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. In addition to the IB Diploma programme and its scaled down IB Courses programme, SISD also intends to offer the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP) from September 2021; a unique programme addressing the needs of students who wish to engage in more vocational, 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 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.
In early 2021, SISD announced that it is enhancing its curriculum with the launch of a new IB Bilingual Arabic/English programme for children aged 3-6 years (Pre-KG to KG2): an initiative which, according to the school, is unique to SISD. The aim of this additional to the bi-lingual focus of the school is specifically to support and encourage Emirati and Arab families and to offer an early introduction to young non-Arabic speaking children about the Arabic language and culture.
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 Early Years (365) and Primary Years Programme (520). Some 120 students have been identified as Students of Determination and a further 40 as Gifted and Talented.
The School Experience - What does the school actually feel like? Read our report here...
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 having been entered for their IBDP exams in May 2020.
Unfortunately, as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, students were unable to take the examinations, and were awarded results based on Teacher Assessed Grades and the assessments that had been submitted to the IBO during their two year IB programme. The school did not publish its results for this initial group of students, but has committed to do so going forward.
Students are supported by approximately 150 teachers (from 25 different nationalities, mainly nationals from the UK, Switzerland, France and Germany), and 50 teaching assistants, with a teacher:student ratio of 1:9. This ratio 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% when last published in 2018, was somewhat on the high side compared with the UAE average in international schools of 20-22%. This is 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.
In common with most relatively new schools, there are more students at the lower end of the school. Whilst Pre-KG has four classes, KG1, KG2 and Grade 2 each have six classes, whilst Grade 1 has 7. Grades 3 to 8 have between 4 and 5 classes per grade, a number which reduces to 3 per grade in Grades 9, 10 and 12, with four classes in Grade 11. Class sizes range from 24 to 26 students in the Early Years and Primary bi-lingual streams (where each class has two teachers and a classroom assistant), to a maximum of 20 students in Secondary classes from Grade 6, and 15 students in the IBDP and CP classes of Grade 11 and 12.
The school expects further expansion in September 2021 with the addition of further bilingual classes opening in Early Years offering an Arabic and English bilingual programme, further bilingual French and German classes due to increased demand and additional interest in Grades 11 and 12 following the introduction of the IB Career-related Programme..
The current 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 February 2021, the school announced that Mr. Foerster would be retiring at the end of the current academic year. His replacement was named as Ruth Burke, latterly Director of Very Good-rated Deira International School, and prior to this position, Principal of GEMS' Outstanding-rated Wellington International School. Both schools are UK curriculum to Year 11 and then offer the IB programmes for Years 12 and 13. The school will also be welcoming a new Deputy Head of School in September 2021 (following the promotion of the current Deputy to Principal of IB school in Germany). Read more about Mrs. Burke and our Covid Catch-up with her here.
Under Mr. Foerster's leadership, steps have been taken to strengthen the Senior Management team with staff who have a strong background in Modern Languages, and SISD seems determined to ensure that this key and core aspect of the school will have the strongest possible leadership. Mr. Foester has also ensured that he has an experienced team working with him, with a clear understanding of the local KHDA inspection requirements, having appointed senior staff who had been involved in the inspection processes at their previous schools. This followed an initial, and disappointing Acceptable rating during the school's first DSIB inspection in 2017-18.
No doubt the school was delighted that its hard work has since paid off with the achievement of a Good rating on its second inspection in February 2019.
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, no subsequent inspection has taken place, but SISD achieved the highest rating of Developed in the Distance Learning Evaluation implemented in 2020. Skip to full details of the inspection under What the Inspectors say here.
Following the announcement that Mrs. Burke would be joining SISD at the start of the 2021-22 academic year, the WhichSchoolAdvisor team was keen to catch up with her to find out why SISD is to be her next leadership role.
In addition to her positions at Deira International and GEMS Wellington International schools, Mrs. Burke started her career in Dubai at Outstanding-rated Jumeirah English Speaking School. After leaving Deira International School at the end of the 2019-20 academic year, in expectation of relocation, Mrs. Burke found herself a "stay at home mum" for 2020-21. The mother of three boys, two of whom have left home, and the third, an eight year old at school in Dubai, Mrs. Burke told us that she had enjoyed her time off from full-time employment, but that the offer of the role at SISD was one that she could not turn down, given the opportunity to lead a school that is different to her previous Dubai experience.
