United Arab Emirates / Dubai / Al Furjan / The Arbor School

The Arbor School Review

The Arbor School opened in Al Furjan in September 2018. Now entering its fifth year of operation, the British Curriculum School has a particular focus on ecological awareness, responsibility and sustainability.
Parents' Rating
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4.6 out of 5 based on 157 reviews
At a glance
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
AED 57,000
Annual fees
AED 32,000–64,600
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2018
School year
Aug to Jul
Principal
Brett Girven
Community
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom

Nearby nurseries

2.8km • EYFS curriculum
2.8km • Specialist SEN curriculum
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The Arbor School
School type
International
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Good
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
AED 57,000
Annual fees
AED 32,000–64,600
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
2018
School year
Aug to Jul
Principal
Brett Girven
Community
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
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The Arbor School opened in Al Furjan in September 2018. Now entering its fifth year of operation, the British Curriculum School has a particular focus on ecological awareness, responsibility and sustainability.

The story so far...

The Arbor School is a premium all-through school (opening Year 10 and Year 12 in August 2022) and growing organically to Year 13, located to the south of Dubai.  The school serves families in Al Furjan, Discovery Gardens, and Jebel Ali Village and is within easy reach of Jumeirah Village Triangle, Green Community, Dubai Sports City, the International Media Production Zone, and Dubai Marina.  

The Arbor School offers the British Curriculum, and is also one of the first schools in Dubai to offer a focus on sustainability, providing its students with "opportunities to plan, collaborate, reflect and make meaningful changes to the world around them".

It is clear from Parent feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com that The Arbor School has already created a very satisfied community.  With feedback from substantial 160 parents, the school has been awarded an overall rating of 4.7/5 - an approval rating of 94%! We have received close to 100 comments from parents as part of the survey process.  It is almost impossible to find a negative comment among them.

The following three comments, from July 2021, are reflective of so many:
"Amazing culture, unique in my view in Dubai. The school facilities and eco/environmental way of living within the school. Hands on, high quality education enhanced with environmentally friendly activities and projects. The school is still fairly new but nevertheless I feel their rating [KHDA inspection which has not yet taken place] will be great when received."
"The Arbor school is a wonderful eco-friendly school, educating our next generation how to be conscious with our environment and ourselves. It’s the first ever school to have its own bio domes which is a great benefit for the kids to experience daily both flora & fauna. I would highly recommend The Arbor School to all parents who want to gift their kids a eco friendly education."
Probably the most touching comment is the following:
We moved from a prestigious school in Al Ain. My three children went to that school for 8 years. I regret not moving them to a school like Arbor. My daughter was happy before but now she is thriving. I haven't been in the school but I see such a change. They focus on what is important where the other school focused on their reputation. My daughter never got chosen in the other schools and my sons were overlooked. Here, she already had a main part in a play. She wasn't the best, but they chose her. This is how a school should be. Their focus is the child as an individual and not impressing the community. The teachers all seem happy and genuinely enjoy children. It's been one term only and we love this school."

Find out the details of feedback received from parents at The Arbor School here.


Outdoor spaces are a particular strength at The Arbor School


What does the school feel like when you walk in?  Click here for The Arbor School EXPERIENCE

The Arbor School describes itself as one that was "inspired by an ecologist and taught by a community of passionate educators".

The school's mission states that "The Arbor School provides a positive, caring and compassionate school environment, in which learners can shine in many different ways. Arbor students shall become innovative and capable leaders, with a strong set of ethical values, anchored by a deep sense of environmental justice and sustainability". Perhaps more compelling is the school motto - “Enough for all, forever”

The Arbor School announced the appointment of its first Environmental Education Advisor, Mr. Benedict Hren to promote conservation and sustainability amongst its students and staff members in November 2021. Further details can be found here.

The school has identified four main differentiators that its leaders believe sets it apart from other schools in Dubai. 

