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Dubai Heights Academy, Al Barsha – The 2021 Review Updated
Photograph of Dubai Heights Academy in Dubai, a Tier 1 British curriculum school designed by the ladmark architects Seven Tides International.
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Review

Dubai Heights Academy, Al Barsha – The 2021 Review Updated

by March 14, 2021

Background – Dubai Heights Academy 

“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.

Dubai Heights Academy is a deeply inclusive, caring school completely committed to our children and families.”

Alison Lamb. Principal. Dubai Heights Academy.

GEMS_INARTICLE  

 

[Note for parents: This review has been updated to include the new 2021 Dubai Heights Academy Prospectus – see below, and revised 2021-22 School Fees for families joining the school. (March 2021)]

Dubai Heights Academy (DHA) is a Tier 1, premium British curriculum AED159M school which opened on a landmark 2,800,000 Square foot site in Al Barsha in September 2017. Dubai Heights Academy is, today, in phased launch to provide a British, English National Curriculum education from Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) to A’ Level and BTEC at Sixth Form. Dubai Heights Academy also runs its STEM programmes in conjunction with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – more on this below.

The largest majority of students at the school are British, although the school is resolutely international, with a role welcoming 46 different nationalities. There is also strong representation from American, Australian and Emirati families at the school.

Dubai Heights Academy is owned by Seven Tides International and is the crown jewels of their Education Portfolio. Seven Tides have a reputation for delivering some of the most beautiful architecture and projects in the UAE, including Anantara The Palm and Dukes Oceana Resort. The school was established by the owners to give back to the families of Dubai. The brief was to establish one of the finest schools in the UAE, and one welcoming inclusivity to Dubai children and families.

The school is currently working through planning for Sixth Form provision which will provide an extensive choice of subjects across academic and technical pathways to:

  • British A’ Level
  • British BTEC

In the early days of the school, plans were considered which would have offered students a further choice of A’ Level or IB at Sixth Form. The decision has now been made to focus exclusively on British education and gold standard A’ Level and BTEC qualifications.

For parents, the key issue is subject rather than pathway choice. The more subjects a school offers its students, the better able it is to meet the needs of all children. Dubai Heights Academy was established by the owner with the absolute, genuine and serious commitment to deliver to the needs of every child enrolled at the school. By focusing on the British Curriculum, investment will be made where it really matters: in extended subject choice rather than diluting this through the unnecessary distraction of broader examination pathways.

To date, we have seen Dubai Heights Academy delivering on this ambition many times over with exceptional levels of investment across teaching faculty, curriculum breadth and some of the best facilities (in terms of quality and breadth) of any school in the UAE.

The eventual capacity  of the school is just 1,845 children – small by Dubai standards for a new premium all-through Tier 1 British school. Dubai Heights Academy is one of an extremely limited number of Tier 1 schools offering this level of facility and curriculum provision to a role under 2000 children. For many parents, smaller schools are sought out because of the likelihood that their children will receive a more individualised, personal education, warm happy school dynamics and an education in which every child is known to all teachers by their name rather than being lost in a crowd of faces.

 

Location

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 was chosen, in no small part, because of its accessibility to parents across Dubai:

Map and location

The Secondary School is now open to Year 7 with IGCSE’s being sat for the first time in 2023. We really like this choice to phase the school’s opening slowly. It allows the school to grow organically as each year’s children work their way through their learning journey. This approach generally avoids many of the teething problems that often come with attempts to open all-through provision from a school’s launch on ‘Day One.’ It also allows a much greater opportunity for founding parents and children to guide the ethos and development of a school’s culture. Our 2020 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 provides the icing on the cake for this extraordinarily well thought out and run, genuinely inclusive, British school.

Year 8 provision will open from September 2021 and applications for Year 8 entry to the school for students are now open.

Image showing one of the many interactive play areas for younger children at Dubai Heights Academy in Dubai

 

The 2021 Prospectus

Dubai Heights Academy Official School Prospectus 2021-2022

 

Dubai Heights Academy Fees 2020-21

Photograph showing the prestigious entrance to Dubai Heights Academy in Dubai taken in 2019

Surprisingly, Dubai Heights Academy fee levels, whilst premium, operate at the very lowest end of those charged by other schools in this fee segment. 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. The new fee levels have also been responsive to the needs of parents. Many schools that are part of larger school groups, rather than being a stand-alone family school as is the case here, have found it more difficult to respond quickly to the individual needs of families at their schools.

