The Arbor School, Al Furjan – The Review 2021
Updated 1st February 2021 – The Arbor School Dubai exclusive review, visit and SchoolsCompared.com verdict for parents in 2021
Arbor School is an exciting, dynamic and forward thinking school that prepares young people for a rapidly changing world, nurturing a core belief in ecological awareness, responsibility and the importance of sustainability.
Our educational vision reflects this core mission – not just through alternative approaches such as project based and experiential learning, but also from lesson to lesson and task to task, concentrating upon providing children with opportunities to plan, collaborate, reflect and make meaningful changes to the world around them.
In support of this, we give our children top class facilities, including bespoke biodomes, as key learning spaces to engage children in a deeper understanding of their environment.
Arbor is an inclusive school, creating a happy and safe environment in which students of all abilities thrive.
We believe in high academic expectations, but also believe that students should be encouraged to fulfil their potential, whatever that may be.
The Arbor School prepares young people for a rapidly changing world.”
Brett Girven, Principal, The Arbor School, Dubai
“Human activities are seriously impacting global climate, threatening not only ecosystems, but also economies around the world, leading to an increase of hardship in societies on every continent and on generations to come.
A contemporary ethic based on compassion and responsibility towards both the human and non-human world is needed now more than ever.
Whether or not our students go on to careers or higher education in Environmental Science, it is this higher ethical sense that we aim to instil in all of our students, in the hope that they will form a vanguard generation that can begin to reverse the harmful trajectories we see unfolding around us.”
Dr. Sa’ad Al-Omari, CEO, Praxis Education
The Arbor School, Dubai, offers a Tier 1, premium British, English National Curriculum based education. The school, set in fabulous grounds across a large 7.5 acre site, opened in September 2018 as the educational hub of the Al Furjan community. Year 8 opened in September this year (2020) and full secondary education between Years 9 to 13 will follow. Current roll (September 2020) is around 500 students.
The Arbor School is within easy reach of both the Sheikh Zayed Road and Mohammed Bin Zayed Road. The school also attracts families in the Green Community (just a six-minute journey), Dubai Marina and the Palm and much more broadly from across Dubai, parents drawn by its British school dynamics and unique educational model for children.
The Arbor School is one of two new specialist schools established in Dubai that have aligned their teaching and curriculum around themes related to the environment including sustainability, ecology and the technologies underlying each. Our review of the alternative Fairgreen International School, can be found here. The schools fundamentally differ in their offering alternative International Baccalaureate (Fairgreen International) and British English National Curriculum (Arbor) curricular.
If there is a single message we have taken from Arbor School Founders and Principal it is that children achieve their best when a core British Education is taught within an inclusive, supportive, compassionate and ethical (in this case environmental/sustainability) framework to provide learning with context, integrity and values.
Mr. Brett Girven joins the Arbor School with more than a decade’s consultancy and leadership experience in Middle East education and considerable expertise drawn from his research background in Environmental Science and Zoology.
A scientist by training, Mr Girven completed his Bachelor’s degree in Science in his native New Zealand, majoring in Zoology. Postgraduate study in Environmental Science preceded his formal teaching qualification from Dunedin and later study with Manchester Metropolitan and UCL in Educational Leadership and Headship respectively.
Early teaching expertise focused on Science and Biology, this leading eventually to his move to the Middle East to work for GEMS Education in Abu Dhabi as Science Curriculum Network Leader managing the delivery of school improvement programmes in Science for 18 schools across the GEMS network. This was followed by a move with GEMS Education to Riyadh where Mr. Girven managed school leadership consultancy for Kingdom Schools before formally taking on the role of School Principal between 2012 and 2016.
Mr Girven returned to the UAE for a one-year post with Al Dhafra International School in Al Ain as the Head of Secondary School before taking up the post of Deputy Principal at the KHDA Outstanding Kings’ School Al Barsha between 2017 and 2019. “Mr. Girven played a critical role in moving the school to attain an Outstanding rating from the KHDA, moving from ‘Good’ to ‘Outstanding’ during his tenure.”
