Outstanding schools in Dubai

Head teachers from Dubai's best schools on what makes a perfect school


Anyone who has school-age kids in Dubai will have heard of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KDHA) – perhaps through the frantic whispers in the corridors as inspection time approaches, and the on-line anonymous parent questionnaire. The KHDA are the Dubai government’s regulatory body, responsible for the annual inspections that schools have endured since they were first introduced in 2008. Testing the qualities of early years, junior, senior and higher education institutions, making sure all comply with their rigid standards of excellence, weeding out the underperformers every single year, they are the quality assurance authority parents refer to when it comes to choosing a school. Using a four-tier system to mark their findings, schools are rated at the lowest as ‘Unsatisfactory’ through to ‘Acceptable’, rising to ‘Good’.

But the badge that all strive for is the top of the class at ‘Outstanding’. Unsurprisingly, schools achieving this honour usually come complete with long waiting lists, while this mark of quality can come at a hefty price for parents, too. We asked the head teachers of six of Dubai’s outstanding primary schools* about what the status entails.

Dubai American Academy

Robyn Appleby, Superintendent
DAA first received the inspection judgement of ‘Outstanding’ in the 2011-2012 school year. We annually develop strategic school progress plans to ensure we are continually improving, and while this has helped to maintain our status with KHDA, it is also just good, normal practice.

We have been fortunate to have always had a very strong pool of applicants and we haven’t seen any particular increase since the KHDA reports were first published. The feedback from parents is very positive, and we are grateful for their ongoing support. Our parents are fantastic and are our best ambassadors as they are always willing to support the school and the teachers. As for the staff, it is important to have continuity in order to ensure that the curriculum is coherent, and while some turnover is inevitable, we have significantly increased the number of staff that stay with us over the last few years.

DAA is the right school for those who value an American education taught in a truly international environment, where students are supported by a full extra-curricular programme. The culture of the school is warm and inviting, and our students are encouraged to be leaders, our parents are encouraged to be engaged, and our teachers are dedicated to their profession. While I am sure they are proud to be part of an ‘Outstanding’ school, we don’t focus on these external judgements. What is important is what goes on in school every day between students and teachers in the classroom.

Jumeirah Primary School

Christopher McDermott, Principal
JPS received its ‘Outstanding’ status in 2011. In order to retain this for subsequent years, we have done what we do best and that is to focus on the high quality of learning, educational progress and attainment and care for our students. We have not limited ourselves to only focusing on what the KDHA recommendations are – to do this would mean we are missing opportunities to improve in other areas. The biggest change that we have made is in our efforts to involve children and parents in deciding just what areas they would like us to change.

Applications to JPS continue to grow every year and part of that will be down to the inspection report. This is reflected in our waiting list, which also continues to grow each year, as we get more popular with the community. Some parents will only start looking at schools that have achieved an ‘Outstanding’ judgement.

The feedback we receive from our parents is very positive indeed. The vast majority of the staff have worked at the school for a number of years, staying on because they are happy in their jobs. The inclusive nature of the school and the great sense of community generated by the parents themselves are reasons to consider sending your child to JPS. Each school is unique and the most commented feature of JPS’s uniqueness is the friendliness and warmth that we meet as we come into school each and every working day.

GEMS Wellington International School

Keith Miller, Principal
GWIS first received its ‘Outstanding’ accreditation in 2009 and has maintained this status for three years. The teaching and learning are to an very high level and the school has outstanding leaders who ensure that all students learn how to be effective and independent learners. The ongoing partnership with parents is extremely important as it is providing a wide range of opportunities for children to take part in activities outside the classroom. We actively seek the views and opinions of parents and students, and have an ‘open door’ policy. Feedback from parents consistently shows that parents believe their child is very happy at school, is making progress and is fully prepared and supported at every stage of their development and education.

Since its opening, GWIS has always been an over subscribed school and we remain the first choice of many parents in Dubai. Our waiting lists are long and are constantly reviewed, and the school increased in size in 2011 to cater for this increased demand. We are generally happy with our staff retention record and we are constantly reviewing how we can make it better. We have talented teachers, kind and caring pastoral staff plus an effective administration support team.

GWIS has a fantastic ethos, which focuses on the development of the whole child both socially and academically, as this is our number one priority. It is an ‘Outstanding’ school in every respect and there has been a real sense of pride and celebration across our staff, parent and student body after the publication of every report over the last three years.