Fees for new students for the academic year 2020-2021 can be found below, and now include those projected for all-through Secondary provision:

 

Dubai Heights Academy School Fees 2021

All children between Year 3 and Year 7 are provided with free access to Chromebooks to build on their digital learning.

Fees can now be spread over a ten month period to make them more manageable for parents, or can be paid each term. The new fee structure is being underwritten with extensive new investment in the Covid 19 health and safety of both students and families.

It should be noted that fees for new students joining the school, which run from AED 37,550 at Foundation Stage 1 to AED 63,555 in Year 7, include all text books and DHA Loyalty Card.

The newly discounted 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 – and one responsive to the challenges faced by parents during Covid 19.

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 and the school is focusing all its attention on helping existing parents.

 

Design and architecture

“Our architectural vision is all about natural light and nature.

Most children spend so much time shuttled between cars and buses, in a life travelling between schools and home.

Many children, it seems today, find themselves indoors so much of the time, connected to TVs or gadgets almost until they sleep.

This way of life has become even more embedded since the Covid pandemic and the need for Distance Learning.

At Dubai Heights Academy we fully embrace technology and the future of learning, as evidenced by our partnership with MIT.

But we also recognise the importance of balance.

Children were not built to sit down, be confined to four walls and stare at screens all day. Many of us remember a very different childhood, one enjoying the outdoors, exploring spaces, climbing trees, going to parks, sports, riding bikes  – and actively running around with friends. Childhood somehow seemed more attentive, imaginative, active, social ….and happy.

This isn’t happening enough.

DHA’s design seeks to bring balance to the modern pressures of raising children. During the planning phase, we were asked about why we needed trees and greenery everywhere. Why not just put interlocking blocks and pathways? They would, after all, not incur as much upkeep and expense. Other schools do not have landscaped grounds, so why should you?  “This is a school, not a park” we were told.

We thought differently.

Why can’t outdoor spaces be an extension of the classroom?

Why wouldn’t students benefit from using those interconnected spaces to expand their knowledge and learn in natural environments?

At Dubai Heights Academy we listened to the needs of children, not accountants.

For us it has always been children first.

Every space at our school has ample natural light and windows overlooking greenery.

This invigorates, yet brings balance and calmness to our beautiful school. It brightens everyone’s day and deeply inspires learning. The architecture is part of our being a happy and inspirational school for every child.”

Dubai Heights Academy. 2020.

 

Facilities 

A list of the core sporting and whole child facilities at Dubai Heights Academy school in Dubai

Facilities include:

Sport

  • Three temperature controlled swimming pools including an indoor Foundation Stage pool; a 20x20m wading pool forbeginners; and a 25m, 8 lane pool with a spectator bleacher
  • A full size 4G sports field, divided into smaller sections to accommodate all age groups across several different sports – mainly football, rugby, hockey and cricket
  • 1000-seater spectator stand for outdoor sporting competitions.
  • 3 Sports Halls: Foundation Stage; Primary indoor sports hall (for racket sports, basketball, netball and indoor football); and Secondary Sports Hall (opening September 2021)
  • Multiple (outdoor) sports courts
  • Dedicated Secondary cafeteria
  • Shaded outdoor play areas by phase

Academic

  • Science labs by phase and specialism
  • ICT labs by phase
  • Specialist Art Studios
  • Technology Centres
  • Dedicated Primary Library
  • Dedicated Secondary Library
  • Upgraded Secondary science and food technology facilities
  • Bespoke Secondary design technology centre
  • Secondary art rooms
  • (Vibrant) Secondary breakout learning space

Music and the Performing Arts

  • Landmark 378+ capacity theatre
  • Music Suites

Other

  • Parent Café (too few schools have these – and they are, in our view, vital as a place in which parents can both meet with each other and also with teachers and school leadership informally)
  • Dedicated Primary cafeteria

Worth noting that SEND facilities and ethics (more on this below) and the landmark auditorium are best in class of any school in the UAE.

Impressively, the school launched with a serious commitment to technology with every class having access to an iPad bank ensuring 1:1 or group activities as appropriate. Today this is reflected, as above, with children being given free access to Chromebooks.

