Nibras International School, The Green Community, Dubai Investments Park
• Turnaround in place
• Committed, talented leadership
• New owners
• Historic AP Subject provision (although levels of subject choice, student uptake and results are not published)
• Positive parental feedback at KG phases
• Limited facility provision, including swimming, is of a good standard (but is let down by substantial academic and broader educational delivery)
• New compulsory SAT testing on graduation
• Improving independent feedback to WSA and SC from parents and teachers
• American Education Reaches Out (AERO) - offering parents transparent means to understand school performance at every phase
• Lack of accreditation
• Transparency and insufficient information to benchmark school provision
• Consistently very high levels of staff turnover
• Inability to move beyond an “Acceptable” level of provision for nine years
Updated May 2017 – SchoolsCompared.com visit and KHDA Inspection 2017
Nibras is undergoing a school-wide transformation that is framed by an almost tangible level of excitement.
We are strongly focused and headed upward!!
In the 2017 KHDA report, Nibras was commended on several aspects of improvement. KHDA reported that there was an improvement in students’ behavior and attitudes Students’ personal and social development improved in the middle phase since the previous inspection. The school has been successful in helping the students to develop positive and responsible attitudes and academic progress is up in some areas.
In all phases students demonstrate an acceptable level of learning skills.
Dr. Katherine Bradley. Principal. Nibras International School. May 2017.
Founded in 2005, Al Nibras International School was the first to open in Dubai Investments Park (DIP). The school claims a capacity for 1,400 students and has published plans to increase this to a capacity of 2,400 students through the opening of new buildings. Current role is 756 students.
NIS is not a simple school to review. The following is an update to our review last year which we have included in full below. In summary, following our own inspection of and correspondence with the school, and in the light of the last 2017 KHDA inspection, our summary is that NIS is a significantly improving school under a clearly very committed and talented Principal, Dr. Katherine Bradley, but which still has someway to go to reach a standard of provision which we think is required for its children.
The school is focusing on improvements in the areas of leadership, curriculum and teaching faculty before bells and whistles – and this strategy, whilst in its infancy, is clearly working. Many positive developments have taken place since our last review, of which stand-out features are the following:
- Introduction of Advanced Placement where appropriate
- New school ownership, International Schools Partnership, UK, since February 2017, investing in the school and delivering turnaround plan
- Committed Principal driving through comprehensive changes across the school with a focus on curriculum, teaching faculty and leadership
- Adoption of American Education Reaches Out (AERO) Standards for 2017 -2018. These are in alignment with Common Core. Parents can download the complete resources for understanding what the school is expected to achieve at all phases without cost.
- Expansion of whole child offer including learning provision for an enhanced range of musical instruments and sport/athletics (at parental cost)
- Reduction in student numbers and increase in staffing to reduce teacher to student ratios from 1:16 to 1:12 and remove overcrowding
- Significant investment in external and internal assessment including TIMSS, PISA, MAP and Cat4.
- Significant investment in upgrading school ICT infrastructure including a wireless network to support a BYOD programme for all students
- Tightening of academic integrity with a new and strict policy governing the practice of retaking exams. Students will have only one opportunity for retake per subject exam and only if the student fails the original exam. The highest mark that can be attained on a retake is the baseline pass mark (60) regardless of mark achieved.
- Enhancing Professional Development, recruitment, calibre and facilities for teaching faculty
- Three-year planned and costed programme to secure Google School accreditation
- Overhauled Special Educational Needs and Disability provision from A to Z including a new Gifted and Talented programme
- Introduced compulsory SAT testing for all school leavers to provide globally accredited examination results to secure access for students to university and industry
- Structural and personnel changes across care, health and safety and general school maintenance.
There is insufficient space here to detail all of these, but the general point is that it is far more important for a school to focus on the essentials of school leadership and teaching before considerations of bells and whistles. NIS has recognised this head-on. This is what secures a good education for children.
Our visit to the school (April 2017) was at a stage when so many of these initiatives were in very early stages. Without doubt much has improved, but it is still too early to provide the recommendation for parents we know the school would like us to be able to provide. What must be said, however, is that, firstly, our previous review, which was highly critical, is being addressed; and second, this is a much happier, more productive and much better focused school in 2017. If, and it remains a big if, the new ambitions of the school are met in future years, a Good school or higher rating is not out of reach. Teachers, Principal – and NIS students, we think, have much to proud of in the progress they have made since our last review.
