Dubai Heights Academy, Al Barsha – The Review
Updated October 2019 – Dubai Heights Academy – confirmation of International Baccalaureate, school uniform for new students, 2018-19 SchoolsCompared.com visit and ratings, new school Principal Alison Lamb
If you see someone falling behind, walk beside them.
If you see someone being ignored, find a way to include them.
If you see someone knocked down, lift them up.
Always remind people of their worth. Just one small act could mean the world to them.
I think that this captures, to me, who we are.
We are a deeply inclusive, caring school completely committed to our children and families.”
Alison Lamb. Principal. Dubai Heights Academy
Introduction – background, history and location
Dubai Heights Academy (DHA) is a new British curriculum AED159M school which opened on a 2,800,000 Square foot site in Al Barsha in September 2017. Dubai Heights Academy is in phased launch to provide a full British Early Years Foundation Stage to Year 11 IGCSE. It is likely that this will be followed by a choice between the International Baccalaureate, A level and BTEC at Sixth Form although, understandably, final details on the breadth of provision are still under strategic review. As pointed out to us, by the time Sixth Form at Dubai Heights is embedded, we may well see a very different British school environment with T levels sharing equal place to traditional A Levels.
The eventual capacity is 1,845 children – small by Dubai standards for a new premium all-through British school. Dubai Heights Academy is located in the heart of Al Barsha south within easy reach of the Al Barsha communities, Jumeirah Village Circle and the main Sheikh Zayed Road commuter belt. In terms of location, Dubai Heights Academy sits adjacent to GEMS Founders and Al Barsha National, with easy proximity to GEMS Worlds Academy, JSS and Foremarke. The location has been chosen in no small part because of its accessibility – but also the proximity to the lake which sits in its grounds and situate the school with water with all its nods to the history of trade, nature and the openness of Dubai to the wider world. It is early days but we wondered whether as the school develop the creek-side location will become integrated into school life with boating, map below:
The Secondary School will open in September 2020 for Years 7 – 11 with IGCSE’s being sat for the first time in 2023. We really like this choice to phase the school’s opening so slowly. It allows the school to grow organically as each year works its way through the school. This approach generally avoids many of the teething problems that often come with attempts to open all-through provision from a school’s launch. It also allows a much greater opportunity for founding parents and children to guide the ethos and development of school’s culture. Our 2018 visit (October) revealed an extremely happy school environment with some of the highest quality facility provision we have seen in schools across the UAE. The stand-out auditorium is close to completion and will provide the icing on the cake for this extraordinarily well thought out and run, genuinely inclusive British school.
Facilities and genuine inclusion for children
Facilities, on completed all-through launch, include three temperature controlled swimming pools; Science and ICT labs by phase; Specialist Art, Science, Music and Technology suites; dedicated Primary Library; dedicated Secondary Library; three Multipurpose sports halls; a full-size football pitch; multiple (outdoor) sports courts; dedicated Primary cafeteria; dedicated Secondary cafeteria; (shaded) outdoor play areas by phase; landmark 500-seat theatre; and parent Café.
Impressively, the school launches with a serious commitment to technology with every class having access to an iPad bank ensuring 1:1 or group activities as appropriate.
Dubai Heights Academy has been established ground up to recognise the different needs of children with Foundation Stage, Primary and Secondary school children educated separately within what works, in practice, as their own dedicated schools. Many parents choose to send their children to dedicated KG and Primary schools, often motivated by a belief that childhood should be protected. Dubai Heights Academy was established ground up to meet the needs of those parents who have historically sought out separate Primaries. Using its economies of scale, It does this, however, with a premium level of infrastructure across Sports, the Arts and broader ICT and technology Labs that smaller dedicated primary schools generally cannot match. The Kindergarden building comprises a ground floor; the Primary School building three floors and the Secondary School building is set across four floors.
The school’s owners, Seven Tides, have a reputation for extraordinary architecture and innovation in design and the quality of the school’s build and facility provision is very high. The specification of three swimming pools, for example, each meeting the needs of different abilities and phases, reflects the investment and attention to detail. Exterior areas have been designed to meet the needs of different aspects of the curriculum, including a focus on interactive play and ecology.
