Merryland International School, Shabiya 9, Musaffah
• Outstanding, inspirational school leadership
• Elite, ADEC High Performing, Band A2 “Very Good” school with significant “Outstanding” features
• Outstanding, thoughtful, interesting and innovative facilities
• Strong ECA programme – exceptionally structured
• Strong hint of an alumni network (although no clarity in its development)
• Clarity that some children, in some examinations, achieve exceptionally
• Outstanding capacity to improve and develop
• Lack of SEN policy or determined provision
• Complete deficit in outside sporting facilities
• Lack of advertised bursary or sponsorship provision
• Restricted curriculum compared with sector best
• Muddled, unstructured information and communication with parents making benchmarking provision difficult
Updated November 2016
““At Merryland, we celebrate the wedding of traditional forms of education with white hot technology. But we do this bearing in mind the universal truth that the ultimate aim of education is to form men and women of character who shun evil and fear God. We stand by Victor Hugo in this regard: “When we open a school, we close a prison.” Susheela George. Founder. Merryland International School.
It is difficult not to be inspired by the founder of Merryland. It’s not a strange place to start a story, because if a school is founded, as is the case here, by an owner driven entirely by a care for children and their future, there is simply no better possible beginning. It guarantees that any school will always have first call on investment, particularly when, as here, the school is so closely associated with Ms Susheela George, that it takes on the role of a life’s work, and the pivot upon which a philosophy depends for its life and integrity. ADEC noted in 2014 that the “the owners provide exceptionally generous funding.”
Tracing its roots back to Ms George’s micro villa kindergarten school in Shabia educating a handful of young children established in 1978, Merryland International School [MIS] could not, today, be more different, with a role of some 2700 students studying for an English National Curriculum backed through education to A’ Level between FS and Year 12, and the ages of 4 and 19.
The school shines with an ADEC High Performing Band A2 “Very Good School” with significant Outstanding features rating – only four schools in the Emirate score more highly of those inspected in 2016 – and only 11 share its stage.
It is certainly not a school that we expected, nor did we expect to find ourselves quite so genuinely impressed by. This is not, however, there are no weaknesses, there are – and some of which may be deal breakers for at least some parents.
Where to start. First, fees. In 2015-16 these ranged between 12,600 AED as FS Stages, through to 27,800AED in the graduating years. Merryland re-writes received wisdom that high fees are a pre-requisite of good schooling. As our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, notes: “Merryland International School remains the most affordable quality education available in Abu Dhabi.” These fees fall at the top-end of the affordable fee segment.
To give context to this, every single alternative school operating in this class charges fees for the youngest years ranging from between AED 40,000 to AED 55,000 and for senior years, AED 40,000 to AED 67,000. In real terms, Merryland is at least half the cost of alternative providers, and in younger phases almost four times less expensive.
Prospective parents should note, however, that these fees have now been very significantly increased for 2016-17 and now range between 22,000 AED on FS entry through to 38,400 AED in the graduating year. Even with this increase, however, they still undercut competing schools by up to half the relative fees.
There are compromises that come with this. These fall in the following areas:
- Sporting provision – the school does not, essentially, have any
- Scale – this is a very large school by any standards
- Special Educational Neds and Disability [SEND] – the school has no provision for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN)
- Subject choice – Merryland operates a restricted syllabus compared to best schools in its class. Currently only 13 IGCSEs are offered reducing to just 8 subjects at A’ Level.
- Limited market – the role is almost 70% comprised of children from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and its culture and curriculum focus are tailored accordingly. The school’s value proposition is then, likely to exclude European parents seeking a mainstream British education. Its owners, however, are clearly pitching this at a clear very demographic.
These, of course, are in no small part exactly what enables Merryland to maintain, relative to its quality of provision, such a relatively low level of fees. And in the round, for its market, this is actually a school which is not compromising on either teachers, facilities or, curriculum (note, this is different from subject choices). It must also be noted, that Asian parents are very focused on the Sciences and Business for their children – there is very limited, if any call, for the breadth of subject choice expected in mainstream British schools. Finally, teachers are predominantly drawn from the Indian sub-continent and this, together with the size of the role and resultant economies of scale, means the school is able to keep costs to a (relative) minimum.