KGDA Inspectors in 2017 identify the following stand-out strengths of the school:
- The many achievements of children at KG phase
- Students’ personal development across all phases
- The school’s close and developing partnership with parents
- The high quality of care, guidance and support for students
- A solid, in places inspiring Elementary curriculum
- Good progress and value-added in Mathematics for children in Elementary and High School phases
- A culture of genuine care among students and teachers is emerging that is significantly reducing the behavioral issues of previous years
Weaknesses are identified in the following areas:
- Almost across the board the school is only just meeting KHDA “Acceptable” standards – this is below the “Good” standard of schooling expected of all schools in Dubai
- Arabic language provision is poor and significantly failing both Arabs and those studying Arabic as a second language. This is core weakness of the school.
- Failing school governance – although prospective parents should note that this was before the new owners, ISP, took over the school and embarked on a significant school improvement programme
- Very high levels of staff turnover – some 48%
- “Students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and those with gifts and talents are not well served due to the school’s inability to modify curriculum provision to meet their needs.”
- “Teaching staff having not received full training in child protection procedures. During the inspection, the leaders responded quickly to the need to use more robust safety practices for students by immediately prohibiting unrestricted entry of adults to the school. Evacuation procedures and record keeping are not robust.”
- Declining quality of academic provision at KG phases in English, Mathematics and Science
- School improvements in external assessments and their application are “not secure.”
- School facilities require significant investment.
It is worth quoting the KHDA on the latter:
“Overall, the availability of resources is insufficient to meet the demands of the curriculum. Resources for learning technologies are unavailable to students, limiting the extent of investigation and research that the World Wide Web offers. There is a single poorly-equipped science laboratory to serve the needs of over 700 students. This often means that students have few opportunities to learn independently through research and investigation.”
On this latter note, however, as just one example, we found clear evidence that the school is responding. As above, one key initiative has been the introduction of wi-fi across the campus and a roll-out of BYOD. At the time of our visit the swimming pool was subject to refurbishment and improvement. The lack of swimming has impacted children – but it is being addressed. This, and many other initiatives will just take time. Prospective parents should, we think, not see this school as a failing school, but as a currently weak school with clear and serious plans in place to improve the educational offer for children. They are very different things.
Again, prospective parents should arguably expect high levels of staff turnover when a school is seeking a radical transformation/improvement of provision and the calibre of teaching staff. What we need to see is this level of turnover now dropping and stabilising as new faculty find their voice, professional development makes its impact and the school beds in curriculum changes.
Across all these areas we noted the school responding. It is simply too early though to gauge the impact of their very creditable interventions to address these fundamental and serious weaknesses.
There are some easy wins that have not been addressed since our last visit which are frustrating, particularly in something as simple as the school’s web site which remains opaque and certainly lacking in inspiration and clarity. It is not that the school is not investing in newsletters, or indeed in celebrating children. There is a plethora of information if you look. It is just not tied together and there is a lack of meaningful clarification in key areas ranging from accreditation to subject choice. We would also advise the school their web site is not secure; we should not be able to access directory contents. This is just fundamental and needs to be addressed urgently.
Bottom line 2017
We really wanted to come out of our visit being able to recommend NIS. It is however too early. We are planning a new visit for later this year to give ISP and new faculty time to more transparently turn things around. This is a better school than is suggested by our historic review below. There is much to be optimistic about. But there is not enough yet for us to be able to recommend this school – and that carries no small amount of regret given the clear ambition of school leadership and the many positive improvements that have been achieved.
2015-17 schoolscompared review – historic reference
Al Nibras International School has a role of 977 students and it is worth noting that issues of overcrowding were reported in 2014-15 by the KHDA’s inspection team.
Facilities at the school include communal and outside play areas; a garden centre; KG learning zone, playing field; heated outdoor KG swimming pool; Indoor pool (Nibras claims “the most comprehensive swimming development program in the United Arab Emirates”); gymnasium; tennis court, science labs by specialism; and technology labs (supported by a BYOD programme).
