The International School of Choueifat, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi is part of the Lebanese-origin SABIS group. The Khalifa City branch was the second of the group to open in Abu Dhabi - there are now three Abu-Dhabi city based schools, as well as sister schools in Al Ain, Ruwais, Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
The story so far...
The International School of Choueifat, Khalifa City A (ISC-Khalifa A) is part of the SABIS group which operates in 20 countries (predominantly Middle East) across the globe and educates approximately 70,000 students. The group was founded in the Lebanon over 130 years ago, in 1886, and is highly regarded by its alumni. It is perhaps less well thought of by "outsiders", who feel that the rigorous programme of testing that is applied by the schools, the pressure that this potentially places on students, and the group's "one-size fits all" approach to its students, is no longer in keeping with best practice in western education today, where a much more personalised approach to curriculum delivery, and the recognition of the differing needs of individual children are taking priority.
Whilst the majority of the Choueifat schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have been criticised by the Inspection teams, The Choueifat International School in Khalifa A appears to be breaking the mould. A new approach, whereby students who are gifted and talented or need extra support now have their curriculum adapted on a weekly basis via a new Independent Learning System (ILS) and assessment tracking system, appears to have been introduced specifically to address the concerns previously raised by the regulators. Students falling behind are provided with re-teaching and the gifted and talented (G&T) students are accelerated through an on-line learning course. How effective this is over the longer-term remains to be seen.
In the UAE, with the presence of a strong expat Arab community, and indeed, a number of other nationalities who prefer a more "rigorous" approach to their children's education (and particularly regular testing), the Choueifat schools in Dubai (of which there are two), Abu Dhabi (three), Al Ain, Ruwais, Sharjah, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain remain popular.
"With a balance of academics, self-development, and life preparation", according to SABIS, "their system prepares its students for success in college, fosters a lifelong interest in learning, and develops responsible world-class citizens. It blends quality education with traditional values of hard work and responsibility for self and others".
The International School of Choueifat – Khalifa City (ISC-Khalifa A) first opened in 2006. The school is located on a spacious campus in Khalifa City on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi City, and educates some 3,500 students from 65 different nationalities in KG 1 to Grade 12. The first cohort of graduates completed their education at the school in 2013.
ISC-Khalifa A's mission is:
"to be recognized as a provider of top-quality education to a highly diverse student body. ISC-Khalifa City will strive to help all students achieve their full potential, prepare all students for success in college, equip them with the ability and desire for lifelong learning, and strengthen their civic, ethical and moral values. ISC-Khalifa City will maintain high standards of efficiency and accountability throughout its operation".
According to details published in the ADEK inspection report for 2017-18, when the school achieved a Good rating, students are supported by some 147 teachers and 48 teaching assistants. The teacher:student ratio is 1:24 - on the high side, where the premium schools in Abu Dhabi average half this ratio. Teacher turnover, at 20%, is about average for international schools in the UAE, although ADEK's inspection team noted that this was high. No school wants to replace one in five teachers on an annual basis, and certainly not in a school where this represents close to 30 new staff.
The largest nationality group of students attending ISC-Khalifa A is Emirati (some 35%), followed by Egyptian (18%), Jordanian (9%) and Pakistani (7%). Although established for well over 10 years, the school is still very "bottom heavy", with 24% of students in the KG section, some 45% in Primary, 22% in the Middle school and under 10% in High school.
What about the curriculum?
Students follow the SABIS in-house curriculum which emphasises the core subjects of English, Math, Science, and World languages (including the required Arabic A and B, and French at ISC-Khalifa A). Students also take subjects including Business Studies and ICT as well as Art, Music and Physical Education. In September 2018, SABIS introduced a new Modular STEAM Robotics course for students aged 11 to 14 which combines STEAM concepts and teamwork. The curriculum is based loosely on the UK curriculum, with students sitting IGCSE's in Grade 10, followed by either AS and A Levels examinations in Grade 12, or Advanced Placement and SAT exams for US college entry.
The Group's philosophy includes the belief that nearly all students are capable of a university education and it, therefore, aims to "qualify every student for entrance into colleges/ universities around the world".
The school describes itself as "a highly academic, non-selective, co-educational, English-medium, independent day school catering for the complete individual". The school is transparent in its goals for its students, stating that "we can add more value to students to enable them to perform to the best of their abilities, be admitted to the most competitive universities, and be successful in their careers. The school develops students' academic competencies, learning techniques, interpersonal skills, and personalities, in addition to instilling high ethical, moral, and civic values".
According to the school, all courses at all levels are clearly structured to enable students and teachers to know precisely what should be learned. Teachers teach one concept at a time using the SABIS Point System® with each lesson alternating frequently between oral work, individual work, and group work in such a way that it is difficult for students to “switch off”.
One of the main criticisms of the SABIS system is related to the requirement for teachers to teach to, and students to learn to, the regular tests that take place. A system of academic tracking, the SABIS® AMS, is a computerised method of detecting gaps in knowledge which "allows the administration to closely follow the progress of each individual". Gaps are pinpointed as soon as they form, and efforts are focused on eliminating them. Students who fall behind in their work are "advised, motivated, helped, and coached until they catch up".
A frequently raised concern is that where there are challenges, parents are not able to speak directly with teaching staff, but instead have to go to an Academic Quality Controller, who is not a teacher. Similarly, discussions around reports - if they take place at all - occur with the AQC and not the teachers. This "hands-off" approach in terms of the teacher - student - parent relationship which is regarded is as fundamental to a successful education by the vast majority of educators, does not exist within the SABIS system.
