The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys, Al Khalidiya – The Review
January 2019 – The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys exclusive SchoolsCompared.Com first review
“Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys is fast becoming the ‘go to’ all boys school in Abu Dhabi.
With a rigorously delivered and accredited American curriculum, a strong emphasis on Arabic subjects and a particular focus on developing students’ appreciation and understanding of their faith, culture and heritage, our school creates a unique and compelling educational environment for our young people as they develop within the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys.
State of the art facilities and high quality digital and innovative teaching methodologies contribute to making The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys one of the most forward thinking and academically rich schools in the UAE.
The motto of our school; “Honoring the Past, Educating for the Future” is evident in every aspect of school life and all our students are inspired and educated to build on the breadth of academic, technical and deeper character skills and qualities necessary to prepare them for taking leadership roles across every part of society, from the Arts and Business, to Science, Technology and Government, that we anticipate will follow from their graduating our school and Higher Education.”
John Conway. Founding Principal. The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys.
Modeled on the highly respected Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Girls, reviewed here, The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys is a premium, high-prestige, fully inclusive US curriculum school in phased launch to all-through provision for children between the ages of 4 years and 18 years of age. The school, as of 2019, is rated Very Good with outstanding features by ADEC, the Abu Dhabi Inspectorate of Schools.
The school offers an education for boys and girls from KG1 – Grade 3, and boys only from Grade 4 to Grade 12. Sheikh Zayed Academy for Boys is currently in its fourth year of operation (as of 2011) and open to Grade 11 with subsequent Grade 12 in phased opening as children move through the school.
Impressively, the school has confirmed that it offers Advanced Placement pathways for children in its Sixth Form – more on why this is important for parents and children below. The school is wholly owned and (very significantly resourced) by Al Ain Holdings, through its specialist Al Ain Educational group, but run on a day-to-day basis by GEMS Education with a remit that includes investing in the very highest calibre of teaching faculty, drawn largely from Britain and the US.
The school is located at the edges of Al Khalidiya.
Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys was described as both “distinguished” and “an Exemplar School” in its MI Inspection 2017-18.
Facilities and resources
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys is extremely well resourced by its owners, who also provide the vision for the school which GEMS are entrusted to bring to life.
The aim is to provide an education at the very highest level drawing on the best features of a Western Education – but one too that inspires in children a deep understanding and recognition of local context and the impacts of Arabic culture on the modern world.
Facilities and resources are all designed to build on this fundamental East meets West values approach. The ultimate trajectory is to give students the highest level of academic, whole child and holistic education – and one designed ground up to give students all the founding skills they will require to become future leaders.
Facilities include a contemporary school architectural exterior design with integral and thoughtful Arabic design flourishes including intricate paneling; wall murals and integrated play and breakout space built into the walls; a school reception themed on the countries of the world; a physical pyramid (at the rear of the huge atrium) representing the four pillars of the school’s values (The Future; The World; Heritage; and Culture); a Lego Robotics lab; iPad integration; integrated AV system throughout the school, including classrooms for disseminating information; an indoor 25m pool; a well resourced indoor and outdoor sports areas; 550 seat theatre; numerous Art rooms; Green Screen area; a dedicated Secondary Library (in phased launch); five Science Labs (and two further Prep Rooms); two school clinics; KG and Grade 1 Balcony Areas with sand and water play areas; and lift for accessibility.
We noted Arabic books in a dedicated area within both the libraries but we would like to see greater investment here and sourcing (and integration) of books that have been translated from English to Arabic or vice versa.
Many classrooms include what has become something of a trademark red sofa. We liked it a lot. This is just one example of the thoughtfulness that has clearly been invested in giving the school purpose and identity. The sofa’s give classrooms a natural breakout area for assistant teachers as well as a place for children to separate in group discussion.
In Early Years learning there is a clear sense of children needing to buckle down to learn the basics – the curriculum is challenging. There is less creative teaching than you would find in the best performing US or UK schools at these ages – but that is simply because a creative curriculum led more by children needs to have the groundwork in place for the children to be able to innovate effectively.
The many soft edges to the school balance the disciplined learning that we saw evident on our visit. We would expect to see as children reach higher grades a more creative, inspiring and child-led approach to teaching with more obvious independent learning.
For parents the test will be two-fold; academic results, of course, but as importantly holistic child development. There is much discussion in the UK at the moment about why schools have become so focused on academic league tables rather than added value and child development ; top schools, like Eton College, in distinction, make no mention of academic results in their ambitions for children, but, instead, focus exclusively on the holistic character building and development than an Eton education brings with it.
In this area we did find a rare aspect of school provision that is not, in our view, where it should be. Some information for parents is available on-line, with some interesting videos from teachers explaining how the curriculum is structure for each phase. These are, however, hard to find – within Google Directories. The same critique holds for social media.
It is early days, but more or better sign posted information needs to be provided about the curriculum in particular.
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys offers a US curriculum, but one taught using methodologies drawn from the best of both the US and British systems. Stand out for us is that students will graduate with the High School Diploma and have the option to study for Advanced Placement.
We have written widely about the importance of American curriculum schools offering Advanced Placement pathways for students at 16 years. It is a credit to the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys that AP is integrated within Sixth Form provision to ensure that all students have the opportunity to graduate with an internationally recognised pre-qualification to the world’s top universities.
Note: Our American Curriculum Guide can be found here.
The Curriculum uses the American Common Core of Massachusetts with a British teaching approach. The core subjects are taught in English (70%) with Arabic language being preferred for Arabic Social Studies and Islamic Studies (30%). This can extend to a Koran Project and for many of the boys the element of Military Service which is a requirement within the UAE. This is often covered in the PE sessions and is considered to be an essential part of the aims of the school to promote Leadership.