One of the reasons for this is that despite much of her previous experience in the UK curriculum, both of the last two schools that she led offer the IB curriculum at the Sixth Form level. The attraction of an all-through IB school was therefore a draw. In addition, the bi-lingual programme being delivered by SISD resonated with Mrs. Burke who herself grew up and was educated in a bi-lingual, Irish/English environment. As such she can appreciate the benefits of a bi-lingual (or rather, multi-lingual) education.
It was evident from our conversation, that although Mrs. Burke does not officially take up her role until August, she is already heavily engaged in learning about SISD.
In particular, she is excited about the new curriculum options that are becoming available for the next academic year - notably, the launch of the bi-lingual play-based Arabic/English curriculum for pre-KG to KG2 students. Each class will have both a fluent Arabic and fluent English qualified Primary teacher - similar to the arrangement for the current bi-lingual English with French or German programmes Mrs. Burke noted that the quality of Arabic teachers and teaching has improved significantly as a result KHDA initiatives in recent years, and believes that this initiative will be popular with families who are largely Arabic speaking at home.
Besides a new STEAM with English curriculum, which was introduced for students from pre-KG to Grade 5 in September 2020, the school will also enhance the options for students at the Senior end of the school in September 2021.
In addition to the IB Diploma programme , the school also offers the IB Courses programme - a programme with reduced breadth of subjects which is accepted for both Foundation and full university courses depending on the country.
Mrs. Burke is particularly pleased about the introduction in September of the vocationally-focused IB Career-related programme, which will operate in combination with BTEC's in Business and Hospitality. The decision to introduce the Hospitality option in particular has been drive by student interest - three graduates of SISD have gone to the top hospitality schools in Switzerland to continue their post-18 education.
Finally, the other opportunity that Mrs. Burke sees at SISD - and one that is almost unique in the UAE - is the development of the Boarding option at the school where she sees scope for expansion in relation to families locally looking for a weekly option, but also for families (both local and international) in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries.
Mrs. Burke is a strong believer in the boarding option, having had personal experience of the benefits in respect of her older children. She believes that boarding offers particular advantages from a personal development perspective. Having spent plenty of time at the school, Mrs. Burke also believes that the boarding facilities are unequalled within the region. She is looking forward to being able to support students and their families who may consider this option.
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), together with the IB Courses programme (a scaled-down version of the IBDP).
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 implemented the enhancement of 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 focuses on a wider range of knowledge that is content specific. It uses 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 is project-based, building on the foundations of the International Baccalaureate framework and allows 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 focus on the design process, design thinking and enhance their computational thinking. These skills then are 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 E-MYP 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. SISD is one of the only schools in Dubai who now offers this new MYP e-Assessment qualification, which has recently been approved as being equivalent to GCSE / IGCSE options at age 16.
In addition, to implementing the E-MYP online examination (one of only five schools in the UAE 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. At SISD, all children do a minimum of 3-4 hours per week of language acquisition (French or German) if they are not in the bilingual stream.
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.
With the Covid 19 pandemic having impacted all UAE schools in 2020 and 2021, SISD has offered a blended learning approach. This has included 100% learning in school to all students since September 2020 – every child has had the option to be in school every day. In early 2021 (March) the majority of students (over 90%) were back in school full time. Only a small minority (less than 5%) have been in full time distance learning since September 2020.
SISD has implemented the UK-based ASDAN programme which is a vocational programme designed to focus on developing life skills in addition to fundamental academic skills. It aims to "fly the flag for inclusion".
Support at SISD is individualized. Parents are asked to disclose needs during the admission stage to tailor support accordingly or once enrolled students in Grades 1 and 5 in the French and German stream are screened and their CAT 4 scores and teacher observations are considered to determine who else may benefit from additional support.
The school says that it has a vast diversity of SEN needs and levels. Some students need just a little help, whilst others follow an alternative curriculum (ASDAN in Secondary). The school has a number of SEN classrooms, a sensory room in primary as well as a relaxation room in secondary. There are 6 Inclusion specialists, an inclusion assistant as well as 4 Independent Learning Support Assistants.
Where a student requires a Shadow teacher, the school liaises with the parents and an outside agency, Wonders, to find a Shadow teacher.
All in-house SEN provisions are free of charge. A Shadow teacher provided by Wonder costs between AED 4,500 and AED 6,500 per month depending on the needs of the child and the parent's requirement. Occupational and Speech Therapy and Physiotherapists if required are also paid for by the parents.
The specific language focus at SISD means that inevitably, there is greater demand for support for students learning additional languages within the school.