As an interesting note for prospective parents, we also know that, rarely in this sector, the school’s owners have taken a very active and personal role in the development of the school and ensuring that that Dubai Heights Academy is genuinely inclusive and properly equipped to help children on both ends of the spectrum from the academically weakest to those identified as Gifted and Talented. The school does not see special educational needs as a failure to be cured, but as just one of the many parts of all children that go to make up their identity and personality:
“Teachers at Dubai Heights Academy will always attempt to preserve a pupil’s self-esteem by responding to a specific learning difficulty in terms of enhancement rather than something needing a remedy. We will always concentrate on the positive aspects of every child – and always nurture their self-confidence.” Dubai Heights Academy. May 2017
Some of the areas near Primary reception are dedicated to 4 Therapy rooms with provision for Occupational and Speech therapy to be provided by external staff as required in the initial stages.
The aim however is to not divide children by their individual gifts but to unite them. There are a number of rooms which lead to individually designed internal courtyard spaces. One of these, for example, provides a home designed to inspire play and therapy for components of SEND – but also one that can be accessed by all children according to their adventure.
There are very strong links with “Sensation Station” and the area includes a multi-sensory gym which will have magnetic elements to create a climbing area as well as hammocks. Resources can be created in various configurations with a means of hooks – and children can use magnetic letters to create words by scrambling over obstacles, or having climbed to retrieve letters from different levels in the room. This consolidates dexterity and strength in combination with academic activities such as reading and Mathematics.
Again, not specific to SEN, there are 2 additional rooms for LEGO and a Snoezelen room offering light therapy using five optics to stimulate or relax as required. A fabulous example of the care at play in the design is that the LEGO adventure room will allow for projects to be retained for children to return to, rather than being ‘cleared away.’ The aim is that children can develop their construction projects and creations over a period of time not bound by clocks and logistics. Too often in LEGO areas children’s creations are broken up to return to their storage box – constrained and marked as transient and unimportant, simply because of the logistical constraints of the school. The LEGO areas too are likely to incorporate LEGO Robotics. The thoughtfulness here is really impressive.
Planned ECA provision is outstanding, covering the full spectrum of activities across Sport (including Football, Netball, Tennis, Swimming, Golf and Rugby), the Performing Arts, Art, languages and Music.
Dubai Heights Academy Fees 2019-2020
Surprisingly, Dubai Heights Academy fee levels, whilst premium, operate at the very lowest end of the spectrum. Given the quality and breadth of facilities, recruitment of faculty and inclusive ethos, Dubai Heights Academy, in our view, offers a very good value proposition for parents.
Fees for new students for the academic year 2019-2020 can be found below.
It should be noted that fees, which run from 33,150 AED at Foundation Stage 1 to 52,560 AED in Year 6, are fully inclusive of uniform (for new students in their joining year), all text books and DHA Loyalty Card. 2019-20 discounted fees are thoughtfully staggered so parents do not face an immediate increase to KHDA levels:
Fee levels here are telling of the broader ambitions of the owners to provide a school that is inclusive and affordable for the widest range of families. We hope that in the coming years a dedicated supportive scholarship programme will be developed, something we believe should be provided by all schools to widen educational opportunity to children whose families would not otherwise be able to afford a place – but these, to be fair, are early days.
Academically, as above, Dubai Heights Academy offers a pure English National Curriculum, British education from Early Years Foundation Stage to IGCSE. It is probably too early to expect publication of the eventual planned breadth of IGCSE provision, but we do know that the school is very focused on ensuring children are equipped with two languages, French and Arabic to compliment the core teaching language of English. Arabic is introduced from FS1.
School leadership and the quality of teaching
Alison Lamb brings with her more than 27 years of experience as an educator, a decade in the UK followed by 16 years in the UAE. A graduate of Northumbria with specialism in Primary education, Ms Lamb secured her qualification in Headship (NPQH) from Newcastle in 2002 after her first ten years in teaching. Her first Primary School position saw her developing expertise in curriculum development, in particular in the area of numeracy, music and performance. Ms Lamb’s Mother, a teacher in Special Educational Needs, inspired her to further diversify her skills by working alongside a local school in supporting their SEND Department.
Building on this experience, Ms Lamb moved to Bamburgh School, South Tyneside, a pioneer in educating children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. This saw her integrating SEND students within mainstream education at a school in which she developed specialist expertise over the next seven years. Ms Lamb expanded curriculum breadth across Primary and Secondary education to include study in GNVQ Art and Design, had senior leadership responsibility for securing Investors in People and Education in Business Partnerships across the school and worked with Newcastle University on technological solutions designed to make learning available and inspirational for students regardless of ability.
From this Ms Lamb moved to a Position of Head of Primary and Assistant Head at Whitworth School County Durham, a through school for children between 3 years and 18 years, where she led on inclusion. The school became a leading light in UK education through its role as a test bed for the introduction of technology in the classroom, this at a time when the use of technology in education was very much in its infancy.