Jebel Ali Primary School

Jonathan Price, Head Teacher
JAPS first received its ‘Outstanding’ accreditation in March 2012. We attract children from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities through referral although we do have an extensive waiting list, particularly within our younger year groups. The feedback we receive from parents is extremely positive. We pride ourselves on trying to create an ‘open’ school that values input from the parent community.

We do not have a high turn-over of staff and we have been providing quality education in Dubai since 1977. Our accountant, Babu, has been at the school since 1983 and our longest serving teachers are coming up to 20 years at the school.

We concentrate on developing the whole child and place high regard on children taking part in music, drama and PE, and we have incredible facilities, often hosting large sporting events. We invest in quality education and keep up to date with advances in ICT, plus we have a diverse mix of 40 nationalities, which enhances the social aspect the children are exposed to.

Often the notion is that high fees equate to high standards, so you pay for what you get. As a not-for-profit school, we feel we provide an excellent learning journey to our community. We have the reputation of being like a ‘village’ school.

Our children are the reason we do what we do, and they obviously feel a sense of pride in being awarded the ‘Outstanding’ status. All the ingredients are right for success. As head teacher of JAPS my opinion is somewhat biased but I think our school has the ‘X Factor’.

Jumeirah English Speaking School, Jumeirah and Arabian Ranches campuses

Rob Stokoe, Director
JESS first received its ‘Outstanding’ accreditation during the first year of inspections five years ago. As a school, we have always been and always will be forward in our thinking. Our ambition is to be recognised as a school of excellence and at the forefront of world education.

JESS has been subject to huge over subscription over the past decade and we are struggling with a lack of places to meet the demand from families across Dubai. Any waiting list is too long, as every parent who is waiting for a school place to be confirmed knows, as they try to find the best education for their children.

As a community-focused school, JESS works in partnership with parents to ensure that we continually build a better future for our students. We annually monitor our staff retention records as part of our quality assurance. We value our staff very highly. Our mission is to provide great teachers for every classroom and when a teacher leaves we endeavour to seek out the best possible replacement.

JESS stands out above other schools because of our students, and they are as proud of the school as we are of them.

Get on the list!

Dubai’s education leaders offer their essential tips on finding the best school for your child.

Delice Scotto, Principal, American Academy in Al-Mizhar, says:
‘Parents should apply for their preferred schools as soon as possible, because good schools usually have limited space. The most important factors parents should consider are the school’s environment and mission statement, accreditation, teachers, and available support services. Only parents know what is a good fit for their children. Make sure the school is accredited or authorised by a credible external body, too.

‘Parents should also look at the quality of the teachers. Ask other parents with kids already at the school about teaching methods. Finally, find out about available support services for pupils, such as extracurricular activities and sports, learning support for students with special needs, and language support for non-English speakers.’

Roderick Crouch, Principal, Victoria International School of Sharjah, says:
‘Start applying the sooner the better, but make sure you visit the school – look in the classrooms, see the resources, watch how children play in the playground. All these things will tell you whether this is a great place for your child. Once you make a decision stick with it, unless your child is clearly unhappy or not learning. It is very disruptive to your child to keep moving schools.

‘I would always suggest that parents ask the following questions when they’re looking for the right school for their child:
• What is the curriculum and teaching approach? Great schools teach so that your child can learn to think, not just learn facts – avoid the ‘teach it, test it, forget it’ theory.

• Does the school know your child or is s/he just a number? Can your child genuinely say, ‘I am known and valued at this school’ or ‘I like being here’ or ‘I feel safe’, as there is an acceptance of individuality. Great schools have teachers who genuinely care about the students, to allow them to develop fully their potential.

• What are the opportunities available to your child. Great schools also provide opportunities that are open to the students, whether that be in the classroom or beyond

• Is there a focus on the whole child? Great schools are interested in helping you to raise your child to become a better person.

• How does the school communicate? Great schools understand that education is a partnership and so communicate well and often.

‘In the end there are only three questions you need answered as a parent: Is my child happy at school?; Is he safe?; Is he learning? If the answer is yes to all three, then you are in the right place!’

Dawn Rennie, admissions officer, Dubai British School, says:
Here at Dubai British School, we do have a large waiting list as the school is really popular. However, we aim to be transparent and clear with regard to our admissions policy and waiting list, thus enabling prospective parents to be in a position to make an informed decision from the initial enquiry stage.

We welcome parents to tour the school facilities before making their application, and advise parents to do this. There are many points to consider before selecting a school – curriculum, location, and cost, along with your child’s individual educational needs and their final higher education destination.

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