Which School Advisor has had good feedback for Festival City based Universal American School (UAS), with most parents happy with the progress the IB, US High School Diploma curriculum based school has made since it opened in 2005. This input has now been substantiated by the 2017-18 KHDA inspection report, which has promoted the school's rating to Very Good - only one step away from the top place Outstanding.
Universal American School has been rated Very Good for the second year in the 2018-19 KHDA inspection process. An abbreviated version of the inspection report can be found under the Inspection tab. An update of this review will be completed once the full report has been issued.
The story so far...
Located in Festival City, Universal American School provides education for 1,336 boys and girls (a reduction of around 140 in the past year) from Kindergarten to Grade 12, aged three to 18 years.After 13 years under the management of ESOL Education, the school has reverted to management by the building's owner, Al Futtaim, through its Al Futtaim Education Foundation.
About 70 nationalities are represented within the student body, served by 146 full time teachers, and 23 teaching assistants. With a teacher:student ratio of 1:10, students are assured of a good deal of individual attention, though teacher turnover, at 25%, is above the UAE average (of 20-22%). Some 90 students (approximately 8%) are Emirati and 61 students (just under 5%) have been identified as Students of Determination with additional SEND requirements.
As noted, the school follows a US and the increasingly popular International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum. The International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program (PYP) is provided in Kindergarten to Grade 6, the US Common-Core curriculum in Grades 7 to 10, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) in Grades 11 and 12.
Unfortunately UAS does not provide information on the success of its students in external based examinations, so it is not possible to benchmark the performance of the school against its IB based peers. WhichSchoolAdvisor.com strongly encourages all schools to publish this information. It is difficult for parents to see substance to claims of academic performance without the proof which really should be readily available to them...
What about Facilities?
Facilities at UAS are excellent. The school stands on a very large plot at the heart of Dubai Festival City with spacious outdoor and indoor space. The building was designed by U.S. based architects THA, and includes an indoor gymnasium, Olympic size track and soccer field, vocal and instrumental music rooms, art rooms, computer and science laboratories, libraries and swimming pool.
The school offers a wide range of extra curricula activities including dramatic productions, sailing classes, student council, model united nations, etc. Given the school follows the IB Diploma curriculum, which offers three points (out of 45) for the mandatory Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) element - a range of activities designed to promote self-sufficiency, creativity and community involvement to counterbalance the academic core curriculum - both the school and students are encouraged to source activities that develop the human side of the student.
CAS activities at UAS include Arabic Newspaper, IB art immersion, Book Club, SAT Prep, Peer Tutoring, Sailing, Girl Guides, Yearbook, Golf, Tennis, Cheerleading, Yoga, Fitness Boot camp, and Chess Club .
What the inspectors say
Ranked 'Good' by the KHDA for eight years running, Universal American School has succeeded in the tenth year of KHDA inspections, and at its 9th attempt, at achieving the second highest rating of Very Good in the 2017-18 round. This is a not inconsiderable achievement, given that the Inspection focus, by the admission of the KHDA, has grown more demanding every year.
The school was praised for its strengths in relation to "The director’s and principals’ vision and drive for an inclusive, vibrant and successful school,and the unstinting support they receive from governors and parents; Students’ outstanding personal development and its positive impact on their academic achievements; Students’ enthusiastic engagement with the school, local and global communities and their innovative and substantial contribution to them; and, the attention given to developing students’ reading in English and to their social, emotional and physical well-being".
Students' achievement in relation to their progress and attainment across the core subjects of English, Mathematics and Science are now largely rated Very Good, particularly in the KG and Elementary School. In the Middle School, English attainment and progress in Mathematics have both improved to Very Good in the most recent inspection report. High School Mathematics and Science are still in need of some improvement, with all measures found to be Good.
Whilst Islamic Education was generally found to be Acceptable, and Arabic as a first language deemed to be Good (with Very Good progress in KG), Arabic as an additional language remains Acceptable for attainment in both Middle and High School, though Good in Elementary. Progress in Elementary was found to be Very Good, and in Middle School to be Good. This will clearly be an area of focus for development in the current academic year.
