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The Universal American School, Dubai Festival City
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Review

The Universal American School, Dubai Festival City

by June 1, 2016
Strengths

• School with significant potential and capacity to excel
• Pioneering, radical and inspirational new leadership
• Interesting mix of US and IB curricular
• Very good facilities
• Supporting investing governance
• Committed, supporting parents
• Outstanding whole child development of students

Weaknesses

• Lack of IB Career-related Programme limits post-16 options compared with the best schools
• Poor transparency across performance
• Ongoing flux
• Need for staff turnover to stabilise and changes bed-in
• Concern at declining SEN role and inclusivity – despite significant new investment in SEN staff
• Lack of scholarship and bursary provision

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

The combination of a united school, terrific teaching staff, inspirational leadership and supportive governance give a real head start. The challenges of making two parallel curricular work properly together, extending IB provision to provide more inclusive options and getting communication to a Tier 1 standard still lie ahead.

B
Our Rating
B+
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The Universal American School (UAS) provides a hybrid, parallel stream, mixed, co-educational FS – Year 12 US-International Baccalaureate education for 1473 pupils between the ages of 4 and 18 years.

The Early Years (Elementary) curriculum follows the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme [IB PYP].

The Middle Years curriculum follows a “This We Believe” (TWB) curriculum created by the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE).

The High School curriculum is split between (1) an in-house, New York standards based US education built on Common Core and Next Generation standards in Grades 9-10; and (2) an International Baccalaureate programme offering students a (non-streamed) choice between study for the full IB Diploma (IB DP) or study for individual IB courses (IB DC) in Grades 11-12. This is fairly standard, although all IB Diploma Course students take the Global Citizenship course rather than the IB Diploma Program Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course.

Prospective parents should note that UAS does not currently provide students with an option to study for the (outstanding) International Baccalaureate Career-related Diploma (IB CP), which we believe provides a much better alternative to the IB Diploma than either the baseline US High School Diploma or limited International Baccalaureate Diploma Courses [IB DC] options currently provided for weaker to mixed ability students for which the highly academic Diploma is deemed by UIS to be unsuitable.

Currently UAS is not transparent and provides prospective parents with no information on the percentage of students who go on to study the IB Diploma, IB courses and those who study for the US High School Diploma.

No information is provided on scoring and examination performance in any curricular, this making it impossible for prospective parents to either benchmark school performance against alternative US, or IB, curriculum schools.

Without knowing the percentage of students who sit the IB Diploma, or their scoring, it is impossible to gauge the degree to which UAS should be identified as an IB school at all. Finally, UAS provides no added value data to enable parents to gauge the ability of the school to raise the attainment of students above their baseline flightpaths established on entering the school and between years, this despite the fact that this data is available through the school’s excellent and dedicated MAP testing.

This said, in other areas, school communications are improving, particularly in the launch of a Facebook page and excellent, regular newsletters/blogs from the Principal.

Prospective parents should also note that UAS continues in a process of transition and re-structuring across its middle school curricular, this aligned with relatively high levels of staff turnover.

These important caveats notwithstanding, UAS is a good school with many outstanding features. However it also falls frustratingly short in key areas.

To this end, under UAS’s new Director, Andrew Torris, the school in its 2015-16 KHDA inspection improved its performance in 18 areas over its 2014-2015 counterpart, this a considerable achievement given the many changes taking place across the school. These changes, which include significant realignments to the middle school curriculum and its progression, have also seen the timetable re-structured to extend lesson times (to very positive effect).

The school dropped in performance in five areas broadly related to the significant ongoing transformation of the (complex) curriculum and the challenges of effectively combining and integrating the Common Core State Standards with the International Baccalaureate program. In 28, of the 41 areas of the school assessed outside core student achievement, UAS (very creditably) scored Very Good or Outstanding. If the school can improve student attainment in Science English and Mathematics at High School and Post-16 phases, stabilise the curriculum and secure its already high performing leadership, we believe UAS is a strong candidate for Very Good school status at its next inspection. None of these are out of reach given the school’s committed and investing governance, high quality teaching staff (suffering the short-term confusion inevitable in any curricular realignment) and calibre of Mr Torris.