Dubai Heights Academy was established, ground up, to recognise the different needs of children. In the context of our discussion of facilities, this has meant that Foundation Stage, Primary and Secondary school children each have defined parts of the school. The Kindergarten building comprises a ground floor; the Primary School building three floors and the Secondary School building is set across four floors. The Dubai Heights Academy Secondary School launched this year (in September 2020) with Grade 7 entry.

As a whole, facilities demonstrate a premium level of infrastructure across Sports, the Arts and broader ICT and technology Labs. As above, the school’s owners, Seven Tides, have a reputation for extraordinary architecture and innovation in design. We rate their commitment here, in terms of the quality of the school’s build and facility provision, as outstanding.

The specification of three swimming pools, for example, each meeting the needs of different abilities and phases, reflects the sale of investment and attention to detail.

Another good example is, for younger children, the extensive exterior areas which have been designed to meet the needs of different aspects of the curriculum, including a focus on interactive play and ecology.

Photograph of children engaged with eco learning at Dubai Heights Academy in Dubai

 

Inclusion

As an interesting note for prospective parents, we 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.

This offers something to every child at the school from those who may struggle academically to those students identified as academically or whole child 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 the journey many children may go through. At some point, every child needs help somewhere. What Dubai Heights Academy does not do, unlike many other schools, is send parents off externally to pay for private tutors:

“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.”

There are many specialist facilities. For example, some of the areas near Primary reception are dedicated to 4 Therapy rooms with provision for Occupational and Speech therapy. Equally, there are language labs for children who may need help with English as a second language. Where a child needs help, a solution is found.

“Every Child, Every Mind, Everybody.”

Dubai Heights Academy was purposefully designed and built to be enjoyable and accessible for all types of learners. The owners understood the need for a school that enhanced the abilities of all its students, as they themselves have varied learners within their family.

The school explained the history, and vision, which drives the school to SchoolsCompared.com as follows:

“My Community… A City for Everyone” was launched in November 2013 by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council. The aim was to transform Dubai into a friendly city for people of determination by the year 2020. Dubai Heights Academy was launched as part of this visionary initiative.

As part of our commitment to this initiative, Dubai Heights Academy has a unique enrichment zone that all students benefit from. It includes spaces like Fun Junction (with its magnetic learning climbing wall), a Wonder World Snoezelen room (with fibre optic lights) and a sensory sound garden. The (world class) Snoezelen room offers sensory light therapy through fibre optics to stimulate or relax children and both engage and inspire their love of learning. We also included the ASDAN programme, for learners for whom a modified approach to the British curriculum is more helpful, but which still gain a recognised qualifications for their later lives and careers. We also ensure children can access the spectrum of therapy based support programmes, these including speech language therapy and occupational therapy as and when required by Sensation Station.”

The schools continued by explaining how the approach extends to every child and those identified as Gifted and Talented in STEAM subjects:

“Although Dubai Heights Academy is a British School, our latest affiliation with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)  is very special too.

Top five in the Times World University rankings, MIT embodies our ethos and commitment to provide all students at Dubai Heights Academy with the skills of the twenty first century.

The MIT programme engages with specialised skills and courses in Artificial Intelligence, robotics and computational thinking and is designed to provide Dubai Heights Academy students with the skills required by the professions, career and job roles of the future.”

The aim of this vision is not to 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 learning centre designed to inspire play and therapy for children of determination  – but also one that can be accessed by all children according to their individual “adventures” in learning.

There are very strong links with “Sensation Station” and the area includes a multi-sensory gym with magnetic elements, as above, to create a climbing area, as well as hammocks. Resources can be created in various configurations with children using 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.

The school’s inclusion mascot, “Pod”, helps all children to acknowledge their unique traits and interests. Children are encouraged to use these as their “special powers” throughout their academic and whole child journeys at the school. For example, if a child is highly gifted in Mathematics, they will be supported and encouraged to achieve academically, yet also help other children who may struggle and apply their skills across other subjects and project based learning activities.

The MIT programme is the icing on the cake, and a good example of how the school continues to invest.

 

Performing Arts and Theatre

“The schools’s auditorium is the jewel in the crown of Dubai Height Academy.

Intended for school use, it was, however, conceived and designed with all the investment and sophistication of a community theatre.”

The Dubai Heights Academy Theatre gives weight to the school’s insistence that the broader Arts are are as fundamental to ensuring the highest quality of whole child focused British education as academics. The two Dubai Heights Academy buildings are bridged to provide the main inspirational pathway to the theatre area on the 1st floor. 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 itself. There is also a lift and ramp access – inclusion is built into every part of the design so that no child, or spectator, will ever be left behind.