Mr. Girven lives in Dubai with his wife and three children. A keen sportsman, Mr Girven finds time to coach in rugby and compete in triathlons – as well as pursing interests in movies, animal welfare, developments in Environmental Science and educational leadership.
Curriculum – academic and technical stream, ECA provision and Sport
Arbor have confirmed a significant breadth of subject provision at GCSE across 13 core areas and 25 subjects. These will in the most part extend to A Level advanced study in combination with BTEC options in technical stream subjects including Business and Technology:
|English Literature and English Language|
|Mathematics and Further Mathematics|
|Sciences – Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Combined Science|
|Business, Economics and Accounting|
|Computing and Computer Science (ICT)|
|Physical Education – as required|
|A range of MFLs dependent on need, but likely starting with French|
|Design Technology including Graphic design, Resistant Materials and Food Technology|
|Expressive Arts including Art, Drama and Music|
A new (and highly experienced) Head of Art is spearheading the development of the Arbor School’s creative spaces, including its Eco-Maker Space. The aim is that Art will be matrixed with other subjects to both bring them to life and drive child interest and skills in Art itself.
Arbor’s new post of Environmental Education Advisor will oversee Environmental Studies for all students.
Sporting provision at the Arbor School extends to planned membership of the Development League and current memberships of both DASSA, and BSME. Sports include Swimming, Gymnastics, Basketball, Netball, Football and Tennis with development ongoing in touch rugby, sailing and winter sports ( including skiing).
ECA and extended curriculum options are Tier 1 and extensive. They include:
- LEGO Robotics
- Hip Hop
- Martial Arts
- No Bake Cooking
- 3D printing
- Sketching Club
- Learn Makaton
- Observational drawing
- Fizzy Fingers (a chance to practice and improve your fine motor skills)
- Magic Science
- Humanities Book Club
- Musical Theatre
- Animal Art (creating art based on all the wonderful animals on this Earth)
- Percussion ensemble
- Arabic games
- Mad Scientist
- Core European Languages
- Arts and Crafts
- Drama and Role Play
- Quran Recitation and stories; and
- Nature Made and Eco-crafts (Arts and Crafts programmes creating art from natural materials)
- Literal Festival Reading and Writing (Student engagement in reading and writing competitions geared towards the Dubai Literacy Festival)
The views of parents at the Arbor School
A School is about teachers and a Principal who care enough about your child to put human connections and interpersonal relationships at the very core of what they do.
We chose Arbor for so many reasons. But the main reason is the individualized attention – and genuine care – which we knew our son would receive. This care is academic, emotional and, in terms of the physical infrastructure, right across the care for students provided by the school. ).
We were proved right and, in just one year, my son, who is 9 years old now, has blossomed into the confident, sporty and intelligent boy we knew he always has had the potential to be.
We are proud Arborists and so excited about the plans the Arbor School has for children as it develops.
The owners are visionary, passionate and principled and all the teachers who teach my son are dedicated to giving the children an outstanding education. ”
Parent. The Arbor School, Dubai, November 2019.
“Our class teacher is very positive, approachable and nurturing – my son is happy in school, speaks very fondly of his teacher and has made friends.
He really enjoys sport and has a good relationship with all of his specialist teachers.
In terms of his progress across the curriculum, he has shown an increased interest in phonics and numbers.
I am happy with his after school activities: he has found football and Tae-Kwan Do ECAs both fun and led by good coaches.
My son loves the outdoor garden and particularly visiting the tortoise.”
Parent. The Arbor School, Dubai, November 2019.
“The Arbor School has a great team of teachers focusing on individual development. The ecoliteracy values and curriculum at Arbor are so important for our future generations to survive and this aspect of the school is the most important to our family. The school environment is very welcoming, the staff are pleasant to speak to and there is lovely greenery all around the premises.”
Parent. The Arbor School, Dubai, November 2019.
