The Swiss International Scientific School, Dubai (SISD) is located in a still relatively quiet location (despite new building now underway) close to the remaining boat building yards at Al Jaddaf, a short distance from the Business Bay bridge and Downtown Dubai.
The story so far...
The Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai is the first and only school to offer the Swiss curriculum for students in Senior school, and a bi-lingual English/French or English/ German International Baccalaureate programme across the school. SISD also offers the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP); a unique programme addressing the needs of students who wish to engage in career-related learning, designed for students aged 16-19.
What makes the school truly unique is the bi-lingual programme, where children choose to study either the fully-immersive bilingual English/French or English/German streams. Alternatively they may choose the bilingual English+ stream where English is the main language of instruction with one daily lesson of French or German, and additional Arabic. SISD also has a dedicated Language department, headed by Dr. Christine Jacob, that provides language support to all students in either English, French or German.
Although all communication with parents is in English, they are encouraged to learn the additional language(s) that their children are studying. Arabic is part of the core curriculum of the school as per UAE Ministry of Education requirements, and SISD offers a significant six lessons of Arabic per week up to Grade 4, and five lessons weekly from Grade 4 onwards.
The School Experience - What does the school actually feel like? Read our report here...
Currently students of approximately 70 different nationalities attend the school, the majority from European countries - the largest nationality group is French - followed by Swiss and German citizens, US and Canadian passport holders, British, Russian and Italian children. Like many schools in the UAE, SISD is a truly international environment. The school has approximately 1,200 students, the majority still in the Primary Years Programme. Some 66 students have been identified as Students of Determination.
The Diploma Programme at SISD commenced in the 2018-19 academic year and SISD is now open from pre-KG to Grade 12 with the first cohort of Grade 12 students taking their IBDP exams in May 2020.
Students are supported by 154 teachers (mainly British or French nationals), and 46 teaching assistants, with a teacher:student ratio of 1:9. This is very much on the low side, and should ensure plentiful individual attention and adaptation of the curriculum to meet students' needs. Teacher turnover, at 26%, was somewhat on the high side compared with the UAE average in international schools of 20-22%. This is potentially due to the fact that SISD's recruitment needs are very specific: native speaking German and French qualified and IB trained teachers, who want to remain in Dubai beyond their initial contract.
A new Head of School, Norbert Foerster, took over the leadership in September 2018, and rapidly announced that two further key positions had been newly filled.
Noting that "The school’s core foundation was built on encouraging and mentoring students of the future; to become successful, global minded and enthusiastic lifelong learners", the appointment of new Heads of Primary and Secondary, aimed to enable SISD "to continue to embody its values of diversity and togetherness".
In strengthening the Senior Management team with staff who have a strong background in Modern Languages, SISD seems determined to ensure that this key and core aspect of the school will have the strongest possible leadership. However, in appointing senior staff who will have been involved in the inspection processes at their current schools, Mr. Foester has also ensured that he has an experienced team working with him, with a clear understanding of the inspection requirements.
No doubt the school will have been delighted that its hard work has since paid off with the achievement of a Good rating on its second inspection in February 2019. Skip to full details of the inspection under What the Inspectors say here.
What about the curriculum?
In 2018, SISD became an IB Continuum World School authorised to offer and teach the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP), IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) and IB Diploma Programme (DP). In 2020, SISD was authorised to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Career-related Programme (CP).
The Primary School delivers the PYP (Primary Years Programme), which is based on six “Units of Enquiry” that explore content from six subject areas. 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. Learning is cross-curricular, rather than purely subject-based.
In a recently announced initiative, SISD will enhance its English International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme to offer personalised STEAM lessons from September 2020 for PreK to Grade 5. The integrated approach to learning will focus on a wider range of knowledge that is content specific. It will use Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue and critical thinking.
The new STEAM programme is an addition to the bilingual education already provided. It will be project-based, building on the foundations of the International Baccalaureate framework and will allow students wider breadth of knowledge of STEAM subjects through a trans-disciplinary approach. It is designed as a continuum across Pre-KG to Grade 5, allowing students to build their knowledge and skills from individual starting points. Students will focus on the design process, design thinking and enhance their computational thinking. These skills with then be developed into a curriculum continuum building on understanding, knowledge and skills for media, design, communication, coding and building. For each grade level, students will focus on complete STEAM projects to demonstrate their learning and apply their skills.
Unlike the PYP, the Middle Years Programme, taught from Grades 6 to 10, is subject based, as is the IB DP. In MYP, 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 (English+ for non-English speakers), all subjects are taught in English, with additional French or German language acquisition.
Some families who have been educated in other curricula - notably the UK which offers the GCSE or IGCSE public examinations which take place at age 15/16 - have in the past been concerned at the lack of such measurement in the MYP programme. It is hoped 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.
In addition, to implementing the MYP-E online examination (one of only five schools in the UAE currently registered to do so), SISD also carries out twice yearly CAT IV and GL testing of all students in order to ensure that they are meeting targets, being set personal progress plans and for data to contribute to reports.
As mentioned in our introduction, and the unique aspect of SISD, at the core of the curriculum, running in parallel to the IB programmes, is language development. In order to deliver fluency in more than one language SISD starts at Pre-KG with play-based learning. At this phase there is a native speaking French or German teacher and an English speaking teaching assistant in the classroom.
From Grade 1 onwards, the parents have a choice of either the fully-immersive bilingual English/French or English/German programme, or the English+ bilingual programme, that teaches French or German on a daily basis.
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 these languages, there is the option to enroll children in after school language clubs in English, German, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish or Russian.
