Dubai Heights Academy, Al Barsha – The Review
• Outstanding founding Principal with a reputation for putting children first
• 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
• High levels of investment and thoughtfulness in design and breadth of facilities
• 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
• Inevitable potential for teething issues from any new school
Dubai Heights Academy – June 2017 Hard Hat Tour
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, map below.
DHA has published plans to provide a through FS to Year 11 education to IGCSE and has opened initially with phases 1 – Year 4. We are awaiting confirmation whether the school also plans to provide a dedicated Sixth Form.
Eventual capacity is 1,845 children. 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.
Facilities will, 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. We are awaiting clarification on which facilities will be available from launch as the school is committed to launching only pre-secondary education from launch.
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 FS, Primary and Secondary school children educated separately within 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, and Dubai Heights seeks to obviate the need to do this, whilst using its economies of scale to provide a premium level of infrastructure across Sports, the Arts and broader ICT and technology Labs that smaller schools generally cannot match. The Kindergarden building comprises a ground floor; the Primary School building three floors and the Secondary School building will be 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 is expected to be 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.
Surprisingly, Dubai Heights Academy fee levels, whilst premium, operate at the very lowest end of the spectrum. If the promised quality and breadth of facilities, recruitment of faculty and inclusive ethos are delivered, the school will offer a very good value proposition for parents. It should be noted that fees, which run from 37,570 AED at FS1 to 49,640 AED in Year 6, are fully inclusive of ECAs, uniform and all text books. Whilst it is too early to fairly expect the school to publish detailed information on ECA provision we are assure that it will cover the full spectrum of activities across Sport (including Football, Netball, Tennis, Swimming, Golf and Rugby), the Performing Arts, Art, languages and Music.
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 are currently awaiting information from the school on whether they will offer a dedicated supportive scholarship programme, 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.
Academically, Dubai Heights Academy will offer a pure English National Curriculum education from EYFS 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 will be introduced from FS1.
On that note, the schools Founding Principal, Andrew Prosser, brings with him 16 years UK and Middle East experience latterly as Headteacher of Al Safa Community School, reviewed here. He is known for being a conviction-led educationalist. Writing about Dubai Heights Mr Prosser writes:
“An outstanding educational experience is the greatest gift that we can give our children.
From the initial recruitment information I received during my application to be Founding Principal of Dubai Heights Academy, I knew that this school would be very special – and make a difference.
The school has been established to achieve three fundamental things:
For every child – a platform for academic achievement, cognitive development and personal excellence
For every mind – an engaging approach, inclusive environment and progressive learning experiences
For everybody – the inspiration to be the best version of themselves.
These ambitions could not be more perfectly in alignment with my own personal and professional ideals of what today’s education system should be providing all of our children.
More than anything, it is ensuring the success of every child in my school that makes my work as Principal so rewarding.”
Andrew Prosser, Founding Principal. Dubai Heights Academy.
“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
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.
Dubai Heights Academy – The SchoolsCompared.com Bottom line?
On our recent follow-up visit we learned too that recruitment of founding 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 every aspect of the launch of Dubai Heights Academy.
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 this school starts with key things in place: owners that care and who have invested very significantly in the school; a Founding Head with vision, passion and talent in equal measure; a school ethos that is profoundly inclusive and inspiring – and a phased, gentle plan for opening designed to put children first and get things right.
Dubai Heights Academy is open for registration to Year 4. Importantly, Founding Discounts will cover a complete four year period, rather than being for a single year as follows. This is important to avoid a situation where parents are faced with larger increases in fees after a single year of special fees. The discounts have been confirmed as follows:
Year 1 – 15% discount
Year 2 – 10% discount
Year 3 – 10% discount
Year 4 – Guaranteed no fee increase
The SchoolsCompared.com Hard hat Tour – June 2017
As a 7 Tides development, we came with high expectations for our first Hard hat tour of Dubai Heights Academy.
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 – and then, the part you cannot learn in books, they 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 a school has to provide security and, in a deeper way, a sense of home.
The owners too have thrown into this challenging mix the demands to produce a school that is sustainable and responsive to the environment – and a building that captures the magic of Dubai and the richness, pride and beauty of broader Emirati and Arabic culture and history.
This is 7 Tides first school and the stakes are high – but what we learned during our visit is that the driver for the school is less an abstract organisation than the owners’ hands-on passion and commitment to create a perfect school for children. In our meetings with Andrew Prosser, Dubai Heights’ Founding Principal and a bank of architects and advisers, it was the influence and hands-on ambition of the owner behind 7 Tides that felt its presence most strikingly.
In terms of location, Dubai Heights Academy sits at the centre of the Al Barsha schools hub 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. Time will tell….
And this is of course true of the site as a whole at this early stage. The pace of build is swift, but careful. But there are glimpses of what is coming with clear markers for the extensive areas of glass that will pepper the first FS and Primary buildings that are taking shape and which will house Founding children to Year 4 when the school opens in September 2017.