Of all the compromises highlighted, we think it is telling, and frustrating, that in a school approaching a role of 3,000 there is not a single child identified with Special Educational Needs (SEN). Only one child is identified as performing less well than their peers in the whole school. The inference must be drawn that the school is highly selective if we are not to determine that it is failing to identify the most vulnerable children. For parents of children with Special Educational Needs, Merryland will not be appropriate.
With regards to examinations, it should also be noted that the first tranche of students sat for Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Levels for the first time only in 2013, and for full A Levels in 2014. The school, creditably, has published its full examination results for the first time in 2016. These can be found in our tables.
Current IGCSE provision includes English, Mathematics, ICT, Arabic (first and additional language), Biology, Chemistry, Physics, ICT, Business Studies, Urdu, Bengali and Economics. A Level provision is even more restrictive, but we are impressed that Merryland does offer English, unlike most Value “Indian” schools, although it is not a subject currently taken by the vast majority of students (only 1 in around 70 children sat for English A Level and around 9 students out of 110 sitting AS Levels), To some degree, as above, this is a cultural issue within Asian families to pursue subject choices related to careers in business or medicine. Given that this is a British school, and given the value of English globally, both in medicine and business, one would have expected higher uptake.
These qualifications should be weighted by prospective parents when looking at the broader, very positive picture below.
The school is outstandingly well resourced – and in an exceptionally interesting way. Facilities include a fully digital campus; digital classrooms; robotics labs; “Toy” labs; language Labs; Main School Library; weather station equipped to monitor weather and environment with data loggers designed specifically for recording environmental conditions; 3D television and controller-free gaming centres for full body play and exercise; operational ambulance and fire engine for role play activities; multiple outdoor and indoor activity and play areas with an extensive array of play equipment; separate water play and sand activity areas for FS phases; themed Snow White Story Corner with water and light features; themed landscaping; dedicated KG-Primary Train library; 8 multimedia computer labs; KG ICT labs; Science labs by phase and specialism; “Brain Gym”; full-dome Planetarium with aligned astronomy and aerospace centre; multiple Mathematics labs; language labs; air conditioned indoor play areas; landmark multi-purpose 2600 square metre auditorium with a seating capacity of 2000 and large -scale professional theatre facilities including 200 capacity staging; sheltered atrium (used for sports); (fabulous) kindergarten activity area including role play centres; and an organic farm.
Facilities are not always bells and whistles – but in terms of sheer imagination and diversity of offer, few schools match it and certainly none in the Indian school sector. In that context, Merryland was the first school in the UAE (and further afield) to invest in physical robots. It did so at a time when few other schools had even begun to tread water with Lego.
As above, the major compromise is outside space, although Merryhill responds to this weakness by pulling in resources from other schools each week to the point that it is at least arguable that this does not actually matter. As ADEC notes, the sch0ol also makes “very” effective use of its sheltered atrium to fill in the gaps.
One other very telling, and hugely impressive, indicator is the exceptionally low rate of teacher turnover, consistently running at under 5%. This is telling for so many reasons, but stand-out is the fair inference that faculty are genuinely looked after. Happy teachers, in the round, play a critical role in the making of most outstanding schools not least in guaranteeing continuity in children’s education.
If outside sports facilities are limited, this is not true internally. Sports facilities include a (large) indoor temperature controlled swimming pool and multipurpose facilities for basketball, volleyball, handball, badminton and table tennis.
