regent International 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.

WhichSchoolAdvisor.com itself was impressed by the commitment of the school to an open policy, its inclusiveness, and the development of the curriculum to provide a far wider range of Sixth Form options than is usual in Dubai. We would encourage interested parents to visit Sunmarke.  It has a lot to offer right now, but has ambitions to offer still more.

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

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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