6 Best Schools in Dubailand
Originally envisaged as the world’s largest leisure and entertainment destination, Dubailand was announced in 2003 but is instead home to thriving family-centric communities such as Arabian Ranches (AR), Dubai Sports City (DSC), Villa Nova, Damac Hills and many more.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at education options within Dubailand and the various curriculums on offer such as British, American and Indian (CBSE). The only stipulation in all schools is that students, regardless of whether they are local or expat, must learn Arabic. Here is a rundown of some of the best Dubailand schools:
The Aquila School
This British curriculum school opened in September 2018, initially offering Foundation Year 1 through to Year 8. Year 9 is due to open in September 2021, and expansion into Year 10-11 (GCSE’s) and 12-13 (A-Levels / IB) will follow. Set in the heart of Dubailand, it easily serves communities such as Al Barari, Arabian Ranches and Nad Al Sheba and is helmed by Principal Wayne Howsen, who brings over 20 years of experience in various international roles. For him, the school’s mission is to, “inspire and support children to discover and pursue passion in learning through maximum choice and authentic learning linked to real life”.
Aquila is the flagship school of ISP and is currently graded as outstanding by British Schools Overseas (BSO) in conjunction with OFSTED. This grading is made all the more impressive when you learn that Mr. Howsen requested the inspection just six months after opening - new schools in Dubai are typically offered a three-year ‘bedding in’ reprieve from such assessments. Highlights from the report include a sense of community, high-quality teaching and a commitment to welfare, health and safety. Aquila also took home the ‘Best designed educational project’ in the MEA market awards 2018, clearly setting its intentions to make a significant impact on Dubai’s education system.
To complement the school’s clear ethos and drive, there is a maximum class size of 24 with a stringent hiring policy that opens recruitment for a new teacher once there are 18 students in a particular form. For children requiring extra support, there is a specialist learning space called ‘Heman’ which enables a gentle and, most importantly, gradual integration into mainstream learning. The student profile is made up of 43% Arab, 31% Western and 22% Asian.
Pre-Covid, the school offered 46 extracurricular activities including sports, arts, theatre and gardening - sustainability is a keyword for the school which offers hydroponic gardens where students can learn to grow their own food. Cooking classes are also offered - all extracurriculars are led by Aquila’s 56 teachers - 3 senior, 5 mid-level and 48 junior. 21 support staff round out the team.
Surveys show a 100% satisfaction rate from parents in regards to academic achievement and an overall rating of 4.6 out of 5. Annual fees start at AED 36,000 (FS1) and prospective parents are encouraged to tour the school - please contact 04 586 2700 for more information.
Previously located in Oud Metha, Gems Winchester now occupies the former Heritage School site close to IMG World of Adventures. Established in 2011, the school offers Foundation through to Year 13 and is led by Matthew Lecuyer whose ethos is to, “embrace every opportunity we get to support the hunger and thirst of education for all of our students”.
The school follows a broadly British curriculum but cleverly incorporates the Ministry of Education (MoE) structure and recent KHDA reports praise both the English and Islamic emphasis in the secondary phase. Also noted was the adaptation of the Foundation years curriculum to meet the needs of ‘all students’. Interestingly, despite the school following a British structure only its management are UK-trained, underpinned by primarily Indian support staff and between them, they offer one of the best GCSE selections in Dubai, for a mid-priced establishment.
When Winchester opened in 2011, it had just 500 students but by 2019 this had grown to 3,869 with a 1:18 ratio. This rapid growth, coupled with a KHDA mandated need to, “improve resources and accommodation to enhance learning outcomes” is no doubt what drove the move to their current site which offers far more scope for expanding sports, arts and extracurricular activities.
Gems has been a family-run business for over 60 years with 44 schools across the Middle East and North Africa. It is perhaps this legacy that drives 75% parents to recommend Winchester ‘without hesitation’ despite it achieving only an acceptable grading for the past eight years. Annual fees for FS2 start at AED 18,300 - please contact 04 337 4112 for more details.
Gems First Point School
Another offering from education stalwart Gems, First Point School (FPS) is set in The Villa, and offers students the option to walk / cycle in without having to leave the safety of the community. Offering FS1 through to Year 13, the school is led by Matthew Tompkins. His message is that FPS “offers a welcoming, nurturing and friendly environment where learners are encouraged to be inquisitive, where they can grow not just academically but also socially”. This is underpinned by First Point being a Gems ‘Centre of excellence for digital futures’.
Opened in 2014, the school has undergone significant changes in a short period, owing to local development and expansion and in April 2021 it was awarded “The most inclusive school” at the MEA market awards. During its last inspection, FPS was awarded a ‘good’ rating by KHDA but achieved a ‘developed’ status (the highest available) during its first distance learning evaluation. The KHDA and BSO noted the outstanding health and safety provisions including child protection and safeguarding as well as the staff, facilities and available resources.
As well as the widely available A-Level and BTEC courses (with 26 and 5 options respectively), FPS also offers an Elite Golf course for its 6th form students as well as ASDAN for its students with additional needs. Students of determination are taught valuable life skills that they can use away from home, helping them reach their full potential. To support this, the school has four designated therapy spaces used by the Inclusion Support Team (IST) comprising 3 specialist teachers, 17 learning support assistants and 15 inclusion champions.
In March 2021, FPS announced the launch of two specialist BTEC courses in ‘Digital Game Design’ and ‘Esports’ to cater to the changing demands of today’s students. The facilities don’t stop there - the school offers a recording studio, black box room and robotics space in addition to its 15 daily extracurricular clubs - sports, junk modelling and Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) - are all possibilities.
