Aspen Heights British School, Al Bahya – The Review
December 2018 – Aspen Heights British School Abu Dhabi, exclusive SchoolsCompared.com first looks and opening of Years 7 – 8 from September 2019
“At Aspen Heights British School our children will make remarkable progress in all areas of learning.
We inspire learning that is relevant, meaningful and fun – enabling all our children to make progress that they can be proud of.
Through our actions and teaching we encourage children to be respectful and courteous, to be considerate of the feelings of others and to feel empowered and confident that they can make a positive difference to our global communities, now, and in the future.
All our children at Aspen Heights British School are encouraged to be kind and to think of others; to do their very best and feel proud; to work together and love learning – and, smile!”
Emma Shanahan. Founding Principal. Aspen Heights British School
Located in the Al Bahya area on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, close to Yas Island, Aspen Heights British School is a new, English National Curriculum school in phased launch of all through provision to IGCSE and A level. Currently the school is open to Year 6 and the focus is very much on Early Years and Primary education. The current buildings are Phase 1 and will provide provision to children between 4 and 12 years of age (from Foundation Stage to Year 8.) Admissions are now open for applications to Years 7 – 8, with these phases both opening in academic year 2019-20.
Aspen Heights British School aims to distinguish itself by the eco/environmental underpinning of its British curriculum delivery, this encouraging a powerful concentration on STEM subjects – but also the broader moral, economic and emotional case for sustainability and managing resources. It will be interesting to see how this evolves at later phases as they come on stream and we can see some interesting potential pathways with BTEC (not confirmed). To provide context, currently the best schools operating in this area (at a premium price) are to be found in Dubai with two schools currently built ground-up with an ecological focus – The Arbor School, reviewed here, and Fairgreen International, reviewed here.
These are early days, but we do like the focus on setting the school apart in this way and providing children at Aspen Heights British School with a particular cross curricular lens to pull subjects together. When we complete our first visit, it will be interesting to see how this theming is practically instituted in the Turtle Sanctuary (currently started with Aspen’s pet turtle “Taylor” in the Acacia Garden) and planned hydroponics initiatives amongst others. Already we are seeing this brought to life through visits from experts in a variety of related fields including marine biology.
More on the way Aspen Heights positions itself can be found below:Aspen-Heights-British-School-Brochure
The other, less publicised way the Aspenn Heights British School sets itself apart is in forging strong community links and building bridges between the school and its context. Many schools claim to do this, but we have seen many examples of how this is genuinely being delivered on the ground. This includes engagement with Grandparents to read to the children; book weeks and visiting writer presentations. School transparency is outstanding with genuine investment in high quality newsletters for parents which are obvious a labour of love and care.
Facilities and resources
Facilities are good, but not outstanding in breadth. To be fair, the school points out this is Phase 1 of the eventual build; Senior school provision will come later. As it stands, given the focus on Early Years learning the offer is one of good breadth and high quality. Facilities include science laboratories by specialism; gymnasium; cafeteria; IT rooms (supported by technology ranging from drones to tablet resources); Design & Technology areas; a main hall; dance studio; library; music rooms (resourced with keyboards, recorders and so on); food technology rooms; shaded outdoor play areas with numerous activities to explore and engage with; outdoor five-a-side/netball pitch and a plethora of eco-areas in development.
For parents, more evident will be a clear investment focus on the calibre of teachers, an inspiring curriculum and function rather than bells and whistles – do not expect swimming pools or grand architectural flourishes. The school does well with its relatively limited sports resources by innovating in areas like children’s yoga and running.
Former Principal of Aldar Academy’s ADEC outstanding Mushrif Primary School, reviewed here, and Deputy Head of ADEC Outstanding Al Muna School, Emma Shanahan brings with her 25 years experience from across a spectrum UK and Middle East schools (around 10 of which are drawn from her leadership roles in Abu Dhabi).
Ms Shanahan comes with a history of specific expertise in delivering successful schools (for children) from launch. A graduate of the University of Durham, Ms Shanahan achieved her NPQH (National Professional Headship Qualification) in 2013, and an MA(ed) (distinction) from Liverpool Hope University in 2016. Warm, passionate about the potential of Aspen Heights to deliver highly inclusive schooling and a conviction educationalist we, and our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, have received uniformly positive feedback from teachers and parents.
As above, communication is of a very high level. We would like to see even greater investment in social media, but this will come with maturity and time. We also would like to see detailed plans for eventual Senior School provision. Parents need to know sooner rather than later what sort of subject breadth and pathways are being explored and how eventual IGCSE and A Level provision are being strategically mapped to fit with the school’s ambitions and ecologically steered curriculum. A key test of the school will be subject choice and breadth of pathways – and in an inclusive school like Aspen Heights we would expect to see wide-ranging A Level and BTEC choices.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2018
We have visited the school’s owners, International Schools Partnership, and are confident in the skills and genuine commitment of the organisation driving the investment being made in schools across Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In many ways, the group is tacking arguably the most difficult sector of the market – how to deliver a high quality, fully inclusive education at a price that is affordable to the broadest array of parents as is possible. As above, compromises here are most obvious in facility provision. The benchmark in the sector is GEMS Founders schools which currently only operate in Dubai, review here. Fees at GEMS Founders are lower than Aspen Heights (and Dubai fees are generally up to around a third higher).
What we need to know to work out exactly how good the value proposition is at Aspen Heights, is the final shape of IGCSE, A Level and BTEC provision.
This come down to breadth of options and choice of pathways. To really deliver good value, we would expect significantly more choice than is available at Founders currently, particularly at this price point. More importantly, given its genuine academically inclusive values, Aspen Heights will need to offer choice and a mix of technical and academic pathways if it is to deliver for its children.
Until we know this, we cannot provide any more than a recommendation based on potential and capacity.
First inspection due 2019-20
YEAR 1: 35,000
YEAR 2: 45,000
YEAR 3: 45,000
YEAR 4: 45,000
YEAR 5: 45,000
YEAR 6: 45,000 (from September 2018)
YEAR 7: 45,000 (from September 2019
YEAR 8: 50,000 (from September 2019)
YEAR 9: TBA (from September 2020)
YEAR 10: TBA (from September 2021)
YEAR 11: TBA (from September 2022)
YEAR 12: TBA (from September 2023)
YEAR 13: TBA (from September 2024)
English National Curriculum
(2) IGCSE - Phased launch
(3) A Level - Phased launch
Fully academically and culturally inclusive
Capacity: 2,300 on full all-through opening
Class sizes capped at 25 students
Aspen Heights British School, Al Bahya, Abu Dhabi
International Schools Partnership
+971 (0)2 564 2229
+971 566 355 705
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