The capacity of the cinematic theatre is 378 with fixed layered seating.  A landmark LED screen at the back of the stage provide a three dimensional background for performances. Most schools in Dubai are still working with out dated projectors. The theatre features:

  • a 136 square metre stage
  • 28 square metre 4K video wall
  • 2x SM 58 handheld wireless microphones
  • 2x lapel mics
  • 5x detachable hanging mics
  • 2x 2,500 watt subwoofers
  • 1,200 watts KLA 12 QSC speakers
  • 24 Channel Digital Allen & Heath mixing desk
  • 2x moving heads lighting
  • 2x stage wash lighting system
  • Dedicated pre-function reception area
  • Box office
  • Theming infrastructure including red carpets

The theatre auditorium hosts assemblies, school productions, graduations, events, talks and extracurricular activities.

The result? Dubai Heights Academy has one of the best theatre spaces we have seen in any school in the UAE.

Music classes are enjoyed by all children, enabling them to learn musical instruments, sing and read music. The DHA Choir has become a celebrated part of school life. The Peripatetic music program enables children combine musical instrument lessons at school and encourages them to develop a love for music outside of school.

Productions to date, which bring together music and Performing Arts activities from across the school, have included Matilda, above. In 2020-21 Dubai Heights Academy is planning for a musical performance of Disney’s The Lion King.

Dubai Heights Academy children have performed within the local community, at events, competitions and Dubai Opera House.

The broader events and celebrations programme at the school includes:

  • UAE National Day
  • International Day
  • Sports Day
  • 30 x 30 Fitness Challenge
  • Spring Fayre
  • Weekend walks
  • Drama productions
  • Pink Day and other awareness days. for example, those focused on Diabetes and Down’s Syndrome
  • End of year School Disco

 

ECAs

Photograpg of child playing competeitive football at Dubai Heights Academy school in Dubai

ECA provision is extensive, historically covering the full spectrum of sports including Football, Netball, Tennis, Swimming, Golf and Rugby. Internal ECAs currently include:

  • U9/11 Netball
  • U8/10/12 Girls Football
  • U8/10/12 Boys Football
  • U8 – U12 competitive Swim Squad (a sport in which the school excels and runs dedicated training with Aquatix)
  • U8 – U12 Athletics/Cross Country/Aquathon
  • U12 girls Basketball
  • U12 boys Basketball

These free programmes are led by DHA Staff.

Across the Performing Arts, Art, languages and Music, teacher led ECA programmes currently include Singing Club, Yoga, Book Worm Club, Origami, Coding Club and French Fun!

ECAS change each term giving the children a chance to engage in a variety of different activities and experiences.

Paid ECAs broaden these to include karate, ballet, musical theatre, dance, swimming, football, rugby, and cricket. Partners include Turning Pointe, ISM Sports, Gulfstar and Evolution.

 

British Curriculum with the MIT Edge

Landscaping at Dubai Heights Academy with clever use of colour for inspiration and accessibility

Academically, as above, Dubai Heights Academy offers a pure English National Curriculum founded British education from Early Years Foundation Stage to IGCSE, A’ Level and BTEC.

For the first time in the UAE and the region, Dubai Heights Academy, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), also now offers Secondary students participation in a landmark, three-year project-based Artificial Intelligence programme. The focus is on the science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) elements of Artificial Intelligence. The Dubai Heights Academy MIT programme is supervised by Cynthia Breazeal, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and Associate Director of MIT Media Lab.

Professor Breazeal describes it as a unique curriculum combining AI literacy on a range of topics including machine learning, natural language understanding and computational and design thinking.

 

Parents

Many parents play a full role in school life and engage with the school to develop life long friendships. Current activities include:

  • “Too Cool for School!” parent’s morning fitness classes
  • “Make a Splash!” parent swim classes
  • Parent Book Club
  • After school club for siblings so pick up time can be the same for parents
  • Family quizzes
  • Weekly Newsletters
  • Monthly Wellness Newsletter
  • #inthistogether Programme

One parent each year is represented on the Governing Board of the school.

 

School leadership 

Photograph of school Principal, Alison Lamb, of Dubai Heights Academy as of September 2020

Alison Lamb brings to Dubai Heights Academy more than 27 years of experience as an educator. A decade in the UK was followed by sixteen years in UAE schools.

