The Cambridge High School (its name is not reflective of its all through status) is a highly successful school with close to 1,780 students of 45 different nationalities and a waiting list of which other schools would be proud.
The Cambridge High School was one of the first schools opened by GEMS in Abu Dhabi. Located in the School Zone at Mohammed bin Zayed City, the school is over thirty years old and there is no doubt that, from an architectural standpoint, it certainly does not compare with many of the newer GEMS schools or indeed several of the other private schools located in the same area. But that is where the comparisons stop.
Perhaps the school's most recent achievement was the award of the Very Good rating by the ADEK inspectors in the first post-Covid inspection round of 2021-22, having been rated Good rating since 2012-13. The school was also awarded a Good rating by British Schools Overseas inspectors in 2021-22.
This is a highly successful school with just over 1,780 students of 45 different nationalities. The largest contingent of students come from India, Pakistan, Egypt and the UAE, together with other Arab nations, European countries, South Africa and Australia. Whatever the external appearance of the school, this is clearly of little relevance to the families queuing up to have their children admitted.
Some 94 teachers (and a further 30 teaching assistants) come from around 30 countries internationally; many have been with the school for many years. The main nationality of the teachers is, as expected, also Indian.
The school is led by Ms. Kuki Tyagi, Principal/CEO who joined The Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi in the summer of 2022, marking her welcome return to the school. She had previously served as Vice Principal/Director, Quality Assurance, since 2015. She had also served as a Governor, Teaching and learning for the Local Advisory Board across GEMS network of schools. Ms. Tyagi joined GEMS in 2011, at the group’s operations across PAN India. She holds a Master's degree in Education from Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. She introduces CHS on the school website as follows:
"At Cambridge High School, we aim to provide an outstanding education for all of the students in our care, and we do this by providing a learning environment, which is inclusive, ambitious and challenging. We are very fortunate to have outstanding students, who come from all corners of the world, and who thrive in our rich, vibrant and diverse school community.
We believe in creating a culture within the school where our parents and students know us, like us and, most importantly, trust us. Our teachers know their students well and encourage each of them to reach their full potential and achieve their aspirations."
The leadership of the school, and the core faculty, is made up mainly of staff from the UK and Ireland, with a strong contingent of staff from other European countries also. With such a broad range of staff, professional development is key, with staff being upskilled through this focus.
The staff:student ratio at the school varies considerably across the year groups but averages 1: 19. Teachers will need to be particularly skilled at assessing their students' needs to ensure that the curriculum is effectively adapted for them as groups and individuals.
The Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi follows the National Curriculum of England. This curriculum provides students with an education that is based on a skill-based curriculum, served by many excellent resources, with its own testing mechanism. It fits into the international examination variant of English public examination system (I/GCSE, AS and A Level), which is accepted by universities throughout the world.
The Foundation Stage curriculum for Kindergarten children aged 3 to 5 (including FS2 and Year 1) is child-centred and oriented towards practical applications, social development and acquiring the skills, knowledge and understanding required to interact in a changing world. Learning through structured play and regular educational visits are an integral part of the Foundation Stage. Arabic as prescribed by the Ministry of Education is also taught. Core subjects are English [Reading and Writing], Art, Mathematics, Music, Science, Physical Education, Social Studies, and Information and Communication Technology.
The Primary school curriculum (from Year 2 to Year 6) continues its focus on the core subjects of FS with the addition of History, Arabic, Geography, Personal and Social Education, and Islamic Studies (for Muslim students only). The learning process is child-centered, enabling pupils to think for themselves, encouraging initiative, innovation and participation. Progress is monitored carefully through regular assessments.
The Secondary school from Years 7-9 lays the foundations for IGCSE options in Year 10. Assessment is continuous and aims for targets established in The National Curriculum for England. In Year 9 students sit the Cambridge ‘Check Point’ examinations as an internal monitoring exercise to ensure that they match the best levels of UK schools. Core subjects include English Language, English Literature, Mathematics, Science, French, History, Geography, Computer science, together with Foundation subjects of Arabic, Art and Design, Business studies [an introductory course in Year 9], Islamic Studies (for Muslim students only), Physical Education, and Personal and Social Education.
In Year 10, the two year IGCSE programme is introduced and students are required to select 8 subjects (including English Language and Mathematics) with the following options: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English Literature, History, Geography, Art and Design, Computer Studies, Business Studies, Media Studies, Arabic, Accounting, Travel and Tourism. Whilst by no means the broadest range of options, students at CHS do have the opportunity to study more Creative subjects as well as the more traditional Commerce and Science-based subjects.
