WSA Experience Visit - October 2015
Aldar Academies’ Pearl Academy is located in a quiet central area of Abu Dhabi, a short distance from its sister school, Al Muna. The similarities between the designs of the two schools is striking, but differentiated by Pearl having a bright white exterior as opposed to the rather duller brown of Al Muna. The layouts of the two schools internally are also very similar, with classrooms spread across two floors on 3 sides of a central quadrangle.
The classrooms located in the corners of the Pearl buildings are all open to the central areas, creating a very busy and inviting environment, each provided with a computer base and laptop/I-pad trolleys. The ground floor classrooms (including the Foundation spaces) open out to outdoor spaces with appropriate play equipment for the development of both large and fine gross motor skills. Each classroom has a patio area with yellow lines at the edges and children are taught from the outset that they may not play beyond these lines unless otherwise informed by their teachers.
Second floor classrooms are laid out in the same way, but as would be expected, are rather more business-like than those is KS1. Year 6 classrooms lack the common area but are double the size of other year groups, with a separate break-out area integrated within the space to allow students to work in smaller groups as necessary. There is also a very substantial library providing 13,000 books with bright, comfortable soft-seating where children have a timetabled period each week. Within this area is also a specific space for children participating in an accelerated reading programme where they are tested to guide their reading programme choices.
In addition to the classrooms and central teaching areas, the school also provides specialist music and PE, Dance and Swimming classes. As well as the Music classroom, there are also 5 Music prep rooms that can be used for individual lessons. The schools offers a range of instruments, including Piano, Trumpet, Violin and Guitar with specialist staff teaching on a one-to-one basis outside of the usual class lessons. There is a large multi-sports and performance hall which plays host to Extra-curricular activities both before and after school and a 25 meter and learner swimming pools. There is also the inevitable Astroturf football/multi-sports field on the side of the school.
What differentiates Pearl Academy from other Primary schools though, is its teaching programme. 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. Staffing is organised around curriculum teams (so different subject specialists working together to create the programmes of study) rather than the traditional subject led teams. IT is integrated into the curriculum and the school provides Promethium smart boards and Lego Robotics in addition to the usual technology. There is also an Innovation Lab specifically set up for additional IT work and for use by Gifted and Talented students as part of their individual programmes.
As with all Aldar Academies, there is a strong focus on both the teaching of Arabic and also English as an additional language. Arabic is taught from FS1 and is linked directly to the English language curriculum to develop bi-lingual speaking skills. All displays are bi-lingual and Arabic teachers go to the children in their classrooms to deliver the classes. There is a mix of Learning Support and Teaching Assistants who are native Arabic speakers, who work alongside the native English speaking staff, so that the approach is as integrated as possible. From year 1, students follow the Ministry of Education curriculum for Arabic and French is also integrated from year 3.
Pearl Academy also has a strongly inclusive approach. They do not assess children in advance and are able to support children with a range of additional needs – be this from basic EAL, to moderate learning difficulties such as Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Approximately 25% of students across the school are identified and supported with additional needs (including those with EAL and Gifted and Talented support). There is a dedicated SEN Coordinator for Arabic, in addition to the SEN Coordinator for all other areas.
Year 6 students at Pearl Primary are guaranteed a year 7 place at Al Bateen Academy currently. The opening of theGirls only Secondary section as part of the Al Mamoura Academy is expected to appeal to families whose daughters currently attend Pearl Academy. Pearl Academy appears to be a very happy and productive school. The integrated, enquiry-based curriculum is clearly well thought through and seems to be common-sense in this technological age, where the ability to enquire and to research is fundamental to work nowadays. Although not the most modern of buildings and brightest of facilities, the teaching and curriculum certainly seems ahead of many other schools and Pearl Academy is definitely one that will continue to be popular with families of all nationalities.
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