  1. Science. Ecology is a critical component of the curriculum. There are special programmes that are built around field trips to the deserts, mangrove swamps and heritage sites across the UAE.
  2. Design. School buildings have been designed with a focus on sustainability, and, the school claims, meets  Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ('LEED') Gold Standards. Tropical crops are grown in one of the biodomes and the produce is picked and eaten by students.
  3. Curriculum. The teaching methodology incorporates Project Based Learning, together with experiential and outdoor learning. The school will eventually employ a resident scientist to work with older students, and already employs a resident artist currently working on a mural illustrating the major ecosystems across the world.
  4. Child care. The school is investing heavily in pastoral care to ensure the students are supported emotionally as well as academically.


A spacious and busy classroom at The Arbor School

The school aims to equip students with the skills necessary to convert ideas into action through an experiential, project-based approach to learning and a mind-set of experimentation and free-inquiry. The school has adopted a curriculum embodying the  Sustainable Development Goals outlined by the United Nations in 2015, and is enhanced by use of biodomes, learning gardens and experiential programmes. 


The Biodomes at The Arbor School Dubai

Parents clearly had high expectations of the school in their feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com and may perhaps be a little disappointed that in its first KHDA inspection, which took place in March 2022, a year later than originally planned due to the Covid 19 pandemic, The Arbor School received a Good rating.

However, we would point out that the DSIB inspectors have never awarded any new school on first inspection higher than a Good rating, and The Arbor School actually achieved a multitude of Very Good ratings, which will hopefully be reflected in its overall rating in its next inspection.

You can read full details here.

At the time of the KHDA inspection, the school had attracted 850 students from FS1 to Year 9, with the largest nationality group being from the UK. The school had also attracted 10 Emirati students and had identified 68 students as Students of Determination.

The 71 teachers - again all predominantly from the UK - are supported by a further 69 teaching assistants - an enormous additional resource, and with a teacher:student ratio of 1:12, students should be receiving individual attention with adaptation of the curriculum tailored to both individual and groups of students. Staff turnover, at 15%, is well below the UAE average of 20-22% and would also include a figure reflective of the addition of new staff joining the school as it expands, suggesting an even lower figure of staff leaving.

What about the curriculum?

The Arbor School follows an enriched British curriculum at all stages, that will, eventually, lead to GCSE and A Levels.

The curriculum offered at the Arbor School is "an essential response to changes in the nature of schooling, as well as changes in society and the environment. The school will identify themes and real-life topics of interest that allow for project-based, cross-curricular topic approaches designed to enhance and promote independent learning."

Together with the Principal, the recently appointed Environmental Education  Advisor  will create The Arbor School Ecoliteracy Principles and Concepts. To ensure the rich learning opportunities provided by the concepts of ecoliteracy are integrated with the academic demands of the British Curriculum. In addition, support the school as they develop ecological and sustainability-oriented activities within the school’s Enrichment Programme, including “green” after-school activities, with the short-term goal of securing green flag recognition by Eco Schools, and international programme of recognition for schools who meet sustainability targets.

Over the two years of the Early Years Foundation Stage, children in FS1 and FS2 gradually develop reading and writing skills through a series of progressive activities, including early reading activities, speaking and listening activities and phonics work and numeracy skills. They look at the world and try to understand how and why things happen. The Arbor School places a strong emphasis on experiential and outdoor learning and a love of nature. Students also have the chance to explore and experiment with art, music and other creative pursuits.

What does the school feel like when you walk in?  Click here for The Arbor School EXPERIENCE

Learning outcomes within the Primary School have a specific focus on literacy and numeracy. The curriculum is enriched through specialist lessons for languages and creative subjects, highlighted by a commitment to experiential learning and participation within the ‘Artist and (eventually) Scientist in Residence’ programme.

Upon entering the Secondary school, the programme of study is carefully sequenced within each subject to ensure fundamental knowledge and skills are mastered. Students make use of the specialist teaching spaces, including the food technology, science and design technology laboratories; the expressive arts facilities and the green spaces.