In Early Years, for students at their foundation stage of learning a new language, support is provided by the classroom teachers in an immersive co-teaching setting. For those in need of extra support, one on one or small group instruction is employed. This is not at an extra cost.
In Primary, especially in the bilingual classroom, it can be that a student's first language is not the curriculum language. In Grades 1 to 3, the co-teaching model is designed so that continuous personalisation offers students the support that they need to develop in the target language. Moreover, this allows students to translanguage which means that they use their full language repertoire in one language to support the learning in another language.
In Grades 4-5 (currently Grade 3) the school has a team of language support teachers who support those students who need additional focus on a particular language. This is usually done through in-class support sessions set up over the course of the week and in some instances through pull-out. This is all part of the personalised learning plan at SISD and offered at no additional cost.
In Secondary, English as an Additional Language is part of language acquisition, and this is offered free of charge as support for all students. The support is personalised, and tailored to suit the language ability of the child.
In the most recent KHDA report (from 2018-19), SISD again achieved a Good rating for its provision and support for Students of Determination and those with Gifts and Talents.
Students participate in both the TIMMS and PISA benchmark tests. On all TIMMS measures, SISD achieved the ‘High International Benchmark’ which demonstrates the school’s commitment to world-class education. In addition, the students’ achievements were higher than the average Dubai IB grades on all measures and age-groups. The school's rating is considerably above the UAE average, the world average and places SISD alongside some of the top-performing schools in the world. The report graded all measures ‘significantly higher than the TIMMS centre-point’.
When considered together in conjunction with the latest PISA results, which showed SISD to have an above average score in comparison to all private schools in Dubai (and a score higher than Switzerland!), it demonstrates and re-enforces the rigour and quality of the IB curricula.
As mentioned earlier in our review, SISD has only had one cohort of students with IBDP results to date and these were based on Teacher Assessed Grades and previously submitted assessments due to the Covid 19 pandemic. SISD has committed to publish both MYP results and IBDP, CP and Career-related Programme results .
The school supports students in terms of their academic development and choice of pathways on an individual basis. The IB MYP and IB DP co-ordinators meet with all students to discuss their subject choices, and understand their university plans and career interests. This happens several times during the course of their IB studies.
A dedicated university guidance counsellor supports students with their university applications, and also advises on scholarships available, and best course options for IB students.
All Grade 11 and Grade 12 students are offered additional support with soft skill development for university and life beyond education. The school also uses a variety of different resources and external providers to provide students with as much information as possible to support their decision making – including career events, guest speakers, and Unifrog.
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 outdoor running tracks, mean that all the essential facilities are now in place. Recent additions include a climbing wall and a 650 seater acoustically balanced Auditorium.
But this is not where the expansion ends. The 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.
The final phase of development, completed in September 2019, is the Boarding Houses which can accommodate 200 students.
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.
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 inspection took place in the 2019-20 academic year due to the Covid 19 pandemic.
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.
SISD is not the only school in Dubai to have been caught out in this context, and the decision by the leadership to recruit experienced staff from other Dubai schools who understood the inspection requirements clearly, evidently paid off with the results of the second inspection indicating 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.
When we visited the school, 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”.
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.
As part of our review update in March 2021, we asked the school to tell us what makes it so special. The SISD team told WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that its five areas of differentiation are:
In terms of academic and development focus for the next academic year, the SISD team told us that their priorities are:
There is no doubt that the Swiss School is ambitious, for itself and its students. The decision to focus on an expansion of the boarding option is an interesting one, given that this has not been particularly popular in the UAE to-date.
We are also very encouraged to see the expansion of the curriculum which is taking place, both in terms of the stronger focus on Arabic in the Early Years, and the development of vocational options at the top end of the school.
We have always felt that there was certain "air of solidity" to SISD under the leadership of the original Principal and, now, under Mr. Foerster. This has brought with it an air of real determination, focus and very Swiss reliability to the school as has been evidenced through the improvement to the inspection rating since the arrival of Mr. Foerster.
With the arrival of Mrs. Burke, we expect to see the embedding of many of the key elements at the school, further underpinned by a Principal who expects commitment from staff and students, and an absolute determination to see and implement improvement at all levels.
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 62,484 rising to AED Grade 12 fees at AED 99,000 placing the school as among the most expensive in Dubai.
Open to current SISD Students and New SISD Applicants – Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai says that it seeks to encourage all-around educational excellence by providing merit scholarships to highly deserving day and boarding school students.
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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