“We had a very negative experience in my son’s previous school before we removed him to enrol him at Arbor. This previous school was considered to be one of the “top schools in Dubai.”
It certainly was not for us.
This proves just how misleading it is to solely look into KHDA reports or follow the reputation of the same school abroad before actually experiencing schools in Dubai first hand.”
Parent. The Arbor School, Dubai, November 2019.
Fees and the cost of an education at the Arbor School in Dubai
|YEAR||ADJUSTED YEARLY TUITION FEES – AED|
|Year 8 (From September 2020)||63,750|
|Year 9 – Year 11 (Phased launch)||–|
|Year 12 – Year 13 Sixth Form (Phased launch)||–|
Arbor School facilities and infrastructure
Facilities include climate controlled atria; learning gardens; specialized science laboratories; art rooms; auditorium and associated black box theatre; libraries by phase; canteen; and, six biodomes, in which students interact with soils, flora and fauna as “a fundamental part of their educational experience”.
Sports facilities include a football pitch; multi-purpose hall for indoor sports; a variety of outdoor courts and a specially designed swimming pool. Architectural design briefs clearly show the three tier main school structures.
The Arbor School was the first in Dubai to include within its supporting curriculum an ethical focus around ecological education including sustainability. The Arbor School’s multiple integrated biodomes represent the single biggest educational investment of its kind in the Emirates.
A complete list of facilities follow:
- 81 classrooms
- School Building size: 20,000m2
- 6 Climate-controlled biodomes (3 large, 3 small). 2020 is seeing major new changes coming on stream including the introduction of more animals to enable students to study, at first hand, detailed aspects of biology, zoology, and environmental studies.
- Ecological Bio Farm
- Internal atrium
- Learning gardens
- 340 capacity Auditorium
- Black Box Theatre
- Dining Hall
- Specialised Science Laboratory
- Food Technology Laboratory
- “Cabinet of Curiosities” room/centre
- Two swimming pools
- Multi-purpose hall and gymnasium
- Outdoor and indoor play areas
- Multiple sports courts
- Full-sized, football pitch
- The EcoActive half term camp is run onsite at Arbor in partnership with Green Planet.
In 2020, The Arbor School launched The Farmhouse at the Arbor School, a school restaurant/cafeteria which links the wellbeing of students and the direct farm-to-table experience. The venue provides organic, low carbon footprint lunches and snacks and the very high quality of food is created in a sustainable kitchen. The aim is to “more closely aligning our food operations with Arbor’s core pillars of ecoliteracy, sustainability and environmental justice” and showcase for students the direct “farm-to-fork” model use of school-grown produce from its biodomes in the provision of food to students.
The approach is complemented by the careful sourcing (where possible) of seasonal ingredients from local and sustainable suppliers.
The Farmhouse at the Arbor School is spearheaded by accomplished cook, baker and restaurant operator Chef Anna Maria Herreras and offers fresh, healthy (and delicious) meal plans to students whether they are vegan, vegetarian or “no veggies at all” (!) from FS1 through Year 8.
There are many other features of the school of the school to be found by exploring, including a hidden “Snug” at the top of the Climbing Wall (photograph above) which children use for reading. Together, the picture is of an extraordinarily well thought out school designed to inspire in children a deep seated love of learning – and a happy, nurturing education.
The Arbor School is fully academically, culturally and SEND inclusive. Inclusion is important to the school’s founder, Abdullah Al Sharhan, best known for his founding of the inclusive Australian College of Kuwait. The College was established in large part to meet the higher education needs of students whom he perceived as being failed by the Kuwaiti education system and offers the spectrum of academic and broader technical educational, the latter including a range of courses across engineering and aerospace.
Mr Al Sharhan wanted to provide all students “a second chance” to secure a College education, and one aligned with the technical demands of industry, particularly in the face of ever higher demands for grades for entrance into existing colleges and universities.