From the UK, Ms Lamb moved to the position of Deputy Head and Acting Head at The School of Research Science in Dubai in 2003 when they were building their Secondary campus. Over a two-year period, Ms Lamb worked with the Principal in establishing UK best practice.
From there she moved, between 2005 and 2014, to take up a role as Head of Primary of Latifa School for Girls, the hugely prestigious, beacon school in the UAE for nationals and “leaders of tomorrow.” This developed her skills in English second-language learning in a school that she sees “very much as an honour and privilege” to have worked for. The school reinforced her view that second language learners can achieve well above expectations with the right investment, calibre of teaching and leadership – and belief in students and their capacity to excel. The school was one of the pioneers for KHDA inspections and helped support training for DSIB inspectors.
This led to Ms Lamb taking on the role of Principal of Al Rabeeh School in 2014 then Director of Schools and Founding Principal of The Royal Group’s Al Rabeeh Academy in Abu Dhabi in 2016.
Ms Lamb joined Dubai Heights Academy in July 2019 as Principal at the time the school builds up to its first KHDA inspection. Dubai Heights Academy, Ms Lamb told us, has “the clear potential and ambition, in the years ahead, to be an Outstanding school” as she works through its development to all-through provision. “Dubai Heights Academy will be a school in which every child makes progress, is motivated, challenged and enriched against their baselines.”
Ms Lamb is PENTA qualified as a school inspector and has worked widely as an Executive Committee Member and Country Representative in Abu Dhabi with BSME in mentoring school Principals and helping schools work through the requirements for establishing outstanding British, English national curriculum school best practice.
On our recent follow-up visit we learned that recruitment of teaching staff has been focused locally to ensure both the highest calibre of faculty – but as importantly, that teachers come with an understanding and appreciation of the Emirates from ‘Day One.’ Often new schools will recruit internationally and this can result in high levels of founding staff turnover with all its knock-on impacts on children. This is another example of the thought being invested in Dubai Heights Academy to ensure that the school delivers for its children from “day one.”
The SchoolsCompared.com Hard hat Tours – 2017, 2018, 2019
As a 7 Tides development, we visit with high expectations for Dubai Heights Academy. This is 7 Tides first school and the stakes are high.
The Emirati owners have a reputation for the extraordinary – Anatara and the Palm of course have become global landmarks – statements to the world and the Emirati people that nothing is impossible if you have self-belief and courage.
A school of course presents its own very different challenges – the best schools have to achieve a balance of form and function: they have to create a learning environment that delivers to all children and their diversity of gifts. The part, however, that you cannot learn in books is that the best schools have to provide the inspiration and flair to inspire children and spark their imaginations as they develop through childhood to young men and women. In all this too, the best schools need to provide security and, in a deeper way, a sense of home.
Does Dubai Heights Academy deliver?
What we have learned through our many visits to the school to date (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019) is that the driver for the school’s owners is a commitment to create a perfect school for children. No compromises. Certainly the finish of the school is superb – but it is the details, each designed to meet the depth of commitment to inclusion, academic, SEND and cultural, that are standout.
The FS and Primary are deliberately separated, with unique and specific facilities for each. As above, the owners want to recognise the differences between children even at this younger age when many schools combine them. Both phases have their own clinic, outside areas, dedicated sports facilities, swimming pools —- the aim is to create environments for children at every phase that match their development with their own character and individual capacity to inspire. The only shared facilities within Dubai Heights Academy is the competition football pitch and landmark theatre space – more on this below, with each year group having its own cluster of classrooms and central breakout area.
The internal breakout areas have natural light from 2 light towers – one on either side of the core space which extend through the upper floors to allow sunlight to flood into the lower communal areas.
Capacity for the FS Primary phase is just 700 children.
Trees throughout the central play areas highlight the difference between Dubai Heights Academy and many other new schools – the outside areas are seen as integral to each child’s education and not treated as an afterthought to be addressed years into the future. Thoughtfulness and investment has been clearly evident throughout our visits.
Foundation Stage children at Dubai Heights Academy have their own entrance and, as above are largely independent from the Primary school. The central courtyard incorporates a living tree to provide shade with facilities and features flowing from a dedicated reading area to a water play area with troughs around the crescent shaped room. Grid work on the walls is designed for a variety of holders and water moving equipment to be arranged by the children and fire their imagination and play. A variety of pumps – hand operated, automatic and wind-up, move the water as do cans, syringes, cogs and all manner of other vessels.