The FS and Primary are deliberately separated, with unique and specific facilities for each. The owners want to recognise the differences between children even at this younger age when many schools combine them. Both phases will 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 will be the competition football pitch and the landmark theatre space – more on that below.
On launch, Dubai Heights Academy will be 5-form entry, with each year group having its own cluster of classrooms and central breakout area.
The internal breakout areas will 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 phases will be just 700 children.
Without getting too technical we really liked the decision to use a resin for the flooring which is designed to seamlessly flow throughout the school – with special aggregate breaks used for water play areas in FS1 and the like which require grip and softness for the children in their activities.
There is a team too working on the gardens and plants around the school which will be used functionally to create shade – but also to work with the buildings to create that sense of purpose, sustainability, nature and inspiration that is fundamental to the design brief.
The positions of trees have already begun to be marked within the central play areas – and we understood during our visit that they will achieve from the planting a sense of “calmness, greenery and permanence.”
One other stand-out feature of the design of Dubai Heights Academy even at this stage is the sense of space at the heart of the school.
SEND and Inclusiveness
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 ‘Snoezle’ room – 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.
Foundation Stage children at Dubai Heights Academy have their own entrance and, as above are largely independent from the Primary school. The central courtyard will have 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 being 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, will move the water ….. as will cans, syringes, cogs and all manner of other vessels! It is expected that children will wear cuffed aprons to ensure their clothes stay dry, and the resin flooring will be anti-slip. Water will run away through a drainage system much as it would in a wet room with the floor angled slightly to facilitate this, and small retainer edges to the area.
The water play areas, including the planned “Huckleberry Creek”, are set to be quite something. Another really inspiring example of how the school has sought to bring together best practice and technologies from around the world to inspire children is the giant solar powered interactive stop watch which will be integrated into the design of one of the outside sports and play areas so that children can time their activities and set lap times for example. These and countless other clever touches set the school apart.
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. Quite extraordinary!
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 will be available for FS and Primary – it was reinforced to us that the provider will need to cater 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. In practice, the FS1 children will probably rotate so they are not at lunch at the same time as older children. 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.
Whilst the Dubai Heights Academy Secondary school will not be completed for 2-3 years, 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 proposed to be 50m in length and will overlook the football field and skyline
The Dubai Heights Academy Theatre will take pride of place. The ambition here is to emphasise that culture, the whole child and the broader Arts are as fundamental to education as academics – and they breathe life into each other.
The two buildings will be bridged to provide the main inspirational pathway to the Theatre area on the 1st floor. We liked the plan to have a dedicated ’Ticket Office’ – it was suggested that children would look after this themselves and sell tickets to productions.
The lobby area outside the Theatre will be 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 whole design is built around creating a sense of drama.
Practically 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. It was mentioned on our visit that there may be a landmark LED screen at the back of the stage to provide a three dimensional-ised background for performances. Whether this is eventually integrated or not, it’s a good example of the ambition and thought evident throughout our visit – even at this very early stage.
Dubai Heights Academy Hard Hat Tour Bottom Line
The above, of course, are simply glimpses into the design briefs and ambitions of a school being built. The building is still at a very early stage in its architectural journey.
The second half of the story, of course, will come as the teachers are recruited. Here too, we are promised no stone will be left unturned to find a very special group of men and women for the children under their care.
We left our visit above all with a belief that Dubai Heights is a school has a sense of educational purpose and ambition driven by children’s needs and potential. The attention to detail shines through every corner.
The drive and care of the Founding Head, Andrew Prosser, and the teams of architects, builders and consultants really builds confidence.
There is a sense in all the building work that surrounded us 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.
It’s a very different feeling to our usual Hard Hat tours at this stage of a build in other schools where logistics has a habit of crowding out the underlying purpose of what a school is ultimately for.
Dotted around each corner we found 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.
On a practical note, prospective parents should note that the fees listed in our table below are fully inclusive of both the cost of Uniform and Sports Kit.
It’s early – but there is so much potential here. The building blocks are in play. The children will ultimately be the ones to decide where they fall. And that’s as it should be. Watch this space.
First inspection 2018-19
First inspection 2018-19
First inspection 2018-19
First inspection 2018-19
NA -new school September 2017
YEAR 1: 42,840
YEAR 2: 43,520
YEAR 3: 43,520
YEAR 4: 45,220
YEAR 5: 47,090
YEAR 6: 49,640
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
(3) A' Level TBC
(1) Accreditation being sought from Council of British International Schools (COBIS); British Schools Middle East (BSME); and British School Overseas (BSO).
Sixth Form opening 2025 TBA
Sixth Form opening 2025 TBA
Provision starting 2023
Provision starting 2023 TBA
1845 capacity on all-through opening
1:22 - 1:24
(1) FS1/2: 1:22
(2) Year 1 - 6: 1:24
(3) FS1 - Year 4 Teacher + Teaching Assistant (TA)
(4) Year 5 - 6: Teacher + shared Teaching Assistant (TA)
Al Barsha, Dubai
British (largest nationality) [Expected]
Seven Tides Limited
+971 (0) 436 82677