In Primary School, students in Grade 1-5 who are not required to attend Islamic Studies, can choose to use that time to develop their mother tongue, if other than French, German, English or Arabic. An external provider offers two sessions of 40 minutes per week of Italian, Spanish and Russian mother tongue lessons. In Secondary School, an external provider offers (at extra cost) 2 sessions of 40 min/week of Italian, Spanish and Russian mother tongue lessons. Mandarin is also available upon request.
What about Facilities and Resources?
SISD's buildings and facilities have been enlarged and expanded on significantly since the school's launch. A 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. Recent additions include a climbing wall and a 650 seater Auditorium.
But this is not where the expansion ends. A new Middle/High school building has been completed which can 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, completed in September 2017, is the Boarding House. SISD is the second school in Dubai (Repton Dubai being the other) that offers shared or single en-suite rooms with catering through the school kitchen situated in the Middle and High School building. Boarding is 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.
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.
Read more about the school, its facilities, our impressions and feedback from students in our visit Experience here.
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”.
In common with all new schools in Dubai, SISD underwent its first KHDA inspection in its third year of operation - in February 2018. Somewhat to the surprise of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, the first inspection result was an Acceptable rating, indicating that students' attainment and progress, together with a range of other indicators, are in line with Dubai Regulator's expectations.
No doubt SISD will have been delighted to receive a Good rating - as predicted by our team at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com - on the second inspection in February 2019.
To some extent SISD seemed to have been a victim of its own success on its first inspection. One of the main areas of concern noted by the inspectors, was the speed with which the school has grown and the delay in its leadership structure in growing in line with this development. In addition, it seems that the assessment processes within the school - a key area of focus for the KHDA team - were not aligned to the inspection team's requirements currently. SISD is not the only school in Dubai to have been caught out in this context.
The latest KHDA inspection report indicates that these areas of concern have been largely overcome. The report's summary notes that "Senior leaders provide a clear and ambitious vision for bi-lingual, student-centered education. Their commitment has led to significant improvements in leadership structure, assessment, planning and the consistency of KG provision. The school has developed very effective links with parents and external partners to enhance students' learning experiences...The school runs extremely smoothly, and high quality staffing and resources promote excellent learning".
In terms of Student Achievement, improvements have been found across a range of progress and attainment measures in Islamic Education, Arabic as a first and as a second language. The same is true of English, mathematics and science, with all progress ratings being a minimum of Good, and mathematics in the PYP and MYP being rated Very Good. Attainment remains largely acceptable in English and Science across the school, though it is rated Good in the MYP section.
Students' personal and social development and their innovation skills are largely rated Very Good, although the understanding of Islamic values and awareness of Emirati and World cultures is rated Good other than in the KG section, where it was upgraded to Very Good.
Most importantly, Teaching for Effective Learning and Assessment - an area on which the school was downgraded in its first inspection - are now rated Good across KG, PYP and MYP. Similarly, the ratings for Curriculum Design and its Adaptation have also been upgraded to Very Good and Good respectively across KG, PYP and MYP.
Ratings for the protection, care, guidance and support of students have remained largely unchanged, although the health and safety (including safe-guarding) measure for KG is now rated Outstanding. And all measures for Leadership and Management have improved - with Parents and the Community, and Management, Staffing, Facilities and Resources all rated Outstanding.
If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do - go here.
A substantial 344 parents responded to the KHDA's pre-inspection survey. 92% confirmed that they were satisfied with the quality of education provided by SISD. Most parents are happy with the school and report that it gives value for money. They are particularly positive about how the school helps their children to develop skills and to learn effectively, about the information they receive, and about how the school keeps their children safe.
Students who completed the survey (some 155 from the Senior school), are generally very positive about their school experience. Most have a strong academic concept and have positive relationships with adults in school. Almost all report being cognitively engaged with the school and with their school work.
The WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey has received a limited amount of feedback. 78% are fully or partially of the opinion that the school's fees are value for money, although an emphatic 22% believe they are not. A third of respondents had considered moving their children from the school. However, 78% were fully satisfied, and a further 11% partially satisfied with the academic performance of the school. 78% of parents also felt that SISD had improved their child's confidence a great deal or a lot. And 67% of parents would definitely recommend SISD to other parents, with a further 11% unsure.
Given our relatively small sample size, if you are a parent, teacher or senior student at SISD and would like to share your opinions and experience of the school, please do so by completing our survey here.
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.
What about the fees?
Fees are at the premium end - inevitable in an IB curriculum school and all the more so, given the range of language skills required from staff. Current fees are also significantly lower than the KHDA approved fees. Pre-KG starts at AED 60,000 rising to AED 110,000 in Grades 9 and 10. Grade 11 and Grade 12 fees at AED 120,000 places the school as among the most expensive in Dubai.
Boarding School Fees are an eye-watering AED 231,500 for Grades 6 to 8, AED 246,500 for Grades 9 and 10, and AED 260,700 for Grades 11 and 12. These are based on a full boarding arrangement, 7 days per week during term-time and inclusive of School tuition fees, accommodation, all meals and snacks, Airport transfer (school terms & breaks), three internal after-school activities per week, selection of weekend activities, evening activity programme, student visa, English as a Second Language or English as an Additional Language classes, books and examination fees, three sets of standard uniform, use of all school facilities, and a laundry service. When we consider that around half of the boarding fees are actually tuition fees, the remaining expenses look rather more reasonable and definitely worth consideration for families who favour such an option.
Swiss International Scientific School Dubai 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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