Victoria English Private School (VES) is a co-educational, all-through school which provides a British-style education in an international setting. VES has its own dedicated Nursery, follows the Cambridge Primary and Secondary curriculums, and offers IGCSEs and A-Levels.
Opened in 1996 in the popular Al Azra district of Sharjah, Victoria English Private School (VES) offers a British approach to teaching that is tailored to its international setting. Serving both expatriate and local children, the school has around 800 students from over 60 different countries, and is a full member of British Schools of the Middle East (BSME). Considered a "well-kept" secret by parents, VES is a school that offers a "warm welcoming family community" along with "excellent standards of teaching and learning".
Multiculturalism is at the heart of this school, woven into the curriculum to help maintain “a positive culture of academic excellence and a caring environment”. VES’s goal is not to simply produce excellent students, but to produce global citizens and ensure that every student has the chance to develop holistically. The school’s unusually long Mission statement showcases VES’s drive for academic excellence and achievement; its focused development of students’ social and moral values; the expectations for the school itself as a learning environment; and the desire to challenge students in order to nurture their independence and critical thinking skills.
At the helm of this ambitious endeavour is Headteacher Keith Sykes, who has over 25 years’ experience in British and International education. Mr. Sykes describes VES as “a true community of students, teachers and support staff all pulling in the same direction with our parents”. His vision for the school is one where students are provided with a holistic, nurturing environment that helps develop them into well-round individuals, with a love of learning that lasts a lifetime:
“We believe that respect is the central value that binds us all together. We respect each other, our similarities and differences, our resources and environment and the many gifts and talents each of us possesses. We help each other and push each other in equal measure. This is the key to our success, continued motivation and determination, and our world class academic results. It is also the key to producing new generations of thoughtful, kind, balanced, resilient, culturally literate young leaders that will help to build a better future for us all.”
Echoing this sentiment is Deputy Headteacher Matthew Keyes, who has over 20 years’ experience working in the British education system across the UK. Mr. Keyes, who is primarily responsible for the Secondary school and Sixth Form, as well as school-wide pastoral care, has “an unshakable belief that every child can achieve their potential and it is our job as educators to get them to that point”.
VES has an international staff of predominantly native English speakers; teachers hail from the UK, Ireland, South Africa, and beyond. It’s clear that VES considers its teachers to be indispensable: in 2020, teaching staff retention was 95%, and all staff members are offered a full range of support, including induction programmes, accommodation, medical insurance, flights, and an end of service gratuity bonus. In return, staff are encouraged to be sociable, friendly, and engage in 100 hours of Professional Development each year.
Students certainly seem to benefit, and VES is well-known as a school with a positive, happy environment. 70% of students have siblings in the school, and with so many students staying on for long periods of their education, the school staff really get to know the individual families. The personalised community feel is translated to the classrooms, where class sizes are kept small to allow for effective one-to-one work with students. VES’s teacher to student ratio is 1:10, and the school also offers both Learning Development and Classroom Assistants.
One final aspect of VES that cannot be ignored is its Victoria English Nursery (VEN). Housed in its own dedicated building on the school campus, VEN was founded in April 1997, in response to demand from parents and carers in Sharjah and the surrounding Emirates. VEN’s reputation as a high-quality learning institution with high standards of discipline is well known in the local community, and the nursery’s motto is “Be the Best You Can Be!”.
The nursery allows VES to begin instilling its core values in students at the youngest possible age, providing a safe, friendly environment where they can thrive. VEN students learn mutual respect and life skills while focusing on their individual achievement and developing their independence. Just as we see in the main school, VEN is committed first and foremost to providing a positive environment for all learners: ensuring children have a balance of play, academic work, and interesting activities; enabling all children to achieve success in some way; and to see that their success is always celebrated.
The staff at VEN are dedicated, qualified, and experienced; they are all Expatriate, and are either appointed on overseas contract or local hire. VEN is run by a dedicated Head of the Nursery, who is assisted by a Curriculum Co-ordinator. The Nursery is open from 7.30am – 4pm, and in addition to regular class time, the nursery goes out on an external trip once a month, either for the whole morning or for just a few hours.
Because VEN is connected to the larger school, children at the nursery take priority in the required FS1 assessments. Throughout the school year, students are continually assessed by their group teachers, and receive both a written monthly assessment sheet and an in-depth end-of-year report. They must then take and pass an assessment at the main school to be offered an FS1 place (this can only be granted if the student has completed the entire academic year in the nursery and all fees have been paid in full).
VES is a Cambridge curriculum school, following a comprehensive system with clear processes of learning and specific learning goals for every subject. Students work their way up to IGCSEs and A-Levels, while developing international mindedness and undertaking personal learning.