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 aged 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, in 2003,  to the position of Deputy Head and then Acting Head at The School of Research Science in Dubai at a time in which the school was building their Secondary campus. Over a two-year period, Ms Lamb worked with the Principal in establishing UK best practice across the developing through school.

From there she moved, between 2005 and 2014, to take up the role of Head of Primary at 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.

Ms Lamb told SchoolsCompared.com:

“Dubai Heights Academy has the clear potential and ambition to be a KHDA Outstanding school. This is 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.

 

The SchoolsCompared.com Hard hat Tours – 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020

Dubai Heights Academy construction June

As a Seven Tides International development, we first visited with high expectations for Dubai Heights Academy in 2017 as the school was midway through being built. This was Seven Tides’ first school and the stakes were high. Some of our thoughts at the time, and how they have evolved, below ….

The Emirati owners have a reputation for the extraordinary – Anatara and the Palm of course have become global landmarks. Both are 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?

Photograph of a student engaged in an ICT lesson at Dubai Heights Academy school in Dubai.

What we have learned through our many visits to the school to date (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020) 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, academics, SEND and whole child development, 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 are 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. Visit many schools and your first sight of the school will be a main road, sand and parked cars with  no greenery in sight. At Dubai Heights Academy, there is an appreciation that inspiring children starts as soon as children set sight on the school.

FS/KG

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 imaginations and learning through 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 first tour of the school 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.

 

The beautifully muralled KG swimming pool at Dubai Heights Academy school in Dubai

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 school explained:

“The design and planning of the single-storey kindergarten is playful, defined by s series of overlapping colourful elliptical forms. There are no corners in this building and the circulation spaces are wide for the simple reason, children do not run in straight lines and often collide into corners, hurting themselves. The main play area or the kindergarten an open-to-sky centrally placed grassed area that is looked onto from all sides for safety reasons. Each of the classrooms leads to a private outdoor play/ activity area reached through a transitional space with hand-washing area tiled with blue ceramic mosaics. With overhanging roofs and vertical louvres for shading, the kindergarten has its own dedicated internal swimming pool designed specifically for its young occupants.”

Primary

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. 

Aerial shot of the shaded playground area at Dubai Heights Academy School in Dubai

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 amphitheatre 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 are introduced to Arabic at FS1 to give them every chance to become bi-lingual and develop a love of languages.

The school explained further:

“Meandering pathways connect various parts of the primary school to the kindergarten, secondary school, and the specialist teaching area. Dense indigenous planting shade the glazed openings and the outdoor play areas while breaking down the scale of the building structures to one that the children can relate to.”

Secondary

Photograph of children at the Secondary School at Dubai Heights Academy

Development and phased opening of the Dubai Heights Academy Secondary School continues apace with the school currently open to Year 7 and applications being taken to Year 8. 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 house 2 Black Box drama rooms and these will have the option to interconnect to create one large space if required. The Secondary dining hall is 50 metres 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 Secondary School gains its identity around a central atrium.  The four-storeys of the secondary school building are connected by a long linear staircase that dissects the atrium in half. Classrooms, labs, and support facilities are placed along the perimeter of the building for views out while walkways overlook the atrium and each other encouraging old fashioned physical interaction and connectivity between the students as they move between through the building. The ground floor of the atrium acts as a social space leading onto the dining hall which extends out to external terraces facing the full-size football pitch. The atrium is topped by a skylight of the same size to ensure abundant natural light flows in this central space.

 

Arabic subjects

As with most outstanding schools in Dubai, there is significant emphasis on learning Arabic starting in the early years from FS1. Arabic is a difficult language to learn, and teaching it compassionately and gently from when children are younger helps students learn successfully. It is the one suject that all British Schools struggle with in KHDA inspections, and Dubai Heights Academy has invested heavily here to try and engage with the issues effectively. Linking the subject in an inspirational way with other core subjects and everyday activities is one mechanism used by the school for inspiring a love of learning in the subject employed by the school. Both technology and traditional learning are used – but readinga nd books are placed centre stage.  The school is committed to making learning the language interesting and inspiring for all children with lessons mapped to the individual needs and progress made by each child.

Muslim students learn about the 5 Pillars of Islam and all that encompasses their faith through learning prayers and incorporating their knowledge into DHA values. Islamic studies are taught in both Arabic and English. The school told us:

“Overall our vision is to create a centre of excellence for Arab language and Islamic Studies dedicated to the development of intercultural dialogue and a deeper understanding of Arab culture and traditions.”