After completion of tasks, students are provided with regular and precise feedback so that they learn how to improve in preparation for subsequent tasks. At each stage of assessment, students are provided with tasks that ensure that they reflect upon their work and engage with their personal targets.

In November 2021, The Arbor School announced the launch of The Dubai Oyster Project, in partnership with The MAINE New England Brasseries Company and Emirates Marine Environmental Group, bringing its commitment to education focused on the environment and sustainability to life.

Discarded oyster shells from one of Dubai's well-known restaurants, usually destined for landfills, are being diverted from landfills to create artificial reefs in the country's first-ever community-driven reef restoration.  The Dubai Oyster Project aims to rehabilitate a historic natural reef system off the coast of Dubai to increase local biodiversity.

So far, an estimated 250,000 oyster shells have been donated by The MAINE to The Arbor School, a leading ecological school in Dubai. The Arbor School's Secondary students, who study the oceanography of the UAE, fill discarded fish traps known locally as gargoors with the oyster shells in order for the shells to provide structures where marine plants and animals can grow.

Collaborating with the Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG) at its reserve in Ghantoot, the gargoors will be transformed into biological 'building blocks' and placed offshore at the EMEG reserve in a process called ecological restoration. If the project proves to be successful, it may then be expanded to different areas outside the reserve, contributing to the betterment of the UAE's marine ecosystem.


Students participating in the Oyster project at Emirates Environmental Group's Ghantoot resereve


The Key Stage 5 (Sixth Form) curriculum will, the school says, include a wide range of academic pathways, with an opportunity to engage in technical and vocational subjects. By providing a wide choice of options, in combination with the more academic A-Level programme, the school aims to prepare its students for life and further study at the end of Year 13.

Who are The Arbor School's Leaders?

Given the school’s very specific focus on the environment and sustainability, it is perhaps no surprise to find senior members of staff with seriously impressive green credentials. Current CEO and one of the founding board members, Dr. Sa’ad Al Omari comes with a Doctorate in Paleo-climatology from Cambridge in the UK; the Director of Education, Mr. Ken Jones is a Geographer and Environmental studies major, and the Principal Mr. Brett Girven is a Zoologist with post graduate studies in Environmental Science.

Benedict Hren, appointed as The Arbor’s Environmental Education Advisor in November 2021, brings over 30 years of experience in sustainability and environmental education to The Arbor School.  Mr. Hren holds a master’s degree in Ecological Landscape Design and was the former Head of Education at the World Wildlife Foundation UK. He also worked for the UK Sustainable Development Commission as the Project Manager for the Department of Education and Skills which implements the sustainable schools programme.

In an effort to create an inclusive environment for students at Arbor, the school has also employed a Head of Partnerships and Pastoral Care, Ms Merushka Hansraj.

Ms Hansraj's experience in education spans 20 years with a specialisation in learning difficulties and disabilities. 


One of many garden areas at The Arbor School

Supporting the personalised learning approach is the Head of Inclusion, Rachel Smith-Green, who is responsible for managing the processes to identify gifted students as well as those with additional education and language requirements.

Artists and Scientists-in-Residence will continue to be appointed on rolling residencies and have the mission to bring awareness to both students and educators about the urgency of sustainability issues, with the view that nature, science and arts are in many ways complimentary.

The Artist in Residence will work closely with the academic team at Arbor “to inspire children to find a dialogue between the human-made world and the natural environment, through ecological literacy and creative project-based learning.”

As the school's website states: Ecological and environmental concerns are particularly important in the context of the UAE’s rapid development and expansion and these are expressed in unique ways. The Gulf region is one of the most exciting worldwide in terms of the sustainability and conservation challenges that it faces. We emphasise the local and regional context of our school’s ecological and environmental ethos by focusing on issues affecting our environment. By active engagement with local and regional environmental organisations and initiatives, we encourage students to reflect on issues of sustainability, environmental impact and ethics as they affect societies in the Gulf and around the world.