ECAs are beautifully structured and named, including swimming club; a Beethoven music club; The Mace (a Chemistry club); The PI (a Mathematics club); “Thrift Planet” (a financial management club); the Merphy (its International Physics club); the Merriterati (a literary club); the Miew (an “Eco-Warrior” club); a Student Council; Merryland Cares (Philanthropy); and, extra support clubs including those concentrated on both Arabic and English (the latter paying dividends at IGCSE with 96% of children scoring an A*-C Grade – all 127 children sit for the examination)
The school itself operates from 4 buildings – all extremely well maintained and resourced; a mixed KG; boys’ section; girls’ section and an administration block.
ADEC inspectors (heap) praise in the following key areas:
- “Exemplary” students who are an absolute “credit” to the school
- Genuinely “state of the art” resources – a term that can be used here beyond its over-use in marketing and rhetoric
- “Visionary” school ownership, genuinely and deeply committed to the school and its students and “providing the moral, educational and financial support and direction for the school” above and beyond expectation
- Deeply committed and caring staff – “tirelessly” working to deliver at the highest level for the whole child
- Highly supportive and engaged parents
- “Very high attainment” of students in external examinations: “Overall, external examination results are well above average across all the iGCSE and AS/A level subjects. Individual students are regularly recognised as the best in the country, region and, on occasion, in the world.”
- Personal and whole child development is outstanding – and students are hugely innovative
- Outstanding curriculum
- Outstanding care of students
In terms of praise, ADEC inspectors could not be any more positive.
Coming to a view on Merryland is, however, complex. There is no doubt that this is an exceptional school in many ways– and that it delivers for its students a level of whole child provision that is pretty much unparalleled in this sector. For us, however, there remains a fundamental concern at the significant weaknesses in school communications which are muddled. Information is available, but finding it is very difficult. There is no clear structure at all online, making it very difficult for parents, and prospective parents to benchmark provision.
On the basis of its poor on-line communications, notwithstanding that much information is present, an average parent would see this school as third rate –a shame given that this perception is one clearly at odds with the reality.
We are also very concerned about the approach adopted to SEN, something that does not meet current guidelines for provision and at odds with the overall grading achieved by the school.
In itself, that means the school is letting itself down – and opening a fissure of doubt that all may not be what it seems. Communication is not an add on – it is fundamental. Schools also have a duty to be inclusive – and provide the resources for all children.
In other areas the school borders on outstanding judged on its own terms. There is certainly also no doubt about the conviction, integrity, selflessness and passionate commitment to the school of its founder owner.
This tension between key failures of SEN provision, limited subject choice and weakness in communication on the one hand – and impressive examination results, low fees, a happy school environment -and outstanding school leadership and facilities, make a final verdict extremely difficult. This is a school parents must visit to decide for themselves.
For some it may well be a lifeline to a very high quality of education – but it is certainly not one open to all children.
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Under review 2016-17
FS1: 22,000 (12,600 2015-16)
YEAR 1: 25,500
YEAR 2: 25,500
YEAR 3: 26,000
YEAR 4: 26,000
YEAR 5: 27,800
YEAR 6: 27,800
YEAR 7: 31,100
YEAR 8: 31,100
YEAR 9: 32,800
YEAR 10: 33,400
YEAR 11: 37,400
YEAR 12: 38,400 (27,800 2015-16)
YEAR 13: NA
National Curriculum for England
Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)
Trinity College London [Music]
Arabic (First language)
Arabic (Additional language)
(1) KG children undergo baseline assessment prior to joining the school. (2) Children in Years 1-12 (excluding Years 10 and 12) are admitted subject to the successful completion of the school’s own
tests in English and mathematics.
(3) Because no children are identified with SEN or G&T it is difficult to determine the degree of selection - and the school is not transparent on this.
Years 1 - 12: 1:15
Shabiya 9, Musaffah, Abu Dhabi
Pakistani (largest nationality)
Special Educational Needs (Sen): 0
Gifted and Talented: 1
English as an Additional Language: 100%
Muslim: circa 80%
Mixed, segregated beyond KG with individual blocks for girls and boys
Sherwood / Merryland International Group
Chairman & Founder: Susheela George
+971 (0) 2 551 9626