Published ECAs include swimming, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, dance, mini basketball, aqua ballet, mini football, street jazz dance; and Zumba fitness.
These are the basic facts about the school – and more detail can be found below in our tables. However, in this case, our review must be concerned much more with matters of substance with regards to how the school functions on the ground.
Al Nibras International School has been operating at an Acceptable level of provision for all of its eight years of operation. The school, however, has significant areas of provision that are identified by the KHDA as “Weak” and prospective parents should be aware that this level of provision means that the school is not meeting even the minimum level of educational provision to ensure that its children are being educated securely.
By way of background, prospective parents should understand that the Dubai Inspectorate of schools now grades schools on a six-point scale running from “Very Weak” (which defines schools operating in special measures and at significant risk of closure) through “Weak” (schools operating at unacceptable levels of provision), “Acceptable” (defining schools that are merely functional), “Good”, “Very Good” and “Outstanding.” The minimum expected standard for schools is to be operating at a “Good” level of provision.
To understand what is happening at the school, parents should be advised of the following core failings:
The school is not accredited and whilst it claims to deliver a US education meeting the standards of the US State of Colorado, the reality is that it does not provide alignment with the state curriculum, has insufficient resources to meet its demands, does not provide the required subject options for children, and its High School Diploma is internally rather than independently awarded.
There are serious questions to be raised when schools award Diplomas without the backing of accreditation because they lack the basic meaningfulness necessary for both employers and universities to be credible – and provide students with a qualification essentially lacking both value and meaning. Our explanation of the High School Diploma can be found here.
Ongoing independent feedback to WhichSchoolAdvisor.com from both parents and teachers is poor. This has almost entirely reflected very high levels of consistently high staff turnover and significant teacher dissatisfaction and lack of morale. Students depend on consistency of teachers.
Prospective parents should note that a school’s buildings are actually of very limited value in gauging owner investment. It is the salaries of teachers and a school’s investment in its faculty, that make up the most significant chunk of a school’s annual costs.
Whilst the school is laudably inclusive (and has been since launch), the school is not providing even the basic level of Special Educational Needs and Disability [SEND] provision necessary to be able to actually include SEN students. It has no specialist provision in basic numeracy and literacy and a lack of supporting SEND resources across all phases of the school. Currently over 8% of children at the school are internally identified with SEN.
Historically there are a number of recurring problems at the school which can be summarised as follows.
In 2014 teacher turnover reached 34% with KHDA identification of unqualified teaching staff; the appointment of an acting/interim school Principal; overcrowding in classrooms; declining standards of leadership, management, staffing, resources and governance; teacher absences without cover; limited responsiveness to KHDA concerns; Governors owners not properly resourcing the school; and staff cutbacks in critical investment in staff able to improve the school
In 2013 the Dubai schools inspectorate identified “very high” teacher turnover; teachers being excluded from governance; and a school owner recognising weaknesses in provision and committed outstanding school status, a key finding given the consistent failure of the school to move beyond Acceptable school status historically and to date.
In 2010 staff turnover approached 50% resulting in children not knowing with any certainty who was going to be teaching them at any given point; unsatisfactory governance and lacking/incomplete or unopened facilities
In 2009 after its first inspection the KHDA identified failings in the defined role of owners, management and leaders and significant weaknesses in both the curriculum and assessment.
Together these support finding fundamental consistent failings that have not been addressed and raise serious concerns about the school’s ability or resolve to improve.
We also have other concerns that have not been reflected elsewhere in school transparency. Currently the school provides an unacceptable low level of communication with prospective and current parents. There is no publication of a curriculum, subject options for children, results, staffing or meaningful planning. There is no obvious accountability to parents and no viable meaningful way to benchmark school provision. Information that is provided is essentially incomplete or leads to information that has no meaning.
Where we have received information of positives at the school, including the provision of Advanced Placement courses to balance the lack of accreditation, it is not clear what courses are still offered, in what subjects, the percentage of students sitting for AP courses or their results. We should, for completeness, state that we have had some positive feedback too from parents about the quality of KG provision under the leadership of Hannah Sung – and these are supported in some limited fashion by the KHDA.