In their final two years of Sixth Form, students in Year 12 and 13 take both AS and A Level examinations. Sadly, the options available are rather more limited than at IGCSE with no creative and limited Humanities subjects available. Available subjects include Literature in English, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Computer Studies, Business Studies, Geography, History, Accounting, and Travel and Tourism.
We can only assume that this traditional, but limited, subject range meets the demands of parents and students based on the focus of families from the Sub-continent on Commerce and Science streams.
Students are also involved in a wide range of non-Academic activities, including Charity trips to India, Model United Nations with the Higher Colleges of Technology and the Harvard Model UN.
Optional extra-curricular activities are available after regular school hours and are organised in three strands: extra support classes in a range of academic areas, non-competitive sports activities, interest-based clubs such as cooking, journalism, drama, art and crafts, fashion design, computers and pottery. Inter-House competitions are conducted in sports, public speaking, dance, quizzes, art, music and essay writing.
They also participate in a range of very successful sports activities including cricket, football and Girls’ rugby.
An Achievement Centre provides additional support to children with mild to moderate learning difficulties (including children on the Autism spectrum and with Asperger’s syndrome) as well as a Gifted and Talented section and English Additional Language provision.
The team makes use of the Phonic approach in teaching reading and addresses all the strands of the language through topic based learning. The aim is to provide each learner with a solid foundation in English language skills in order to support the learning of all subjects in mainstream.
Learners with special educational needs receive individual support backed by an Individual Educational Plan. Systems are put in place to meet the individual student’s needs. Learning support assistants support the learning of the individual student in the mainstream classroom.
Historically, CHS did not publish its exam results, which, in our opinion, is a great pity! We at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com encourage all schools to be transparent in relation to the academic achievement of their students - something we feel should be celebrated - and also provide parents with the opportunity to contrast and compare results between schools.
In 2022, The Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi was one of many GEMS schools to share its results. A cohort of 67 students were entered for 206 A Levels examinations. 16% were awarded the highest grade of A*, whilst 30% of entries were awarded A*-A and 48% of entries were awarded A*-B. Results at I/GCSE were not shared.
In 2021, with the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic being felt across the UAE's schools for the second year, when all public examinations were cancelled for the second time, CHS did provide limited information for the first time.
At A Level, the school's 89 strong student cohort was entered for 270 A Level examinations. A significant 15.9% of entries were awarded the highest A* grade, whilst 44.8% of entries received A*-A grades and 65.2% of all entries were awarded A*-B.
At IGCSE, a cohort of 120 students were entered for 812 examinations. 27.1% were awarded the highest grade of A*, whilst 51.1% achieved A*-A, 74.0% achieved A*-B and 88.2% of entries were awarded A*-C. 63.3% of all students achieved a minimum of 5 I/GCSEs including English and Maths graded A*-C.
Academically, the school is rated as Good in its last ADEK report and boasts GCSE and A level results which the former Principal described to us as "superior to those of several of the Premium UK curriculum schools in Abu Dhabi", and 20% above the UK average. Note, however, that in the latest report, attainment at A' Level English and mathematics was highlighted as an area that needs to be addressed.
The school prides itself on being non-selective and delivers added value to its students (in terms of results achieved versus their predicted performance) which it itself describes as outstanding. The vast majority of students go onto university both locally and overseas. The school’s performance is recognised by ADEK, with whom they have a strong relationship through the provision of Best Practice training and “learning walks” for new teachers.
In terms of facilities, there is no doubt that the school would benefit from some upgrades. Currently, the original 3-storey building, which is located around a large quadrangle where assemblies and registration take place, is beginning to show its age. However, much effort has gone into ensuring that classrooms and facilities have been updated with modern resources. There are two libraries for Senior and Junior students and full provision of technological aids including laptop trolleys and I-pads as well as IT labs.
The school is set out with the Primary School occupying the Ground floor, whilst the first floor is reserved for boys and the second for girls. Classes are separated by gender from year 6. There is a large multipurpose hall and, outside, a full size Astroturf football pitch and basketball court. Children in FS2 and Year 1 benefit from individual class libraries, a well-resourced school library, computer laboratories, a music studio and a dedicated Kindergarten play area.