What about the facilities?

The Arbor School provides a high standard of facilities on a campus area of 30,000 m2. The building includes three large climate-controlled biodomes and three smaller ones, with learning gardens in which students can regularly interact with soils, flora and fauna as a fundamental part of their educational experience.  For the 2019/20 academic year, the school had opened a number of  working greenhouses, which form 'the Arbor School farm'.  The eventual intention is that the produce grown by the students will be used to supply the food technology lab and school kitchen. 


Discovering flora and fauna at The Arbor School

Facilities also include a specialised primary and middle school science laboratory, an art room, an auditorium and associated black box, library, and canteen area. As the school grows the resistant materials workshops will be fitted out. Other facilities that have yet to be built, but have been commissioned, include senior science laboratories, a photography dark room, senior art studio, kiln room, senior library, and 6th form common room. The school has added quirkier facilities too; notably a 'Cabinet of Curiosities', a small, dimly lit room filled with antiques and other treasures, designed to stimulate curiosity and wonder.

What does the school feel like when you walk in?  Click here for The Arbor School EXPERIENCE

All classrooms are equipped with breakout spaces for work with individuals and smaller groups both inside the classroom and in adjacent hallways. 

Sport at Arbor is equally well resourced. The school offers a football pitch, a multi-purpose hall for indoor sports, a variety of outdoor courts and a specially designed swimming pool.

Principal, Mr. Brett Girven explains that The Arbor School team will leverage their experience to create an engaging environment that ensures the best in terms of individual student progress and growth.

“Through project-based learning and an extensive focus on building student awareness of ecological and environmental mindfulness, the Arbor School is truly unique. We believe that our approach will empower students and sharpen their critical thinking skills by raising their awareness and understanding of the world around them, whilst encouraging them to seek solutions that instigate change.”

What the inspectors say

With its first inspection delayed by a year as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic, when the DSIB inspection team did finally visit The Arbor School in March 2022, it was clear that they left with positive impression.  The school was awarded a Good rating - the highest available to new schools on first inspection - and the rating that all Dubai schools are expected to aspire to as a minimum.

To some extent, the performance of the school across a number of areas was split between the FS and Primary section, and the Secondary section. Inspectors commented "In the Foundation Stage (FS), the range and quality of children’s learning skills, particularly in phonics, is supporting very good achievement in English and science. The achievement of secondary students in the core subjects is inconsistent, especially in lessons where critical thinking and inquiry skills are underdeveloped." 

This division is reflected across a number of Key performance standards.. In terms of Student Achievement, the majority of ratings for the core subjects of English, maths and Science were Good, although attainment in maths in Primary and in maths and Science in the Secondary section was Acceptable.  The overall ratings for Arabic and Islamic Education are entirely Acceptable - and this will be an area on which additional focus will be required. However, all other ratings across the other Key Performance standards were rated at least Good.  Teaching and assessment were rated Very Good in the Foundation stage and Good across the other two sections, whilst the Curriculum was rated Very Good across both FS and Primary.

When it came to Students Personal and Social development and their innovation skills, all three sections of the school were awarded Very Good ratings. And the Protection, care, guidance and support of students was clearly a further area of strength, with a Very Good rating across all sections and key criteria.

This latter KPS also include the Provision and Support for Students of Determination - again rated Good.

Under the final Key Performance standard of Leadership and Management, both the relationship between the school, parents and the community achieved a Very Good rating, as did the Management, staffing, facilities and resources.  

In terms of the strengths of the school, these were determined to be:

  • The very positive attitudes, responsible behaviours and commitment to healthy and sustainable living shown by students across all phases.
  • The very high quality of provision in FS where teachers support young children’s learning through well organised, hands-on tasks.
  • The stimulating, creative and sustainable eco-friendly learning resources and environment which ensures such positive levels of wellbeing among students and teachers.
  • The dedication, commitment and support of parents and their belief in the school's mission and vision to promote sustainable living though formal education.
  • The inclusive nature of the school, and the commitment of owners and governors to best practice to meet the needs of a wide range of students.