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys cohort is made up of 93% Emirati students with mixed boys and girls to Grade 3. Thereafter it is exclusively boys. Currently there are 1,047 existing students to Grade 9 with a capacity of 1,400 when the school is full. Class sizes are capped at 25 with additional Teaching Support staff in classes to Grade 5.
SEN provision is strong and there are eight Learning Support staff with two additional counsellors. A good sized, light open area has been thoughtfully created from a corridor area which is for one to one support and this was in evidence during our SchoolsCompared.com first visit to the school. From our visit it was also evident that this breakout space is very well used and enjoyed by the children. SEN provision is integrated into the classrooms where possible and shadow teachers are employed when required to benefit children.
MAPS tests are conducted each term for all students from Grade 1 onwards and these results are shared transparently with parents. There is a commitment to rewarding progress and not just attainment. Progress charts for each class are prominently displayed on the wall and every child has their progress clearly charted. We have written at length about added value – what surely matters is the ability of a school to ensure that its children meet, or exceed, their predicted attainment based on their starting point at the school.
Children from Grade 3 are issued an iPad which they purchase from the school so that appropriate content can be loaded and monitored. With this in place, technology becomes cross-curricular and integral to classroom teaching at the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys, rather than being isolated only in specific technology classrooms and subjects.
John Conway, Founding Principal, comes to Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys from a position of Headteacher at the UK OFSTED rated Outstanding La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls’ School in Lambeth, London. Grammar School educated and a chemist by training, Mr Conway is a graduate of Kings’ College, University of London. Professionally Mr Conway is also a UK trained School Improvement Advisor with direct working experience from Lambeth Local Authority and was one of two Education Strategy Consultants working for the City of London. Mr Conway is also a rained OFSTED Inspector of schools. Mr Conway has three children, one of whom attends The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys.
We found Mr Conway to be an extremely driven and focused Principal, deeply passionate about building the best school in the emirates for the children entrusted to his care. He is conviction-led and is particularly passionate about ensuring that Emirati children are given a world class education that competes at a level with any school in the world. On our visit we noted that children interacted with him warmly; Mr Conway is clearly not a hands-off Principal spending his time hidden in an office. We think very often you can learn as much about a school from the way children relate to its leadership as you can from any number of marketing materials. Highly qualified, and clearly ambitious for the school, it is striking, and telling, that ADECs glowing report on the school singled out the quality of his leadership as a driving force in developing such an extraordinarily good school in such a short space of time.
With fees running approximately in a range between AED 50,800 and 70,000+ in Year 12, the Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys operates firmly within the premium fees sector (parents should note that Abu Dhabi fees are lower than those of equivalent schools in Dubai). Fees will be out of reach of many families, but we do not question the value on offer here. This is a school that wherever you look you can see investment.
We do think the school should be offering scholarships and bursaries to broaden access. The benefits to all children of a school genuinely investing in scholarships, in terms of the calibre of children they can attract to a school, is well established. We hope this will be considered as the school evolves.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com 2019 view.
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys achieved a Band A rating from ADEC after its second term of opening – a considerable, and rare, achievement. On our visit we left the school genuinely very impressed.
It is early days, but we think there is something special here in the making. Could this be a blueprint of a future Eton for Emiratis? Perhaps. But there is still much to be done.
If the school wants to meet its ambitions it will need to invest further in teachers, building industry links and genuinely all the things that differentiate good schools from those that set benchmarks for others.
In these early days expectations must be managed, but the clear ambition of the school’s Founding Principal in what the school will eventually achieve for its children leaves you convinced that the extraordinary is both in reach and certainly to come as the school builds on its values in the years to come. The school owners, teaching staff – and above all children, have much to be proud of.
The Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys has been shortlisted for the Best Arabic Blended Curriculum School in the UAE 2019 at the SchoolsCompared.com annual education awards to be held on March 7th 2019.
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Very Good with Outstanding features
Band A, Good School with Very Good Features
(1) GEMS managed
YEAR 1: 55,900
YEAR 2: 55,900
YEAR 3: 55,900
YEAR 4: 55,900
YEAR 5: 55,900
YEAR 6: 61,700
YEAR 7: 61,700
YEAR 8: 61,700
YEAR 9: 61,700
YEAR 10: 67,900
YEAR 11: TBC
YEAR 12: TBC
YEAR 13: TBC
(1) Massachusetts State Standards
(2) Common Core
(3) British teaching approach
(1) Working to obtain full certification from the Council of International Schools (CIS) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Fully academically and SEND inclusive
(1) School in phased launch
(1) Current role: 1047 students to Grade 9
Class sizes capped at 25 students
(1) All teachers must hold, as a minimum, a Bachelor's degree in the teaching subject and have 4 years' post qualification experience. All teachers must have a Western Education.
(2) For extraordinarily gifted and outstanding candidates the school will consider applications from Newly Qualified Teachers
19% (below average and low for a school in phased launch)
Al Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi
Emirati (largest nationality)
(1) 23 nationalities enrolled
(2) 2% U.K. and North American students
(3) 93% Emirati
Single Sex from Grade 4 (Boys)
Al Ain Educational, Al Ain Holding, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairman
(1) Manged by GEMS Education
+971 (0) 2 203 33 33
(1) 90% at KG phases)
• Advanced Placement
• Commitment to Emirati children
• ADEC High Performing School status – rated a Good School with Very Good features
• Progress of children from low starting points
• Investment in high calibre teachers - the single biggest cost of any school
• Academic and SEND inclusiveness
• School architecture and design
• Capacity to deliver outstanding schooling
• An all-boy education will not appeal to all parents
• Independent learning and creativity features less prominently at earlier phases
• No advertised sponsorship provision or bursaries - surprising from a school given its values
• School still working through phased launch
• Academic and holistic methodology as yet unproven given the age of the school