While VES wants all of its students to achieve academic success, the school also recognises that everyone progresses academically at an individual rate. To this end, VES’s curriculum was chosen so that staff could work with students to achieve their individual potential. The curriculum aims to challenge, push, encourage, and motivate students, in order to equip them with the skills to think independently, to research, question, analyse, and evaluate.
VES students begin this journey with the Cambridge Primary curriculum, which comprises of three stages following the National Curriculum for England: Foundation Level (for children in FS1 and FS2), Key Stage 1 (Years 1 and 2), and Key Stage 2 (Years 3 to 6). At the core of the Cambridge Primary curriculum is a focus on literacy, numeracy, science, and analytical abilities, the foundations of any good education. VES also helps students develop an understanding of what constitutes an active and healthy lifestyle, and develops skills that are central to adult life and succeeding in chosen careers.
The Cambridge Primary curriculum uses a variety of teaching methods, including active and enterprising learning (which encourages young people to become inquisitive); learning across the curriculum (which allows them to make links between subjects); and learning outside the classroom, both in the outdoors and in the community (which gives students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of real-life situations). Students are regularly teacher-assessed, tested in target achievements and in national tests, and closely monitored each day to develop strengths and build on shortcomings. Perhaps most importantly, students themselves “will be systematically involved in this process as they develop the skills needed to be able to make effective judgments on their own learning”.
After completing their Primary schooling, VES students move on to the Secondary school, and the Cambridge Secondary curriculum. Secondary education covers Years 7 to 13, split into three ‘Key Stages’: Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9), Key Stage 4 (Years 10 and 11), and Key Stage 5 or Sixth Form (Years 12 and 13). All students are assigned a form teacher to help guide and support them through their Secondary studies, with one form period being provided per week.
Students in Years 7 to 9 focus on a broad and varied curriculum, centred around core subjects and supplemented by the required Ministry of Education (MOE) subjects. Core subjects include: Mathematics; English; Science (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics); Arabic; Social Studies; Moral Education; and Islamic Education (for Muslim students only). In addition, students also take a number of further subjects to ensure a balanced and holistic education: Geography; History; ICT; Art; French; and PE.
It is also at this stage that students begin to be assessed on the IGCSE 1 – 9 scale, giving students a feel for the academic standards required in Key Stage 4 before they begin the official qualifications. This allows them to track their progress towards their final targets, and gives them the chance to experience all of the different subject options available so that they can choose which ones to pursue for their IGCSEs.
Once students start Key Stage 4, they officially take their IGCSEs over the course of Years 10 and 11. As with Key Stage 3, there are a number of core subjects that all students are required to take: English; Mathematics; Physics; Biology; Chemistry; Arabic; and Islamic Studies (for Muslim Students only). Then, in addition to these subjects, students choose three subjects from a choice of: ICT; PE; Art; Business Studies; History; Geography; Psychology; and French. As the school highlights, the IGCSE “is a challenging certification that is recognised worldwide for its rigour. Students learn detailed content and are expected to apply their knowledge in different situations alongside displaying skills of critical thinking”.
Finally, after successfully completing their IGCSEs, students enter Key Stage 5, or as it is more commonly known, Sixth Form. In Year 12, students take AS-Levels in up to 5 subjects; many then go on to take 3 full A-Levels in Year 13. Securing these qualifications allows VES students to access the very best universities both locally and internationally; VES has successfully placed students at prestigious universities for the last 20 years. A major benefit that VES offers at this stage is smaller class sizes, which allows for more personal and intensive tuition.
Subject choices in the Sixth Form include: English Literature; English Language; Mathematics & Statistics; Mathematics & Mechanics; French; History; Geography; ICT; Physics; Biology; Chemistry; Business Studies; Psychology; and Arabic. VES offers a much wider range of subjects than many other Sharjah schools, which tend to focus only on traditional subjects like Mathematics, Accounting, and Science. In addition, the school provides detailed curriculum guides for all Key Stages, which include thorough explanations of the topics covered in each subject, what testing will take place, and what the learning aims/required achievements are.
Beyond the core curriculum, one of the most telling indicators of a UAE school is their Arabic and Islamic Studies department – many British-based schools struggle to integrate their Arabic staff and teaching into the wider curriculum, but VES looks to be an exception. Weroud Zino has been Head of Arabic and Islamic Studies since the department’s inception in 1996, and has worked alongside dedicated staff to teach generations of students and witness their graduation to universities around the world. This sense of unity and continuity in the department suggests that VES has really nailed down its method for integrating Arabic and Islamic Studies into the curriculum.