Inevitably, there were a number of recommendations from the DSIB inspection team.  The Arbor School should:

  • Ensure that teachers and leaders of Islamic education and Arabic languages improve student achievement by using assessment data more effectively to plan challenging and stimulating lessons and ensure subject leaders systematically monitoring classroom teaching standards.
  • Ensure the quality of teaching and learning is consistent across all phases through more focused accountability and self-evaluation processes, and that leaders and teachers clearly understand the very good and better benchmarks found in the UAE School Inspection Framework.
  • Ensure that senior leaders more regularly monitor the implementation and delivery of the bespoke ecoliteracy curriculum and focus on its alignment with the NCfE, to meet the needs of every student.

If you would like to read the full inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings and the detailed recommendations made by the inspectors - you will find it here.

The Buzz

Feedback from parents at The Arbor School to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey is not only substantial in number but also almost entirely positive. The 159 parents who have responded so far - the majority in 2021 - have rated the school an extraordinary 4.7/5 - an approval rating of 94%.

Over 85% of children have a strong sense of belonging and enjoy going to school - well above the UAE average of just above 50%. 92% of parents are satisfied with the academic performance of the school and only 10% consider there is a requirement for additional tuition outside of school, compared with a UAE average of 30%. Feedback from school and the disciplinary policy together with its implementation are also highly satisfactory according 87% and 88% of respondents respectively.

Despite the usual niggle about fees (3% feeling that they do not represent value for money), again the majority of parents (64%) believe they do (the UAE average is 49%), and the balance believe they are receiving at least partial value for money. An overwhelming 98+% of respondents would recommend the school to other parents, with 1% not entirely sure, whilst only 8% of parents (against a UAE average of 27%) have considered moving their child to another school.

If you are a parent, teacher or student at The Arbor School, please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our Survey

Our View

Whilst the students of The Arbor School are unlikely to solve the problems facing the world alone, the school hopes they will be better prepared to face issues related to sustainability, ecology and the environment than the majority of students in education today.  

It is very clear from the school's curriculum delivery and feedback from parents, that The Arbor School is fulfilling its promises - and in a pretty spectacular fashion, based on the comments made. This is clearly a very special school and one that we believe offers an insight into the future of educational focus in the UAE.

In the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Best Schools dynamic listing based on Parent Feedback, The Arbor School is currently rated: 

#2 in Best Schools in the UAE
#1 in Best Premium Schools in Dubai
#1 in Best Premium British Schools in Dubai
#2 in Best A Level Schools in Dubai
#2 in Best British Schools in Dubai
#1 in Best BTEC Schools in Dubai
#2 in Best Schools in Dubai

What about the fees?

Approved KHDA fees for The Arbor School start at AED 56,000 for FS1 and rise to AED 95,000 for Year 13. However, in common with other new schools, the Arbor School has introduced reduced fees for the current academic year. These remain fixed for the next three years.

For students joining the school in 2022-23, there are varying rates of reduction from FS1 to Year 12.  Fees start at AED 34,000 in FS1, rising to AED 76,500 in Year 10 and AED in Year 12.  Full details can be found under the fees and availability tab.  Additional fees for SEN provision are only charged for students whose level of need requires an additional contract for enhanced support.

This school is in a Best School by parents ranking

The Arbor 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:

If you are the owner or the principal of the school and note any inaccuracies, or would like to update data, you can now open an account with us. You will also be able to add admissions availability per year group, and advertise current job vacancies. This is a free service. Please help us keep prospective parents up to date with your latest information.

Are you looking for a place for your child, and want help from our school consultants? If so, click on the link below, and we will forward your request for information to the school or schools of the same type that we are confident have availability. This is a free service for our readers. Request Information

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