 

The views of parents and teachers

“We have been at DHA since it opened.

My first child started at Dubai Heights Academy in FS1. The teachers at DHA have not only accepted him, but have embraced and encouraged him to be who he is.

Two years later, my second child joined DHA as well.

It amazes me how well all the teachers have fostered my children’s strengths, identifying and creating an action plan for their future at the school and how they will each meet their ambitions and individual gifts.

Having Mrs. Bradley Barnard as my children’s first school teacher (FS1) made our lives as parents much easier. Her care and professionalism made us think of her as a “second mom” – her warmth, love, care and professionalism are priceless. This goes for all the teachers at DHA.

We are just so genuinely proud to be part of the Dubai Heights Academy family and community.”

May Zalat.  Parent. Dubai Heights Academy. October 2020.

“From the moment I started teaching at DHA, when the school opened in 2017, I felt part of a family. All of the staff here work together to make sure that all our students are getting the best quality education possible.

The school has a community feel. As soon as you walk through the doors, you feel an engaging environment all around you. Dubai Heights Academy is a school filled with warmth, creativity, fun and friendships.

As a teacher and leader at Dubai Heights Academy, I feel supported. I have always been given the opportunity to grow as an educator. I feel honoured to work with such professional and positive people. The teachers here are dedicated and passionate about what they do.

Inclusion is very important to me and DHA truly embraces all its children’s and teacher’s strengths, challenges and ambitions.

I believe every day is a new opportunity to learn and Dubai Heights Academy ensure that I feel empowered to create meaningful opportunities to support the children in becoming life-long learners. There are new things to learn or see each day, which makes working at DHA an exciting place to be.

As a school we also respond to the community around us. For example, we hope to start offering our Frontline Workers here in Dubai, fee discounts as a thank you for all they have done for the people of Dubai during Covid 19.”

Suzanne Fowles. Teacher. Dubai Heights Academy. October 2020.

 

Bottom Line? Dubai Heights Academy – The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2021.

Dubai Heights Academy Map of the School and its ethos

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 real opportunity presented by new schools to push at the boundaries of the best that current schools deliver.

We have been following the story of Dubai Heights Academy since it opened. At that time we believed it to be one of the most ambitious British school openings in a decade. The heart, passion and emotion invested in the school by the owners was intensely moving. They refused to compromise on anything. The school was designed to be both outstanding and to welcome all children.

It is these early moments in the story of a school that define it. Too often we have seen in the emirates, school openings driven less by the needs of children than the wittering of accountants. In most schools it is the accountants that win. Not here.

It is difficult to convey with words, the ethics and substance of a school. But it is important to try. The ethics tell you about the purpose of a school and what drives it. Simply stated, Dubai Heights Academy is driven by the needs of children, academic, emotional and whole child. The owners judge the school on the degree to which no child is left behind, ever, and the  degree to which children are empowered to meet their ambitions, potential and ability. As parents, these are exactly the things we needs schools to care about. We do not want our children lost in the crowd.

The attention to detail shines through every corner. The drive and care of the owners, together with their teams of architects, builders and consultants have created a school that is both beautiful and successful.

This is a school that has managed to create a sense of shared adventure at its heart, one that delivers an extraordinary journey of learning that engages every child.

Dotted around each corner are examples of Arabic design flourishes –  from play wells to roof lights and from its glass curved windows to clustered skyline Palms. They conjoin to create a quite palpable sense of joy in this British school that openly recognises its beautiful home in Dubai. This is a British school with its heart in absolutely the right place.

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 Headmaster or, as here, Headmistress, know children by name? Do children actively seek to engage with them through smiles and questions.

In both these areas, probably the most telling of all, the answer is …. yes.

Another key way that parents can judge schools is in their ability retain their teachers. Average teacher turnover in Dubai schools exceeds an astonishing 28%. Almost 1 in three teachers will change each year, with all the upset in relationships that this brings for students. At Dubai Heights Academy, excepting in rare instances of retirement or personal circumstances, teacher turnover is 0%. This is a school in which teachers are happy and want to stay.

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.

Dubai Heights was shortlisted for the Best New School in the UAE at The SchoolsCompared.com Top Schools Awards and, in 2020, receiving the highest rating awarded  by the KHDA, Dubai’s regulator of schools, for the quality and impact of its Distance Learning programme for children.