For example, all students start taking Arabic and Islamic Studies in FS1, where teachers run one lesson per week using verbal and art activities. In FS2, teachers begin to introduce sounds and letter shapes more intensely, by running four lessons per week. The department notes that they specially design their own resources “to hone the skills needed by the child to fulfil the requirements at this level of learning”. Once students enter Primary and Secondary, it would be very easy for Arabic and Islamic Studies to take a back seat to other subjects and suffer from a lack of resources, time, and support, as is seen in many other schools. However, VES’s Arabic and Islamic Studies department seems dedicated to preventing this:
“At this stage and those following, we strongly encourage unlimited support in the Arabic language especially to the Arab students, being as it is considered their first language, even though it can not [sic] be labelled as such because the first language in our school is English. Parents must be aware of this point and co-operate with the school in order to overcome any difficulties in the language at all stages.”
The department certainly seems to offer an extremely integrated, supported programme, which will undoubtedly appeal to many parents who want their children to get a British-quality education without sacrificing their UAE-based culture. For students who wish to sit examinations for Arabic and Islamic Studies, VES currently offers a number of official qualifications as well: IGCSE Islamic Studies; Arabic IGCSE for non-Arab students (second language level); Arabic IGCSE for Arab students (first language level); and Arabic AS-Levels and A-Levels for students in Years 12 & 13.
So, it’s clear that the academic set-up at VES is thorough, broad, and designed to help students achieve and experience as much as possible. But can the same be said for what lies beyond everyday classes? In short, yes:
“Beyond academic expectations we also focus on our students’ personal and social development. We want our students to be confident, considerate, respectful and globally aware. Such skills are developed through relationships established between teachers and students and between students themselves.”
VES offers a wide variety of opportunities and experiences to all students, ranging from optional activities to annual awards to active positions within the school. VES’s extra-curricular programme, for example, is designed to appeal to all abilities and interests, offering a full range of sporting and academic after-school activities.
The school offers free, teacher-led activities, depending on the staff available each year. Examples of past activities include: Chess; Badminton; Football; Archery; Cricket; Netball; Gymnastics; and even an external provider for Karate. For students who wish to be involved more competitively, VES sports teams have been very successful in the past, with students representing the UAE in both Swimming and Athletics.
Within school hours, students also get the chance to be involved in a variety of events and activities, through the school house system. All students and teachers are allocated to one of four houses (London, Belfast, Edinburgh, or Cardiff), and work throughout the year to gain VES Merit Points and compete against other houses in events like the Athletics Carnival and the Battle of the Bands. At the end of each school year, the House with the most points is awarded the House Shield, encouraging all students and teachers to get involved and experience teamwork, camaraderie, and House pride.
For students wanting to contribute to the running of the school itself, VES offers a number of roles to its older students. Students in Years 11 and 12, for example, can apply to be House Captains, who are voted in via elections. Elected House Captains work closely with the Staff House coordinators and House Prefects, and “are responsible for promoting house spirit, designating a house charity and ensuring maximum participation in all events by all students. They also encourage students to attain merit points that contribute towards the house shield”.
Finally, Year 13 students have the opportunity to apply for the VES School Prefect role; during this process, a Head Student and Assistant Head Student will also be appointed. Students require references from teachers as part of the application process, and apply for one of the prefect portfolios: Student Welfare & School Spirit; Houses; Global Citizenship & Service; Student Leadership; Arts; or Sport. This is of course an excellent opportunity to take on responsibility and bolster credentials ahead of university.
Another major offering from VES is the Duke of Edinburgh International Award, “an exciting worldwide self-development programme for all young people aged between 14 and 25”. This immensely popular programme has been undertaken by more than six million young people from over 125 countries, as a means to learn life skills, build confidence, and engage with local communities. VES offers the Award to students aged 14 and over, who set themselves challenging goals in four different sections: Service; Skills; Physical Recreation; and Adventurous Journey. Rather than being a competition, the International Award is based on personal improvement and achievement; students can develop current interests or try new ones, and have the chance to go on expeditions and engage with charity work.
As all of the above show, students at VES certainly have plenty of goals and successes they can choose to pursue, and the school makes sure to celebrate these. The VES Endeavour Achievement Award recognises students whose grades have improved in three or more subjects at the end of the academic year, and also recognises those students whose grades improve significantly on the VES Student Academic Tracking System. And all Secondary students are strongly encouraged to strive for the High Honour Roll and the Honour Roll. These recognitions are awarded at the end of each term, and contribute towards the atmosphere of encouragement and motivation that VES so carefully cultivates.