“Often grades do not reflect capabilities. In fact, I was one of those students, as my grade was D or the equivalent. But I went to the United States, it took me five years to graduate, but I graduated. So what if I spent an extra year studying compared to 40 years working? And so I thought, I am sure many of these students have capabilities that have not been tapped.”
Abdullah Al Sharhan, Founder, the Arbor School, Dubai
Underlying this is a recognition that children develop at different speeds – and that no child should be left behind. It is hoped that this technical and vocational expertise will carry across to The Arbor School through BTEC and T Level qualifications as they come on stream.
The school is unique in its approach across a number of key areas:
- Project-based curriculum. A significant and meaningful project and place-based experiential learning approach powerfully supports the British English National Curriculum based core curriculum. The approach brings education to life for children and encourages investigation, creativity, compassion, a sense of justice and the broader academic and whole child character building that defines the best British School education. A minimum of eight hours per week is invested in cross curricular project work drawing on strands of thinking and ideas from the Arts, Social Science, the Sciences and Technology.
- Happy school environment for students. During our visits and in independent feedback from parents we have found the Arbor School and exceptionally happy one. The atmosphere is exceptionally positive and caring – and the ability of the school to inspire curiosity in children is stand-out. Problem solving and creative thinking is deeply embedded within the curriculum and a school environment that encourages and inspires children to be confident and develop. Ethical values and compassion are also stand-out features of the school.
- Science and Ecology. This permeates the entire curriculum, resources, books and activities for children. The Founders share a conviction that Science, and the broader curriculum, should be brought to life to secure academic knowledge in experiments and practice. Programmes have been established in a plethora of integrated field activities including trips to the deserts, mangroves swamps and heritage sites across the UAE, many inspired by the children’s own interests. The core British curriculum is delivered with a focus on all 17 of the United Nations sustainable development goals which provide a foundation for study across the Arts, Social Sciences, Mathematics and core Physics, Chemistry and Biology to bring these goals, and impacts to life for children. The Arbor School leverages the topic based cross-curricular approach of the International Baccalaureate in bringing subjects together to strengthen the core British curriculum. A good example is in the study of global chocolate production, this drawing on multiple issues across Economics, sustainability and compassion, marketing, legal and moral justice, technology, Geography, Biology, Chemistry, perception and taste.
- Architecture and Facility provision. The building design is GOLD rated in terms of sustainability. At the heart of the school is the UAE’s first climate and humidity controlled “biodome” in which food is grown – and consumed in the school canteen. The Arbor School is one of very few schools in the UAE actively working towards LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) – the most widely used, high-prestige green building rating system in the world.
- Inclusion. The inclusive focus stretches from Gifted and Talented children to those with identified needs, for example in Dyslexia. Investment in inclusion is significant with an in-house Educational Psychologist, in house Counsellor, an Arabic SEND team, in house speech and language therapy. In many schools one or all of these functions is outsourced with specialists attending school a set number of times each month, often at the cost of a weakened relationship with children. This is an area of provision in which the Arbor School excels.
- Child focus and care. Safety and care for children is a priority and the school has invested heavily in pastoral care as well as IT and CCTV systems to ensure that the moment children set out from home to when they leave school each child is looked after as a core priority. The owners see each child’s sense of safety and their appreciation of their own individual value within the school as keystone foundations of being able to prove a world class education in which all children can meet their potential.
- Future plans as the school moves forward include a dedicated Sixth Form that will ensure that students on leaving the school are properly equipped and supported for leaving school, whether for university or industry. We have covered extensively the importance of dedicated Sixth Forms or equivalents in our Post-16 Guides series. Our 16+ Education Guide can be found here.
There was a time when looking for a top-flight British school meant parents looking at how many GCSEs and A’ Levels in the classics it taught, the results its students gained, its university destinations, reputation and (most importantly) the ‘fit’ of the school to a child. In the most elite schools, the provision of Latin was a shorthand test of its being genuinely top tier. Many parents added boarding schools to the mix just to be certain ….