Other stand-outs for us on our tour are the dedicated Sports Hall for FS and its indoor pool area. As in the rest of the school, storage rooms have been built adjacent to classrooms, sports halls and staff areas so that equipment can be carefully housed. The training pool has been stepped so that students can be in the water rather than on the side when awaiting instructions – and less confident swimmers can be in shallower areas created by the steps.
Wifi is provided across the entire site, including the sports fields, pool and halls.
The FS classrooms are flooded with light from enormous curved windows on the exterior, and the interior walls connect to an eye shape with the shaded courtyard in the centre. They have their own sports hall, and, another feature we really liked, teachers too have a dedicated light and airy staff room designed to equally inspire.
The Primary areas are predominantly on the ground floor, with areas for Years 1, 2 and 3 in a line. Year 4 finds its home in a section at the end of a corridor forming the upright of the letter T.
Each Year group has the cluster of 5 classrooms around a breakout area with natural light tunnels.
Year 5 and 6 areas are on the floor above, and sit directly over Year 2 and 3 Areas, with an open terrace above Yr 1.
The ambition of Dubai Heights Academy is to see the development of this whole area for Hydroponics and Aquaponics – to create a magical space with greenhouses and fish tanks which co-exist with water recirculating from each to create a sustainable eco system for the fish and plant life.
Ultimately this will involve the children in adapting computer programs to time the watering of the plants, automated feeding of the fish.
The plans reminded us of the sorts of interactive play you find at the Science Museum in London.
The Primary area has its own dedicated Art Room, Music Room, Library, Canteen, IT Suite, Science Labs and Library. An outdoor area leads to a shaded amphitheater for reading .
A dedicated baby changing room has been created in addition to the numerous student, staff and parent toilet facilities. Storage areas are abundant and well planned.
The Canteen is open to FS and Primary and the provider caters for children with allergies as a prerequisite rather than an afterthought. This is one of many examples of attention to detail and passion to get things right.
Children can bring in packed lunch but this will be taken in the canteen along with the children who prefer to buy a hot meal. Capacity in the canteen is such that 2-3 Year groups can be accommodated at any one time – again a really good example of thoughtfulness and attention to detail.
The Arabic and Islamic classrooms are housed in this section too and children will be introduced to Arabic at FS1 to give them every chance to become bi-lingual and develop a love of languages.
As of 2019, development of the Dubai Heights Academy Secondary School continues apace. As above, the ambition is again for the school to have its own facilities and identity. The Sixth Form will also be clearly demarcated and older children will have their own Common Room. The Secondary school will home 2 Blackbox drama rooms and these will have the option to interconnect to create one large space if required. The Secondary canteen is 50m in length and overlooks the football field and skyline. It is set to be one of the highlights of Dubai Heights facilities taken as a whole across the school.
The Dubai Heights Academy Theatre is almost complete and investment here gives weight to the school’s insistence that the broader Arts are are as fundamental to the highest quality whole child focused British education as academics. The two buildings are bridged to provide the main inspirational pathway to the Theatre area on the 1st floor. The theatre has its own dedicated ’Ticket Office’ so that children are empowered to “look after this themselves and sell their own tickets to their own productions.” The lobby area outside the Theatre is large and impressive – the inspiration seems to again nod to the sense you get in a London Theatre of those moments outside the theatre where you meet ready to enter for the performance. The area houses a kitchen, 2 dressing rooms, a Green room and bathrooms on the lead up to Impressive stairs which take you into the Theatre. There is also a lift and ramp access – inclusion is built into every part of the design so that no child will ever be left behind.
The capacity of the theatre is 500 with fixed layered seating. A landmark LED screen at the back of the stage provide a three dimensional-ised background for performances without the need for the staple projector even amongst other top tier schools. This is a good example of the sheer ambition and thoughtfulness at play here.
The result? It’s one of the best theatre space we have seen in any school in the UAE.
Bottom Line? Dubai Heights Academy – The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2018?
It is always something of a leap of faith writing about new schools. We know that it is very likely that any new school will have teething problems. It comes with the territory. But the other side of this, is the really opportunity presented by new schools to push at the boundaries of the best that current schools deliver.
It seems to us that Dubai Heights Academy has everything in place to set benchmarks across the sector:
- Owners that care and who have invested very significantly in the school. Quality of provision is outstanding.
- School leadership with vision, passion and talent in equal measure
- A school ethos that is profoundly inclusive
- Phased, gentle opening plan designed to put children first and get things right.
- Care for teachers. As of October 2018 teacher turnover, at 0%, is the lowest in Dubai (this set against an average in excess of 26%).