VES offers detailed information on its school website about provisions for Special Educational Needs (SEN) students, and has its own dedicated Learning Development department:
“VES is dedicated to creating an engaging and supportive learning environment for all its children. As parents and teachers we want all children to develop at a similar pace and level but it is important to recognise that no two children are the same; each child has their own unique learning style. To enable each child to reach their full academic potential, the Learning Development department offers additional support to enhance the individual learning capacity of our children.”
The Learning Development team is led by Head of Department Noreen Yaqoob, and consists of staff with extensive experience in assessment and in implementing supportive strategies for children. If a child is identified as someone who would benefit from extra support, then the school will contact parents to arrange a meeting. Parents can then discuss what level of support would be best, along with any fees associated.
From the information provided, the SEN department at VES certainly seems well-organised and supportive, as well as very proactive in identifying students and approaching parents (rather than requiring parents to inform the school about concerns). Prospective parents can be confident that the positive, encouraging environment cultivated in the wider school is strongly felt in its Learning Development department:
“We focus on building an autonomous and interactive atmosphere to make the children feel understood and welcomed. We use a wide range of resources to meet the diverse needs of our children which may include cognitive, physical, emotional and social needs. Our aim is to equip our children with the skills necessary to overcome academic challenges and to enable them to do so with confidence.”
The Learning Development team offers a wide range of support, depending on the needs of each student they take on, which includes:
Even more reassuring, the team also offers support to parents, so that they can continue to understand and help with their child’s development as well, through:
While VES does not provide comprehensive reports on student achievement every year, the school has made some of its past academic results available to the public. The hope is that the school will begin to share these more regularly, so that parents can track year-on-year achievement at the school. In addition, it would be helpful for the school to use the same indicators each year, so that new results can be easily compared against previous ones.
In 2017, 48% of students achieved an A* or A in their IGCSE results; 9 students achieved five or more A*s. The 2020 results show similarly excellent performances from students, although it is difficult to compare exactly given the use of different measurements.
In the 2020 IGCSE results, 98% of all grades were either 4 or higher (the equivalent of a C or higher using the old marking system) – the UK’s average is 78.8%. 65% of all grades were either 7 or higher (A or higher), in comparison with an average of 27.5% in the UK, and 24% of all grades were 9 (A*), compared to the UK’s average of 6.6%.
This brief roundup certainly shows some impressive achievements from the VES IGCSE cohort – some of the most outstanding students achieved seven Grade 9’s, which would place them well inside the top 1% of UK students.
There are no apparent AS-Level results published by the school, and A-Level results for 2020 are less detailed. However, a general overview shows that VES students achieved a 100% pass rate, with 66% of grades coming in at B or above, and another 41% at either A or A*. This narrowly beats the UK’s average of 38% A or A*, so the hope is that this gap will continue to widen.
Unlike schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Sharjah schools have not participated in regulatory inspections on a regular basis; while there were a few instances of inspections being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, schools did not generally publish the outcomes. With the initiation of SPEA (Sharjah Private Education Authority), the intention is that schools will be inspected using the common framework already in place in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
However, SPEA has decided to seek a collaborative approach with the schools for this process, and although we understand that initial inspections did take place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, results of these inspections have not been published.
As a result of the pandemic, Sharjah schools have participated in Distance Learning Evaluations (DLE), implemented by the Ministry of Education throughout the UAE (these results have been published). In its most recent Distance Learning Review Report (2020), SIA’s implementation of distance learning was rated as Developed.
Inspectors commended the students’ learning behaviour, “particularly their respectful relationships with their teachers” and were satisfied that all students “have safe and secure access to the on-line learning resources and know how to stay safe and who to contact if necessary”. Inspectors also noted that both parents and students were clear on expected learning outcomes, and that appropriate modifications had been made to the curriculum and to assessments, thereby ensuring “that essential content is delivered, and this results in continuity and progression in students’ learning”.
In terms of the wider school, the report concluded that “short- and medium-term planning is detailed and thorough and is based on sound analyses of the outcome of effective monitoring and evaluation strategies”. Furthermore, the report stated that school leaders “have developed procedures which ensure all staff, and the parents, are clear about their roles and responsibilities in the promotion of students’ learning”.
However, despite VES’s stellar performance in the evaluation, the report did offer some potential areas for development as well.
For example, inspectors suggested that VES could “develop further the range of planned teaching approaches, for example group discussions, that engage students more actively in their learning in on-line classes and promotes the development of positive relationships with their peers”. And they also asked that the school further support student wellbeing “through the provision of balanced activities each day which include breaks from screen time, leisure activities and physical activity”. Finally, the report advised that VES “continue to develop the communication with parents to ensure all stakeholders have clear expectations of the distance learning model”.