Relatively few children, compared with today, went on to study A’ Levels – and those that did tended to be the most academic children, focused on university and an academic life or the professions (medicine, law …) rather than industry. This is a simple way of looking at things – but it pretty much captures the equation in many cases.
Today, schools that offer this old-style format are increasingly looking out of touch – and students are demanding – and need, much more. The best schools today increasingly offer technical stream options for their students (for example, BTEC Engineering) as well as a close link with research and the demands of business and the rapidly evolving very different global economy. When Gates wrote that modern day businesses need to respond at the speed of thought, today he could equally have been describing the tests of current outstanding schools.
The Arbor School is a stand-out school in the UAE in the way that it has responded to these new demands of a globalised economy. It is one of only two schools in the UAE to be grounded in the ecology and environmental sector – and has been built ground up to relate its teaching to developments in technology and Science rather than inevitably outdated textbooks. The focus is highly interdisciplinary (politics, economics, culture) and teaching expertise is rooted in developments and values drawn from across the atmospheric sciences, ecology, environmental chemistry and geosciences. The global economy in Environmental Sciences is rapidly growing – you only have to think of the move to electric cars and battery technology on the one hand, to alternative power sources across solar wind and wave to see two of the many areas in which demand for skills is both urgent and pressing. Global warming, regardless of debates of its speed, is already having impacts with countries facing extremes of weather, the extinction of whole species and the risks of flooding and environmental catastrophe. This is an area of education, under-served, critical to business industry and government – and absolutely cutting edge.
The demand for jobs in this sector is outperforming the broader Sciences by a third – and average salaries run to in excess of six figures in the geo- and atmospheric science professions. Core professions include:
- environmental management and conservation
- local and central government agencies
- environmental consultancy
- weather forecasting
- government and university research
- geophysical services
- the energy sector
- sustainable resources management, including energy
- the water industry
- cross sector specialists across almost every sector from aviation and automotive to agriculture and retail.
The Arbor School combines this interdisciplinary core focus – and then overlays a premium, traditional British education rooted in IGCSE and (coming later on stream) gold standard A Levels and BTEC/T Levels. The aim, to build a school with a global reputation as a pioneer in the sector, has already seen the school make a profound contribution to education in the UAE.
In the UK, in different ways, this sort of schooling has a rich provenance. Lancing College, for example, integrates agriculture powerfully within the curriculum through its integration of agriculture and British farming.
Bottom line – when students graduate from the Arbor School, they will do so with a first class British education and a cutting-edge broader, interdisciplinary education in environmental science, ecology sustainability and related technologies. This should put Arbor School students at a significant advantage – whether that is in university entrance or direct-to-industry routes on leaving school.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com Verdict on The Arbor School 2020 -21
“With a deep and caring connection to the Arbor community and the UAE, our students develop the competencies necessary to address complex and urgent environmental issues in an integrated way, enabling them to shape a sustainable society that does not undermine the ecosystems upon which it depends.
At the Arbor School, students are encouraged to develop a mind-set of experimentation, imagination and curiosity with a special focus on ecological mindfulness and ethical values, compassion and innovation
They learn not only to read the world around them, but also to integrate this knowledge of place and environment, letting interaction with nature guide their thoughts, actions and words to create a more beautiful, sustainable and just society.”
Dr. Sa’ad Al-Omari, CEO, Praxis Education
Where to begin in this outstanding pioneering school? There is so much here to celebrate.
To start, few schools have an owner whose experience, expertise and passion are invested so deeply in the school he cherishes as a fundamental vehicle to inspire the best of children and their future. The investment here academically is stand-out – but it is in the uniqueness and vibrancy of the ecological ethics and science that work experientially in tandem with the British curriculum that makes the Arbor School really shine for parents. Children here are encouraged to be confident in their curiosity – and creativity and innovation follow in spades.
Arbor is the first school in Dubai to integrate biodomes into the curriculum to bring the Sciences practically to life. The thought and investment here is both considerable, moving and impressive.