Competitive fees, low pupil numbers, Tier 1 premium facilities, location, inclusion, inspiring Early Years British curriculum, extensive ECA enrichment, community engagement, owners that really care and accomplished, proven school leadership – in all these areas Dubai Heights Academy scores highly.

Wow!

Highly recommended. 

© SchoolsCompared.com 2020. All rights reserved.

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Details to consider
2018/19 Overall ADEK / KHDA Rating

First inspection due 2021

2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

NA -new school September 2017

2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating

NA -new school September 2017

2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating

NA -new school September 2017

Type of school

Private, for-profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 37,570 (KHDA 44,200)
FS2: 47,880 (KHDA 50,400)
YEAR 1: 47,880 (KHDA 50,400)
YEAR 2: 48,640 (KHDA 51,200)
YEAR 3: 48,640 (KHDA 51,200)
YEAR 4: 50,540 (KHDA 53,200)
YEAR 5: 52,630 (KHDA 55,400)
YEAR 6: 55,480 (KHDA 58,400)
YEAR 7: 60,705 (KHDA 63,900)
YEAR 8: 63,555 (KHDA 66,900) Opening September 2021
YEAR 9: 71,900 (KHDA approved fees without discounts)
YEAR 10: 82,400 (KHDA approved fees without discounts)
YEAR 11: 82,400 (KHDA approved fees without discounts)
YEAR 12: 87,900 (KHDA approved fees without discounts)
YEAR 13: 87,900 (KHDA approved fees without discounts)

Curriculum

National Curriculum for England / International Baccalaureate
Notes:
(1) EYFS
(2) IGCSE
(3) A' Level

External Exam Boards

Notes:
(1) Council of British International Schools (COBIS); and British School Overseas (BSO).
(2) School is BSME accredited (confirmed September 2019)

Number of A Levels offered

Sixth Form opening 2025 TBA

A Levels offered

Sixth Form opening 2025 TBA

Number of I/GCSEs Offered

TBC: Provision starting 2023

I/GCSEs offered

TBC but on the basis of current KS3 provision should include as a minimum:

English language
English literature
Mathematics
Biology
Chemistry
Physics
History
Geography
Music
Drama
ICT/Computing
Art
Design Technology
Physical Education
Arabic
French and further modern languages

Selective

No, academically, culturally and SEND fully inclusive

Waiting list

No

Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

1845 student capacity on all-through opening
Current: 260 students (September 2019)

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:10 - 1:12
Notes:
(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)

Largest nationality teachers

British

Teacher turnover

0%

Year opened

2017

Location

Al Barsha, Dubai

Student composition

British (largest student majority)
International role including 44 nationalities

Gender

Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

Seven Tides Limited

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0) 356 3333

Web Address
Strengths

• Highly respected school owners passionately and genuinely committed to the success of the school for its children
• 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' - and in the broader context of supporting all children throughout their academic and whole child journey at the school
• Technology focus
• Major new investment in Chromebooks and Digital Learning from September 2020
• 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.
• Location
• Very 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. Current teacher retention (November 2020) is 100% with no turnover of staff - unheard of in Dubai.
• Investment in interactive specialist play resources including stand-out water features and whole school wifi across academic and sporting facilities

Weaknesses

NA

Rating
Our Rating
User Rating
Rate Here
Academic
B
Value
A
B
ExtraCurricula
B
Languages
B
Sports
B
Arts & Drama
B
Teaching
B
Communications
A+
B
Warmth
A+
B+
Differentiation
A+
B
SEND Provision
A+
B+
Scl Community
A+
B
Scl Facilities
A+
B+
Opportunities

• One of the most outstanding new school launches of 2017 - 2020 which, over the course of 2020, has gone from strength to strength. The school has responded impressively to the impacts of Covid 19 too. An exceptionally impressive school in phased launch - the future looks bright. Highly recommend.

A
Our Rating
B
User Rating
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About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and WhichSchoolAdvisor.com UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com
1 Comments
  • DEENA SAEED
    February 7, 2021 at 5:48 pm

    I have enjoyed enormously reading about Dubai Heights Academy on SchoolsCompared.com. I agree – the investments in education that have been made at the school are amazing and there is a clear focus on providing a twenty first century education for students. Our experience is that the teaching pedagogy is faultless and the strong leadership skills of Ms.Lamb an inspiration.

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