Learning Skills were also found to be variable, with KG being rated Outstanding, Elementary, Very Good and both Middle and High School sections deemed to be Good.
The curriculum at KG level is also highlighted by the KHDA as Outstanding although it has dropped in the elementary and middle to Very Good and Acceptable respectively.
Students' personal and social skills and their innovation skills are rated Outstanding across the school. Inspectors commented that "A culture of respect and inclusion is evident across the school. Students state that they belong to a community that is like a caring family. Their relationships with teachers are excellent, and they feel well supported and valued as individuals. Students throughout the school demonstrate high levels of personal responsibility and selfdiscipline. Their behavior is exemplary at all levels. They are self-reflective and respond well to critical feedback".
The school's KHDA report notes that the quality of teaching is Very Good in KG and Elementary and Good in Middle and High School. "The quality of teaching ranges from good to outstanding in all phases, especially in the KG and the Elementary school. In the best lessons, teachers facilitate learning as students work independently and in collaboration with their peers". The curriculum design and implementation was found to be Outstanding in KG and Very Good across the other phases of the School (an improvement from Good in the Middle School). Inspectors commented that "The IB curriculum, with PYP and DP, is aligned well to the Common Core Standards. The KG provides an excellent platform for continuity and progression throughout the school. The curriculum is carefully planned and well-articulated. It provides an appropriate balance between the development of skills and the acquisition of knowledge".
Particular praise was kept for the adaptation of the curriculum - "Students’ personal and social development are significantly enhanced through an exceptionally wide range of extra-curricular and enrichment activities. These provide students with numerous opportunities to contribute to the wider community and to develop their leadership, innovative and entrepreneurial skills".
Protection, care and guidance of students was rated Outstanding across the board, whilst their Care and Support were rated Very Good in the lower phases and Good in post-16.
UAS is also recognised as an inclusive school with the provision and outcome for students with SEND requirements now rated Very Good (an improvement from Good). The inspectors noted that "The governor for inclusive education, the inclusion champion and the inclusive education team, work effectively with the school counsellors to promote a vision for inclusive practice across all phases. The successful implementation of the inclusive education improvement plan is having a positive impact on students’ progress".
The final key indicator - that of leadership and management - shows Outstanding ratings for Parents and the Community, and Management, Staffing, Resources and Facilities. "Parents are proactive partners in the life and work of the school. Their views are influential in defining priorities for school improvement. The effective communication with the school gives families a comprehensive understanding of their children’s progress and next steps in learning. The school’s strong partnerships with the local, national and global communities enhance students’ learning experiences".
Although the three criteria of the Effectiveness of Leadership, School Self-Evaluation, and Governance were rated Very Good rather than Outstanding, the positive feedback from the inspection team suggests that the higher rating is not too far away - "The school director and principals have a clear and inclusive vision for valuing and supporting all students on their journey towards becoming responsible global citizens and lifelong learners. Collegiality and clarity of purpose underpin the positive ethos and culture that permeate the school. Leaders who are new to the role are already demonstrating their strong capacity for continuous improvement". This can only signal further progress to come at UAS.
The KHDA Inspection team made the following recommendations for improvement:
Details on applying to UAS may be found here, however note, students applying for PreKG, KGI, and KGII must have an interview with a KG teacher. Students applying for grades 1 to 11 must take an assessment test in Math and English.
Fees for Universal American School are top end, starting at AED 37,330 for pre-KG and rising to AED 76,670 for Grade 12. Not the most expensive school in the UAE by any means, but certainly in the top tier. There is also a AED 4,000 registration fee post acceptance.
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UAS is a great school I go ther e myself and it is a wonderful educational experience.
A solid choice if you cannot get your kids into The American School of Dubai or Dubai American Academy. Probably the best of the second-tier top American schools in Dubai.