The commitment to students reflects well in their published results, with 93% achieving A*-C (9-4) at GCSE in 2020. 92% of A-Level students achieved the same results, up from 67% in 2019! The school achieves a 93% satisfaction rate from parents, with 80% having no hesitation in recommending FPS. Annual fees start at AED 40,100 for FS1 and more details can be found by calling 04 278 9700.
South View School
Set in Remraam and serving some of Dubailand’s core communities, South View School (SVS) opened in 2018 on a purpose-built site. David Flint is responsible for leading the school where their mission is, “focusing on what children can do, what abilities they do have, that it is necessary to fail in order to be successful”. This, he says, is key to “effective, fulfilling and sustainable learning”.
SVS is operated by Interstar Advisory Services (IAS), who are also responsible for the highly successful Victory Heights Primary - a feeder school for South View - and the student body is made up of 42 nationalities. 15% are Egyptian, 12% American and 10% each British and South African. At its full capacity, SVS will have 2,000 students with a 1:18 ratio. Currently, the school offers FS1 - Year 9, but will be offering GCSE’s from August 2021 and A-Levels will follow in August 2023.
At its opening, there were 150 students; there are now 725 enrolled but don’t be fooled by its small numbers - SVS is committed to becoming one of Dubai’s best schools and is already making its mark. It played host to the 2019 British Schools Middle East (BSME) games and fielded teams in as many disciplines as possible, something it continues to do. This is supported by teacher-led extracurriculars - as well as sports there are academic and creative clubs, with the option to pay extra for tennis, aquatics, chess and music.
A dedicated Inclusion Department provides assistance for both students with additional needs and those marked as talented and gifted - SVS is one of the few schools in Dubai who does not charge extra for this. Annual fees for FS1 start at AED 43,000 for 2021-22, for more information please contact 04 589 7904.
Dunecrest American School
The only school in the area offering an American curriculum, Dunecrest is located close to leafy Al Barari and is operated by Esol whose focus is “collaboration, innovation and continuity”. Dunecrest’s Director is Bill Delbrugge who is well-known for being hands-on - he takes pride in knowing every student and their family - no doubt leading both the gardening club and school band helps with this! For him, the ethos of Dunecrest is clear - “holistic American education that inspires students to discover talents, pursue passions and make a positive impact on the community and beyond”.
The school’s maximum capacity is 1,200 students and class numbers are capped at 18 (Kindergarten) and 23 for all other forms - those in Kindergarten follow a creative curriculum and then move to the Aero plus common core curriculum. The International Baccalaureate (IB) is offered for sixth form, with three options: the standard IB, a US High School diploma or a US High School diploma with IB certificate.
Extracurriculars are of course robust, with diverse sports and arts programmes on offer as well as the model UN, of which the school is a member. Local internships and projects are in the pipeline, which will further bolster the school’s portfolio of student amenities.
Open since 2018, the school is relatively new and so hasn’t yet been inspected - this means that its highlights and lowlights aren’t yet known, nor are its exam results. That being said, parents rate it a respectable 4.3 out of 5. Fees for Pre-K start at AED 38,900 - please contact the school office on 04 508 7444 for more details.
JESS Arabian Ranches
Rounding out our list is JESS Arabian Ranches (JESS AR), an institution that requires little introduction. The JESS group has been established since 1975 and its network brings together students from over 70 different nationalities - the Arabian Ranches school has been open since 2005 and has 1,400 students, 50% of which are from the UK.
JESS AR is unique in many aspects, particularly in that it is a non-profit school which is exceptionally rare in Dubai. As well as the standard fee structure, it has a debenture system with both Corporate and Personal options. Personal debentures are AED 20,000 and will be fully refunded when the student leaves the school. Transparency is key and the school publishes detailed reports of where the money is used, with around 70% going to staffing. This likely explains the exceptionally low turnover of staff, currently around 11% (the Dubai average is 21%). This, coupled with the low student-teacher ratio of 1:12 indicates a stable and consistent school environment.
Principal Shane O’Brien certainly had large shoes to fill when he took over the reins, but is more than equal to the task and committed to the vision that “every child will find their place at JESS and every child will be the best they can be, plus more”.
Unsurprisingly, the school follows a British curriculum with GCSE’s followed by the IB. Since 2017, they have also offered BTEC+ in a range of subjects, with the additional benefit of internships. Online tracking allows parents to easily monitor their child’s progress and staff can input too, enabling personalised learning. For those requiring additional support, the Oasis Centre is available at no extra cost and includes Educational Psychology and counselling.
As well as academics, the school has a strong focus on developing its students as well-rounded individuals who can make meaningful contributions to their community - ‘Make a difference’ teaches age-appropriate life skills to increase independence and offer practical knowledge that can be used away from home.
As you would expect, sports and arts are also strong - the school’s rugby team was the only international representation at the last Rosslyn 7’s tournament and beat out 194 other schools, narrowly missing out on the top spot which went to Harrow Boys’ School. They field more competitive sports teams than any other Dubai school.
JESS AR is currently ranked ‘Outstanding’ and highlights from the last inspection include an innovative approach to teaching, a broad and stimulating curriculum and a culture enabling teachers to develop as professionals. The KHDA pre-inspection parent survey garnered a very small response rate but other surveys show a 94% parent satisfaction rating. In 2020, they achieved a 100% pass rate for IB students with an average score of 39.12 which is 8 points above the global average. Their 117 GCSE students sat a combined total of 1,135 exams with a 100% A*-C (9-4) pass rate. All of this goes to show that whilst they may not be the biggest, they can certainly go toe to toe with the large for-profit schools abundantly available across the city. Annual fees start at AED 39,800 for FS1 and you can contact the school on 04 361 9019.
Dubailand certainly has plenty to offer families of all shapes and sizes. If you’re looking for property, please contact our Area Specialists for a private tour of some of the best in the market.
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