The Pearl Academy, previously Aldar Island Academy, is a highly regarded British curriculum primary school owned and run by Aldar Academies,. The school, operating since 2007, is currently home to almost 650 pupils in FS1 to Year 6.
The story so far...
Located in the heart of Abu Dhabi Island. The Pearl Academy occupies a previous public school building. The school, operated by Aldar Academies (part of the Aldar Properties Group, but according to the organisation, run on a not-for-profit basis), is one of two Primary-only schools operated by the group. The other is the equally highly regarded - and similarly located and resourced - Al Muna Academy.
During its last ADEK inspection in 2015-16, the Pearl Academy was again ranked Very Good by the Abu Dhabi Education and Knowledge Department (ADEK), the second highest rating given by the authority. As a result of this continued highly-rated performance, The Pearl Academy is one of two Aldar Academies (and the only two schools in the Emirate) who were exempted from inspection in 2017-18 and who were due to be inspected in the 2018-19 academic year, although no report has yet been released.
In fact, so confident was ADEK of the Pearl Academy's ongoing performance that it was not inspected until November 2019 - a full four years since the previous inspection - and was awarded with ADEK's highest inspection rating of Outstanding. The Pearl Academy joined Al Muna Academy and Al Yasmina Academy in being awarded the top rating within the Aldar Academies group.
The school's population is drawn from over 50 nationalities in total but Emiratis (22%) and British students dominate, followed by Egyptian at 10% and Indian students at 6%. The 49 teachers are predominantly from the UK and with a teacher to student ratio of 1:11 (excluding some 30+ teaching assistants), there is plentiful individual attention available. Teacher turnover of 18% in the past academic year is towards the higher end of the UAE International schools' average of 22%, but given the state of economic flux over the past period, is perhaps none too surprising.
With many children joining the school as non-English speakers, the focus on bi-lingualism (in both directions), means that the support from native-speaking English and Arabic speaking teaching assistants is fundamental to the success of language development. The Pearl Academy also has a fairly significant number of students who have been identified with additional learning needs (SEN) - some 9%. In common with the Aldar Academies in general, this is an area of provision which is particularly strong, with the latest inspection report noting that "a team of well-qualified teachers and an SEN specialist provides exemplary support for these students, and their teachers, so students can make their best personal and academic progress."
The Pearl Academy often finds itself competing with the British School in Al Khubeirat (and Brighton College, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi and Repton Abu Dhabi) for the affections of parents. While the British School has certain clear advantages - that it is connected to a highly regarded senior school for example, Pearl's advantage is its size - with some parents appreciating the smaller dimensions (under 650 students, all at Primary level). Pearl Academy is also connected to the highly-regarded Al Yasmina Academy through common ownership, which also has a strong reputation.
What about the curriculum?
The school follows the National Curriculum for England, with additional lessons in Arabic Language, Islamic Studies and Social Studies. The school passes students through Foundation levels and Key Stages 1 and 2. Although the school follows the English National Curriculum in terms of the subject content, it has adopted an enquiry-based format (similar to the IB programme), where are all topics are subject-integrated and question based.
An enquiry-based approach to learning through open ended topic questions ensure students are engaged in learning from the very beginning. All enquiry units are launched with a curriculum trailer, which are shared with the students in class and with parents. Some enquiry units also begin with a "wow" day whereas other enquiry units end with a theme day.
To learn more about the curriculum and the facilities at The Pearl Academy, read our Experience visit.
The National Curriculum core subjects are: English, Mathematics and Science. Foundation subjects are Design and Technology, Information and Communication Technology, History, Geography, Modern Foreign Languages (Year 3 upwards), Music, Art and Design, Physical Education and PSHCE. Following Ministry of Education regulations in the UAE, Religious Education is not taught.
Children from Year 1 are offered extra curricular activities on a termly basis. Information on available "ECA's" is sent to parents for children to select their choices at the beginning of each term and run from 2.20-3.20pm Sunday – Wednesday.
What about the facilities?
