At a glance
Two years after its opening, the initial confidence that was evident from the team behind the school is not only still strongly in place, but obviously supported by the parents of the 645 students who now attend the school.
The School Experience - What does the school actually feel like? Read our report here...
The majority of students are still in the Primary Years Programme, but a cohort of 92 students now make up grades 6-9 of the Middle Years Programme and this number is expected to increase to 200 by September 2017 when the school will grow to include Grade 10.
Not only has the student cohort grown, but the buildings and facilities of the school have also been enlarged significantly. A new Sports Facility with an integrated multi-sports hall that can be divided into two full size courts, an indoor running track around the hall, aerobics and weight training rooms, an Olympic swimming pool, outdoor soccer fields and more running tracks, mean that all the essential facilities are now in place.
But this is not where the expansion ends. A new Middle/High school building is under construction which will accommodate 8-900 students allowing for a total whole school capacity of 2,000- 2,200 students.
In addition, Scholarships of Excellence will be awarded to students in the Middle and High School and the opening of the Middle/High School building will also enable the number of classes in KG and Primary to expand to 7 per grade.
The final phase of development, which is also under construction and will be ready for September 2017, is the Boarding House. SISD is the second school in Dubai that will have shared or single en-suite rooms with catering through the school kitchen situated in the Middle and High School building. Boarding will be offered on a weekly or full time basis to include full pastoral care and a programme of activities to support students during their time after school.
Currently students of 57 different nationalities attend the school, the majority from European countries followed by US and Canadian passport holders, Indian and Pakistani children. Like many schools in the UAE, SISD is a truly international environment.
Head of School Beat Sommer, who has over 30 years’ experience in education, can count on a highly qualified and experienced team: Head of Middle School Luke Osborne, with a Master’s Degree in Education, has extensive experience in IB teaching and a background in boarding, Head of Primary Sabah Rashid, with a Master in Education from UCLA, has worked in the UAE for 13 years and is a qualified IB educator and Dr. Christine Jacob, Head of Languages and herself a proficient trilinguist, coordinates the language support, which is an essential component of a successful bilingual programme.
Student numbers have doubled since the opening. Families have been attracted, according to Beat, by the Swiss reputation for quality, reliability, and for “walking the talk”. Growth has also been driven by an "open approach towards the IB programmes, one that matches a 21st Century teaching and learning environment".
It is the school's strong, for the UAE unique, bi-lingual programme that is the major draw of the school however. SISD is a truly international multi-lingual environment. Although all communication with parents is in English, parents are encouraged to learn the additional language(s) that their children are studying. Beat hopes that the language options will continue to grow with the possibility of the school piloting the IB Middle Years and Diploma programmes in German, a goal he is working directly with the IBO to achieve. The school also plans on adding a stronger Arabic component at some point as well.
Recruitment of suitable staff as having been the most challenging issue to date for the school - as it has been for all schools in the UAE competing for internationally minded, and qualified teachers. SISD says it has faced the problem more acutely than many of its peers however, a corollary of its focus on languages. "European staff are the most suited from the language perspective, but also more difficult to attract to Dubai," Beat told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com
SISD and languages
In order to deliver fluency in more than one language SISD starts at Pre-KG with play-based learning. At this phase there is an English speaking teacher and a native French or German speaking assistant.
Starting from KG1 children receive one additional daily lesson of French or German as well as exposure to the new language in classroom activities. From KG2, a native German or French speaking teacher joins the native English speaking teacher sharing classroom time on a daily basis. Arabic lessons are introduced at this level on a weekly basis.
From Grade 1 onwards, the parents have a choice of either the bilingual English/French or English/German programme with immersive language learning, or the English+ programme, that teaches French or German as another language.
In the bilingual streams, the children are taught one week in English, one week in French or German, with all core subjects being taught in both languages. Native English, French or German speaking teachers plan collaboratively and ensure continuity and a rolling teaching process.
In the English+ stream, all core subjects are taught in English and one lesson of French or German as an additional language is added every day. In both in the bilingual and the English+ streams, Arabic is taught 6 lessons a week.
The school will accept children who are not already speaking the second language up to Grade 1. From Grade 2 onwards, a gradually increasing competence of French or German is a requirement for the acceptance in the bilingual stream.
For those needing additional language support English, French or German as an Additional Language is provided by an experienced team of EAL, FAL and GAL teachers, counsellors and inclusion specialists.
If families wish to add yet another language on top of English, French or German, and Arabic taught within the bilingual and English+ streams or give them additional exposure to the languages, there is the option to enroll children in after school language clubs in English, German, French, Arabic, Mandarin or Spanish. At Middle School level, additional French or German can be studied in lunch time language classes and there is also Spanish and Mandarin on offer as after school activities.
Running in parallel to language development the SISD delivers the IB Primary Years Programme and the Middle Year Programme.
Unlike the PYP, the Middle Years Programme is subject based. In the bilingual sections, Language & Literature, Sciences and/or Humanities are taught in French or German. Maths, Arts & Design, Physical & Health Education are taught in English. In the E+ section, all subjects are taught in English, with additional French or German language acquisition.
The Primary School delivers the PYP (Primary Years Programme), which is based on six “Units of Enquiry” that explore content from the six subject areas. The Head of Primary, Sabah, who has taught the PYP curriculum in the UAE for 13 years but is a US educated and trained teacher, believes that the strength of the programme lies in the fact that students are actively engaged in their own learning. The PYP progresses each child from where they are in their learning and measures their progress individually. The PYP balances the acquisition of knowledge, learning skills and capabilities for life beyond the classroom, and conceptual understanding. Children learn to translate concepts into action and thus develop the skills of self-management, research and thinking, as well as communication and social skills.
SISD intends to offer the Swiss bilingual Baccalaureate from Grade 9 from the 2018/19 academic year onwards, a programme mainly targeting Swiss students.
Some families who have been educated in other curricula - notably the UK which offers the GCSE or IGCSE public examination which take place at age 15/16 -have in the past been concerned at the lack of such measurement in the MYP programme. However, SISD carries out twice yearly CAT IV and GL testing of all students to ensure that they are meeting targets, set personal progress plans and to contribute to reports.
The hope is that the introduction of the MYP-E on-line examination in English, Maths and Science (for which students are obliged to complete a two year programme across grades 9 and 10) will now offer reassurance to families that a rigorous programme is not only being taught but independently tested.
On our visit students we spoke to talked about how much they enjoyed the structure, design and facilities of the school, the different clubs and activities that are available, the opportunities that are provided by the House System and Student Council, the sports facilities and additional language options.
Their highest praise, though, was for their teachers whom they described as “amazing, helpful and supportive, really focussed on ensuring that students really understand what they are learning and that they enjoy the subjects they take”.
There is no doubt that the Swiss School is ambitious, for itself and its students. The move into boarding is an interesting one, given that this has not been particularly popular in the UAE to-date. However, there is an air of real determination, focus and very Swiss reliability at the school.
We look forward to seeing the next stage in the school’s development.
The School Experience - What does the school actually feel like? Read our report here...
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