Dubai Heights Academy is a school with a clear sense of educational purpose and ambition driven by child need and potential. The attention to detail shines through every corner. The drive and care of the owners, together with their teams of architects, builders and consultants really builds confidence.
There is a sense that Dubai Heights Academy is not at all about bricks and mortar – but a shared adventure to deliver a beautiful school able to inspire the generations of children to come.
Dotted around each corner example of Arabic design flourishes from play wells to roof lights and glass curved windows to clustered skyline Palms – all linked in conjoining inspiration, the environment, learning and, yes, a quite palpable sense of joy. All this in a British school with its heart very much in the right place.
It’s early – the Secondary School has yet to open. But there is so much potential here.
On our visits we always look to see how children respond to us and their teachers. Do they smile? Are they inspired? Do they have a sense of purpose?
We also look to how children respond to the Head? Does the Head know children by name? Do children actively seek to engage with the Head with smiles and questions.
In both these areas, probably the most telling of all, the answer is in the affirmative.
The building blocks are in play. The children will ultimately be the ones to decide where they fall. And that’s exactly as it should be.
Dubai Heights is a visionary, highly inclusive and, bluntly, in our view, terrific school – with all the opportunities that come with a new school in which families are encouraged to play a role in its development, ethos and character. There is so much potential here …
Competitive fees, low pupil numbers, Tier 1 premium facilities, location, inclusion, inspiring Early Years British curriculum, extensive ECA enrichment, community engagement, the commitment of owners and high investment, accomplished, proven school leadership – in all these areas Dubai Heights Academy scores highly.
Very highly recommended.
First inspection due 2019
NA -new school September 2017
NA -new school September 2017
NA -new school September 2017
FS1: 33,150 (KHDA 44,200)
FS2: 37,800 (KHDA 50,400)
YEAR 1: 45,360 (KHDA 50,400)
YEAR 2: 46,080 (KHDA 51,200)
YEAR 3: 46,080 (KHDA 51,200)
YEAR 4: 47,880 (KHDA 53,200)
YEAR 5: 49,860 (KHDA 55,400)
YEAR 6: 52,560 (KHDA 58,400)
YEAR 7: Phased launch TBA
YEAR 8: Phased launch TBA
YEAR 9: Phased launch TBA
YEAR 10: Phased launch TBA
YEAR 11: Phased launch TBA
YEAR 12: Phased launch TBA
YEAR 13: Phased launch TBA
National Curriculum for England / International Baccalaureate
(3) A' Level
(4) International Baccalaureate
(1) Accreditation being sought from Council of British International Schools (COBIS); and British School Overseas (BSO).
(2) Dual stream International Baccalaureate confirmed July 2018.
(3) School is BSME accredited (confirmed September 2019)
Sixth Form opening 2025 TBA
Sixth Form opening 2025 TBA
TBC: Provision starting 2023
TBC: Provision starting 2023 TBA
No, academically, culturally and SEND fully inclusive
1845 student capacity on all-through opening
Current: 260 students (September 2019)
1:10 - 1:12
(1) FS1/2: 1:10
(2) Year 1 - 6: 1:12
(3) FS1 - Year 4 Teacher + Teaching Assistant (TA)
(4) Year 5 - 6: Teacher + shared Teaching Assistant (TA)
Al Barsha, Dubai
International - over 30 nationalities
Seven Tides Limited
+971 (0) 356 3333
• Experienced and respected new school Principal (July 2019) with proven history of supporting DHA values of inclusion, differentiation, second-language investment and whole child achievement.
• Powerful commitment to inclusion and SEND from 'Day 1'
• Technology focus
• Dedicated FS, Primary and Secondary school buildings and facilities to nurture childhood and the specific needs of children at different phases
• Extremely high, Tier 1, levels of investment and thoughtfulness in design and breadth of facilities - stand-out auditorium and investment in the Arts.
• Highly respected school owners committed to the success of the school for its children
• High ROI on published fees
• Staggered, gentle launch designed to ensure the smooth opening of the school for children
• Opportunity to be part of, and guide, the evolution of a school as it develops its own identity and character
• Local recruitment of high calibre teaching faculty designed to minimise teacher turnover characteristic of many opening schools who recruit internationally
• Investment in interactive specialist play resources including stand-out water features and whole school wifi across academic and sporting facilities
• Secondary provision coming on stream will be the major test of school provision and further information on the shape and breadth of curriculum provision needed.
• Opportunities to strengthen technology integration across phases.