The Pearl Academy is located in a former government school. It follows the traditional two storey building design situated around a central courtyard. All FS and Key Stage One classrooms are located on the ground floor with access to external spaces directly from the classrooms. Plentiful play equipment is available outside of the classrooms for the youngest children. Most classrooms are located around a central area which is used for combined and free-flow activities. Classrooms include latest technology with interactive White Boards and 3D technology, including Green screens.
The size of the site on which the school is located does invariably restrict the amount of outdoor space available, but The Pearl Academy does still manage to incorporate a multi-purpose sports hall/auditorium, a swimming pool, netball court, astro turf playing field and play areas with outdoor equipment.
What the inspectors say
The Pearl Academy had been rated Very Good with Outstanding features during the previous three ADEK inspections. The school also participated in its first British Schools Overseas (BSO) inspection in 2017 and was rated Outstanding. The BSO inspections are accredited by the UK Department of Education and an Outstanding rating means that The Pearl Academy is deemed to be offering a standard of education comparable to a similarly rated school in the UK. The Pearl Academy is also accredited by the British Schools of the Middle East (BSME). Members are committed to offering the highest standards of UK education. The BSME is also the focal point for the organisation of many sports and performing arts competitions among their members across the Middle East.
The Academy can, therefore, be justifiably proud that its BSO rating of Outstanding which was issued in 2017, has now been reaffirmed by the ADEK inspection rating of the same standing for the 2019-20 academic year.
The ADEK inspection team defined The Pearl Academy's strengths as:
Students’ overall achievement in most subjects.
The highly positive relationships across the school resulting in exemplary behaviour and happy students.
Innovative teaching strategies which meet the needs of individuals and groups.
An expansive curriculum which caters for the interests and needs of almost all students and which promotes their innovative and creative skills.
The exemplary care and support for all students including those with special educational needs (SEN).
The inspirational principal who has developed a culture of continuous improvement.
The Academy was rated Outstanding across all six key performance standards. Progress in English, Mathematics and Science was said to be "Outstanding", whilst the key performance indicators for Arabic-based subjects showed either Very Good or Outstanding progress and attainment across the school. Student behaviour was also said to be exemplary at all times.
Areas of improvement at The Pearl Academy focus around support for Emirati students and greater access to learning technologies. In particular, the inspection team recommended that the school should enable:
If you would like to read the full ADEK inspection report for The Pearl Academy - and we strongly advise that you do so to find the details behind the ratings - you will find it here.
Clearly this is a high-performing school in almost every aspect. Year 6 students at Pearl Academy are guaranteed a year 7 place at Al Bateen Academy currently, although the opening of the latter's own Primary School (initially from FS1 to Year 1) in September 2020 may make this more difficult in the future. The opening of the Girls only section at Al Mamoura Academy may also appeal to families whose daughters currently attend The Pearl Academy.
What's the Buzz?
Unfortunately, ADEK does not provide formal feedback on parent views about its schools, although the current report does note that "Partnerships with parents and the community are outstanding. School leaders survey parental opinion regularly and act upon their views. Parents receive accurate and informative reports which identify what their children need to do to improve."
WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has received a very limited number of responses to our Parent Survey, but these provide the school with a rating of 4.6/5. Parents who responded to the survey particularly commented on the tremendous sense of belonging that their children feel, their tremendous enjoyment of school, and parents' satisfaction with academic performance. Unusually for even the most highly rated schools, not one parent who replied had considered moving their child to another school and all would recommend the school to other parents. The only 'area of complaint' was in relation to the perennial issue of fees, but even here, all agreed that they were at least partially satisfied with the fee level in light of the quality of education provided.
If you are a parent, teacher or student at The Pearl Academy and would like to share your impressions with other potential members of your school community, please do take our survey here.
There is no question that Aldar Academies has again found a formula for success in this small, friendly, but highly effective school. For expatriate families wanting to find a UK curriculum Primary school education with a distinctly Emirati touch, the Pearl Academy has much to offer.
What about the fees?
Fees for the year are top end - at AED 41,700 in the FS1/Nursery section and AED 43,150 across all other year groups - but comparable with other leading schools in the capital.
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