Facilities include separate science laboratories for practical sessions in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. The labs are spacious and offer modern and excellent equipment where students are encouraged to use their analytical and creative skills through research and experimentation. There are also four ICT labs with high speed internet connection. All classes are equipped with smart boards, multimedia projectors to facilitate learning and all staff are equipped with laptop. The school Library, equipped with computers and internet, provides an ideal area for students to research and work independently.
Creative talents are supported by a music studio to provide students with adequate opportunity to develop their music abilities and two art studios which support a variety of creative activities. The Music Studio is well equipped with a keyboards, steel drums and percussion and wind instruments. There is also an air-conditioned auditorium which, in addition, serves as a multi purpose hall. The auditorium is used for school assemblies, performances and other large scale school functions.
The school has, in the past, recognised the need to develop its facilities. When we last visited, there was talk of a 3-5 year plan and a new 3-storey new build where the basketball courts are, with the KG section to be housed on the Ground floor (freeing up more space in the main building), a Sixth Form and Science Centre being located on the first floor and a new Sports section on the top floor of the building. However, these plans seem to have been put on hold, or shelved in their entirety.
The 2019-20 inspection, the last before the cancellation of inspections due to the Covid 19 pandemic, again rated the school as Good. At that time, three of the six key performance standards - Students' personal and social development and their Innovation skills, the Curriculum, and the Protection, Care, Guidance and Support of students, were rated Very Good.
The 2021-22 inspection, which took place after the pandemic, resulted in a Very Good rating, the second highest achievable.
For reasons that have not been explained (we assume to enable inspections to take place at all schools that had not been inspected in 2019 and 2020), the inspection team reviewed only four of the six key performance standards and issued abbreviated reports without commentary.
In the case, of Cambridge High School, the two key performance standards for which they had received a Very Good rating in the previous inspection (Students' personal and social development and their Innovation skills, and the Curriculum) were not evaluated. However, there was clear evidence of improvement in the other four standards, with the majority (41%) rated Very Good, whilst 24% were rated Good and 6% Acceptable (the latter relating to Governance).
If you would like to read the latest inspection report - and we strongly recommend that you do so in order to understand the strengths of the school and those areas that still remain open to improvement - you will find it here.
On our last visit to the Cambridge High School Abu Dhabi, we spoke with students, staff and parents. All were full of praise, and ambitious for the school and its students.
Students, in particular, valued the international nature of the school, the kindness of their teachers, the opportunity to participate in school life through a Student Council, the vast range of extracurricular activities and the Canteen Food!
They described the school as different to others that they had attended – as fun, where their feedback was sought, staff were supportive and friendly – one described it as an exceptional environment.
Students we spoke to, aspired to jobs as Doctors, Lawyers, Astronauts and Scientists and felt that the school was providing them with the tools to achieve these ambitions. Parents appreciated the on-going efforts to obtain their feedback through surveys and workshops and the efforts of the staff to listen, share and encourage them in participating in school life and in supporting their children.
Whilst the direct feedback that we received from parents during our visit to The Cambridge High School was positive, the limited feedback to the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com Parent Survey is less so. Currently just seven out of 10 parents would recommend the school to another parent - a key metric in the WhichSchoolAdvisor.com survey.
Parents are split over whether the school offers good value for money, and about its academic performance. There is some concern over bullying at the school with four in ten respondents saying that they are 'extremely' or 'very' concerned about this. It is clear that a sizable proportion of respondents are not particularly content with the school and have chosen our survey as a means to make this known anonymously.
Click here for considerably more data and insight from parents regarding The Cambridge High School.
In order to ensure that a more representative view is provided, if you are a parent, teacher or senior student at The Cambridge High School, Abu Dhabi please share your experience with other potential members of your community by completing our survey here.
As one of the longest established GEMS schools in the UAE, and a long history of educating students in Abu Dhabi, there is no question that The Cambridge High School will continue to attract families seeking a good quality British education at an affordable price. It seems that under the relatively new leadership, new life, enthusiasm and professionalism is being breathed into the school, ensuring that the quality of teaching and the curriculum is being improved to meet the demands of a fast-changing world.
Fees at The Cambridge High School are mid-range, starting at AED 15,740 for FS2 and rising to AED 33,180 for Years 12 and 13. Text books and stationary are additional to this - the school does not provide details on its website. A five percent re-enrolment fee is required each year to retain a child's place at the school which is deducted from the first term's fees. New admissions are required to pay the same 5% enrolment fee on offer of a place.
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