If you would like to read the full inspection report – which we strongly advise you to do in order to understand the reasons behind the ratings – you will find it here.
VES has relatively small campus compared to other schools in Sharjah, but is still well-equipped. Facilities at the school include: science labs; a dedicated Sixth Form section; a library; a small indoor pool; a climbing wall; a small canteen; and a shaded Astroturf outdoor play area. The school also makes use of many facilities housed at other locations around Sharjah, such as the Wanderers Rugby Club and the Sharjah Shooting Club.
In order to uphold an involved, close-knit atmosphere, both the VES Nursery and main school use the Breeze system, which can be downloaded onto iOS and android mobiles, iPads, tablets, and PCs. Breeze gives parents access to the entire academic year’s activities; events; holidays; messages regarding school buses; emergency warnings; reports of inclement weather; or notices of Nursery closure. And for parents seeking even more information, the school’s website provides detailed explanations of various school policies, including Teaching and Learning; Pastoral; Student Mental Wellbeing; Child Protection; Cyber Bullying Policy; E-Safety Guide for Parents; and Communication.
VES also runs the Victoria Parents Association (VPA), which aims to take on qualified, well-informed parental representatives who will have direct contact and influence. The key role within the VPA is that of the ‘critical friend’, which is a VPA representative who “promotes the school publicly and is a positive and supportive representative on the community and amongst the parental body”; in addition, these representatives are also tasked with positively challenging the school, analysing plans and developments, and creating an appropriate channel for parental concerns.
“The VPA meets independently and also with the Headteacher and leadership Team on a regular basis. They also organize information and coffee mornings so that parents can meet the teachers and Leadership Team and to really get involved in detailed discussion . . . The VPA also helps to run the annual Victoria Fete, a huge whole school event, which raises funds for school improvement.”
In terms of general opinion on the school, VES has received only a limited number of reviews on WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. A total of 13 reviews currently give the school an overall parent rating of 3.2 out of 5. Feedback seems generally positive for the school, especially in terms of the environment and atmosphere for students.
For example, 69% of responders said their child felt either a tremendous sense of belonging at VES or quite a bit of belonging; the same number said that their child enjoyed going to school either tremendously or quite a bit. And 85% of reviewers said that VES had improved their child’s confidence either a great deal, a lot, or at the very least a moderate amount. Finally, the majority of responders (67%) ruled that sport is not competitive at VES and that everyone feels like they can take part.
Furthermore, a heartening 92% of reviewers were either satisfied (54%) or at least partially satisfied (38%) with the disciplinary policy at VES and its implementation. This confidence in VES’s happy, inclusive atmosphere was further reflected in the 54% of responders who were not at all concerned about bullying and the 23% who were only slightly concerned.
In terms of parent satisfaction, responses seem similarly positive. 77% of reviewers agreed either partially (31%) or totally (46%) that the fees they were paying were good value for money, and 92% were either satisfied (61%) or partially satisfied (31%) with their child’s academic performance. Additionally, reviewers were largely satisfied with the feedback they received from the school, with 31% totally satisfied and 46% partially satisfied.
Reviews also showed that parents seem generally confident in VES’s ability to develop their children in a holistic manner, whatever their learning style and ability level. For example, 54% were either extremely (15%) or quite confident (39%) that VES is equipped to meet their child’s specific learning needs, and 60% felt no need to give their child additional tutoring to supplement school learning. Perhaps most impressive is that 100% of reviews agreed that the school helps its students to develop presentation skills for public performance and speaking.
One statistic that did stand out as perhaps a little out of place was that 46% of reviewers noted that they had thought about moving their child from the school. However, considering that 54% have not, and that 61% would recommend this school to another parent, there may be many reasons why parents have thought about transferring students. After all, with more and more new schools opening in Sharjah, VES will need to continue to offer a competitive education in order to retain students and entice new ones.
If you are a parent, teacher, or senior student at VES, please share your experience with other potential members of your school community by taking part in our survey.
Fees at VES range from AED 17,500 for the Nursery up to AED 40,000 for A-Levels. These tuition fees do not include the AED 600 medical fees (AED 400 for Nursery students) or the book fees (which range from AED 1,300 for earlier years up to AED 3,150 for the IGCSEs). There is also an AED 1,000 registration fee for all year groups.
Like many schools, VES is currently offering discounts for the 2021-22 academic year, as a result of Covid-19. These discounts range from a deduction of AED 2,000 for FS1 and FS2 up to a deduction of AED 3,500 for A-Level students.
VES also offers transportation for students at an extra cost. Bus fees for Sharjah are set at AED 4,500 and bus fees for Dubai are AED 5,000.
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