Speaking with the owners, and children, it is quite impossible not to be inspired.
The Arbor School is one founded on and in conviction, integrity and vocation. The belief in the innate value of education here – and the responsibility that a school must carry for the environment and its students, demonstrates itself in the commitment that every child must be able to meet his or her potential academically and as a human being – never is the potential and ability of children measured exclusively in numbers on the conveyor belt of examination league tables as at other schools.
The children who graduate from Arbor, we think, are likely to be those that set the minds of examining boards on fire with compassion, sense of purpose, innovation, belief in making a difference in the world – and love of learning for its own sake.
Passion to deliver the extraordinary runs deep.
On our latest meeting with the school’s leadership our representative came away with the following comment, one we think worth quoting in full:
“The credentials of all those founding The Arbor School are hugely impressive and the project is driven by intellectual and political conviction.
These are all individuals absolutely at the top of their fields in terms of qualifications, research and experience of delivering this extremely inspiring new mode of education.
This project has elements of uniqueness on a global stage – and it may well in future years become a blueprint for education in the sustainability field.
If I were in the business of predicting schools with the potential to achieve an “Outstanding” rating from the KHDA in its initial inspection I think this could be it …”
SchoolsCompared.com, Arbor School Dubai Launch Event, February 2018
To deliver on this scale of ambition requires investment. This is reflected in the fees which are premium. More than this, however, it requires a school to have a fundamental sense of purpose and ambition for its children. This is a much rarer thing. The Arbor School delivers this – and in doing so gives us a genuinely groundbreaking British curriculum school for the emirates.
This is a school that you can explore, not just visit, such is the extraordinary richness of the offer here for students, parents and the broader community. On that note, the commitment to community here is real and runs deep. Adult wellness classes at Arbor, include both Reflection Yoga classes, held in Arbor’s Reflection Garden, and Art classes, these held in the school’s (fabulous) purpose-built art space with experienced artist, Sam Brown. Film, photography and pottery/sculpture are coming on stream later in 2020.
Very highly recommended.
First inspection due 2021 - 22
Private, for profit
Under review 2019-20
YEAR 1: 55,250
YEAR 2: 55,250
YEAR 3: 60,350
YEAR 4: 60,350
YEAR 5: 64,600
YEAR 6: 64,600
YEAR 7: 63,750
YEAR 8: TBC
YEAR 9: TBC
YEAR 10: TBC
YEAR 11: TBC
YEAR 12: TBC
YEAR 13: TBC
National Curriculum of England
(2) A Level
(3) Technical education BTEC/ T Level TBC
(1) Dedicated Sixth Form to come on stream later
(2) BTech technical stream options in Business and Technology in planning
School in phased launch
School in phased launch
School in phased launch
Computing Science (ICT)
Physical Education as required
French plus further modern languages as required
Design Technology - Graphic Design
Design Technology - Resistant Materials
Design Technology - Food Technology)
400 plus (January 2020)
10:1 to 12:1
(1) Maximum class sizes: 20
(2) All classrooms are equipped with breakout spaces for work with individuals and smaller groups both inside the classroom and in adjacent hallways to ensure that every child received concentrated personal support and learning
Al Furjan, Dubai
(1) Chairman and COO: Abdullah Abdul Mohsen Al Sharhan
(2) Holding company: Al Mutatawera Gulf General Trading (MGGT)
(3) Chief Executive Officer: Dr. Sa’ad Al-Omari
+971 (0) 4 581 4100
• Ambitious hugely inspiring curriculum that embeds each child's curiosity, interdisciplinarity and breadth of learning.
• British school dynamic and core curriculum
• Tier 1 facilities and provision
• Outstanding school leadership and hugely committed owners
• Outstanding school curriculum
• Outstanding whole child development and ethical underpinnings of the school
• New school in phased launch - the school will meet its fullest potential for children as it embeds ts dedicated Sixth Form provision in future years.