There remain however, serious issues in school resourcing across all phases. We would not expect any school in the Emirates to have identified by the KHDA serious issues with the health, safety, care and support for students.
These include a lack of efficient evacuation procedures and safety measures in the science labs that are not established. Other substantial infrastructure failings include weaknesses in basic Learning resources, including in the availability of basics like books; undeveloped Information Technology provision and weaknesses in basic medical facility provision. These infrastructure weaknesses are compounded by inflated internal assessment, limited adaptation of the curriculum for children identified with SEND, ongoing weak governance and a lack of investment in the school to build the required capacity for school improvement.
As it stands, Al Nibras is a very long way from being a school able to meet the legitimate expectations of parents in Dubai and the minimum standards expected by the KHDA for any school operating effectively for its children in the Emirate.
It is only a very limited number of schools in the Emirates that have proven themselves unable, or unwilling, to respond to very in-depth and helpful KHDA feedback and Al Nibras falls squarely over an eight-year period within this category of schools.
By way of balance, we should report the appointment of a new Principal for the school, Dr. Katherine Bradley, in 2016. Dr. Bradley brings with her a Bachelor degree in Health and Physical Education from Weslyan College, a Masters in educational supervision and administration and a Ph.D. in educational administration with specialism in the benefits of a single-sex education for both boys and girls. Dr. Bradley is described as a “a lifelong champion of women’s athletics at the high school and college level.” She brings with her more than two decade’s teaching experience, latterly as Principal of the Institute of Applied Technology in Abu Dhabi.
Dr. Bradley promises “many positive changes this year that will help to transform Nibras,” “to take it to greater heights,” “exciting growth of Nibras” and to engage with parents in “the direction [Nibras] is headed.”
The biggest challenge in Dr. Bradley’s first role outside the US is likely to be addressing the school’s historical failure to retain staff and to build the capacity of the school to deliver a good standard of education for its children – both requiring substantial financial investment from the owners.
It is also worth addressing the issue of fees. Whilst Al Nibras operates at the lower level of our mid-tier fee structure, there are many schools operating at or below this level very significantly exceeding its quality of provision.
In many ways, Al Nibras presents a confused picture because it has surface features, including a modern contemporary build and, for example, good swimming facilities, that mask what is substantially important to parents and children – namely basic expected standards of academic and broader educational provision. Bells, whistles and shiny facilities do not make a school.
Time will tell whether Dr. Bradley is given the resources she will need to make the difference the school, its parents, teachers – and most importantly its children, require urgently. We wish her every success…
Note: Other school options for parents set on an education within the Green Community or Dubai Investments Park include Greenfield Community School (reviewed here), The International School of Choueifat (reviewed here), The Children’s Garden (reviewed here) and Dovecote Green Primary School (reviewed here).
FS1: 21,840 (22,364)
FS2: 21,840 (22,354)
YEAR 1: 24,377 (24,962)
YEAR 2: 24,377 (24,962)
YEAR 3: 24,377 (24,962)
YEAR 4: 30,388 (31,117)
YEAR 5: 30,388 (31,117)
YEAR 6: 30,388 (31,117)
YEAR 7: 36,733 (37,615)
YEAR 8: 36,733 (37,615)
YEAR 9: 36,733 (37,615)
YEAR 10: 43,412 (44,454)
YEAR 11: 43,412 (44,454)
YEAR 12: 43,412 (44,454)
YEAR 13: NA
( )=2017-18 fees
United States / High School Diploma
(1) Colorado State Board of Education
(2) Not accredited (NEASC candidacy status only)
(3) Curriculum does not meet requirements of the State of Colorado
(4) Insufficient subject options at High School phase
(5) Insufficient school resources
(6) American Education Reaches Out (AERO)
(1) High School Diploma internally awarded ONLY
(1) Significant on-going weaknesses in the teaching of SEND despite its inclusive school status
(2) No provision for specialist numeracy and literacy
(1) Inflated internal assessment data
1:12 (down from 1:16)
48% (up from 31%)
The Green Community, Dubai Investments Parks, Dubai
Arab (largest nationality)
International Schools Partnership
+971 (0)4 885 3330 ext 17