It is very clear where the focus lies. Whilst this very strong emphasis on academic achievement will be an important decision factor for parents weighing up their choice of school, it will not suit every child, and parents will need to be cognisant of this fact.
What about academic achievement?
In common with all Choueifat schools, ISC-Khalifa A does not publish its exam results. For an organisation that is so highly focused on academic achievement, we at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com find this rather at odds with the school's goals. We encourage all schools to publish their exam results so that the staff and students who were responsible for their achievement can celebrate them, and at the same time, parents can see how well the school is performing against its claims.
However, according to ADEK's inspection report for 2017-18, students’ performance in all IGCSEs, A levels, SAT and APs over the last 3 years is outstanding overall. Grade 12 MoE exam results for Arabic over the last three years were also outstanding. Interestingly, the inspectors noted that these standards were not borne out in lessons observed. According to the school website, "each year, graduates from SABIS® Network schools around the world gain entry to highly competitive universities in the U.K., U.S.A., Canada, Europe, Australia, and the Middle and Far East". No information is provided in terms of the number of graduates or those who succeed in joining the most competitive universities, however.
What about facilities?
Little information is provided about the classroom facilities or technology at the school, but it does offer four computer labs, Biology, Physics and Chemistry labs, an exam hall, art room, music room, library and two cafeterias. Outdoor facilities include outdoor courts, a green football pitch, shaded play areas, and car tracks for young students. The school also has a large multipurpose air-conditioned sports hall, a gymnasium and a ballet room and two swimming pools. Science resources (including Science labs) are limited in the Primary school and identified by the ADEK inspection team as an area for improvement.
What the inspectors say
Whilst a number of the Choueifat schools in the Dubai and Abu Dhabi had seen their inspection ratings fall to Acceptable in the past two years - driven largely by the lack of provision for children with additional learning needs - ISC-Khalifa A bucked the trend by retaining its Good rating. It seems that the newly introduced tracking system has persuaded inspectors that a greater individual student focus is now in place. Whether this addresses the issue of inclusion remains to be seen.
Overall, ISC-Khalifa A was able to obtain a Good rating across all six key performance standards. Students' achievement across the English-language based core subjects (English, Maths, Science were found to be Good or Very Good (the latter in the High school section). Other subjects such as French, Art, Music and PE were rated only Acceptable, and this was also the rating given to Islamic Education. Arabic A and B and Social Studies were rated largely Good in the KG and Primary sections, and Acceptable in the higher sections of the school. Learning skills - students progress from their individual starting points - were found to be largely good, though less consistently so in the Middle and High school sections. Achievement was found to be good in French across all phases. However, in PE, art and music, achievement was rated Acceptable across the different phases for most students, as they were found not to develop their physical and creative skills well enough.
Students' personal and social development were found to be Good. Students’ behaviour and attitudes to learning were deemed very positive based on the respectful relationships between students and adults. Inspectors noted that through the Student Life Organization(SLO), students contribute to enhancing the day-to-day life of the school and actively take part in sporting activities and social responsibility projects. They also found that students participate in a wide range of activities and events, both at and beyond school. However, developing the learning skills that underpin innovation in lessons is inconsistent.
Both Teaching and Assessment, and Curriculum measures were also rated Good. Teachers have good subject knowledge and lessons are well structured. However, whilst there are opportunities for students to undertake independent work, problem solving, critical thinking and extended research activities are not as well developed in lessons. Similarly, whilst the curriculum is described as well-balanced, and most students have opportunities to develop their innovation and enterprise skills through the wide range of extra-curricular activities, opportunities in every day lessons are limited.
The protection, care, guidance and support was also found to be Good. However, whilst the assessment system identifies individual learning needs, students are required to attend special support classes at the end of each day where required, rather than an individualised programme being put in place during regular lessons which is the norm is most inclusive schools.
The final key performance standard of Leadership and Management also achieved a Good rating.
Overall, the inspection team identified the strengths of the school as:
Areas for improvement require the school to:
Raise achievement in all subjects, especially in Islamic education, Arabic writing skillsand non-core subjects, by: ensuring long term planning for Islamic Education, art, music and physical education (PE) builds on pupils’ skills from one grade to the next; providing active and interesting activities in which students can take the lead in their learning; teachers planning each lesson to provide challenge for the more able students; [and] providing more opportunities and motivation for students to write creatively.
Improve students’ learning skills in lessons by: teachers planning times when students find things out for themselves using a range of sources; teachers planning questions for students that require critical thinking skills during lessons; [and] planning times when they can all be enterprising.
Improve teachers’ questioning skills by: providing training for all staff in understanding students’ thinking skills; teachers planning to direct questions to those students who are capable of answering the higher order questions; [and] teachers providing students with reflection time before they respond to questions.
Clearly, the International School of Choueifat, Khalifa City, is providing students with a solid education that will likely achieve the academic goals that both the school and parents aspire to. Whether the students will have developed the independent research and enquiry skills, together with those of innovation and entrepreneurship that are so fundamental to a 21st Century education, in a world where jobs are constantly changing, remains to be seen. Convinced supporters of the SABIS curriculum will doubtless believe so - the next inspection report in 2020 will show how much progress the school has achieved in this regard.
Fees are mid-range for Abu Dhabi, starting at AED 20,600 for KG and rising to AED 36,400 for Grade 12.
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