Facilities at UAS are Tier 1. They include a fully digital campus; landmark multipurpose hall (“MPH”) including a 546-seat theatre with acoustic panelling and theatre quality stage lighting and sound; band rooms; choir/choral suite; theatre and drama rooms/spaces; multiple ICT suites; Elementary Library; prayer rooms; IPAD & Laptop stations; a main library; science labs by specialism; and, technology rooms. Sporting facilities, generally a priority for US parents, have breadth and quality, if not matching those of the ultra-premiums. They include a six-lane, 400-meter all-weather track; 100 X 65 all natural grass soccer pitch; climate controlled, six-lane, 25-meter pool; multi-purpose gymnasium with roll out bleachers and a divider creating two regulation-size adjacent basketball and volleyball courts; and, a dedicated fitness, strength and conditioning room with the spectrum of ellipticals, ergo rowing machines, kettle-bells and free weights.

Core sports include, volleyball, soccer; badminton; swimming, basketball, Golf, Rugby 7s, soccer, Cross Country and Track & Field (including Distance and Throwing).

ECAs are extensive and include Arabic Newspaper production; Computer Science/LEGO Robotics/TETRIX; IB art immersion; Book Club; SAT Prep; Peer Tutoring; Sailing; Student Council; Girl Guides; Yearbook; Golf; Fine Arts Booster Club; Tennis; Cheerleading; Yoga; Fitness Boot camp; Blue Fest; Ab Blaster; a Chess Club; and, Model United Nations.

Our bottom line is mixed. There is huge potential here, however, we think the lack of transparency does the school a disservice. Schools should have the courage to publish in full the examination results of their students – and explain, particularly in a complex school like AIS, how many students achieve/take the varying different graduating options.

We would also like the school to publish the full curriculum booklets outlining the subject choices and breadth students can expect at different phases of the curriculum. We also think UAS misses a rick in not producing a comprehensive prospectus – evangelising the many ways it inspires its students and sets itself apart from competing hybrid US-Ib schools.

Ultimately, poor communication impacts on students and parents, prospective and existing, because it is information that sets expectations, understanding, and allows both schools and parents to hold each other to account.

We also believe that the school is missing a very important development in IB provision of the Career-related Diploma. This is being adopted by many Tier 1s because it resolves the inherent exclusivity of the Diploma and its impact on more vulnerable lower and mixed ability students in schools with inclusive intakes. It is telling that the SEN intake to UAS has dropped – with the IB CP in place UAS could begin to genuinely meet its published ambition to be more inclusive. The IB developed the CP for a reason – it is genuine shame that UAS has not caught up.

We are however, impressed by the feedback we have received on the impact of Mr Torris on the school. Change is significant – and that takes no small amount of courage. His ability to take the school, parents and governors with him on the journey – and the clear opening up of communication channels he is embracing, are a testament to his calibre – and capacity to take the school nearer to the Outstanding school status he aspires for.

Whilst these changes are underway, we can only partially recommend the school. There are real strengths here – and huge potential. But the journey is every much on-going one and prospective parents will need to hold this in the balance.

 

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Details to consider
Type of school

Private, for-profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 38,465
FS2: 43,693
YEAR 1: 58,027
YEAR 2: 58,027
YEAR 3: 58,027
YEAR 4: 58,027
YEAR 5: 64,546
YEAR 6: 64,546
YEAR 7: 64,546
YEAR 8: 64,546
YEAR 9: 73,030
YEAR 10: 73,030
YEAR 11: 73,030
YEAR 12: 73,030
YEAR 13: NA

Curriculum

American:
US High School Diploma
US Common Core Standards (English, Language, Arts, Mathematics)
Next Generation Science Standards (Science - Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Technology, Engineering)
New York State Board of Regents (History and Government)
International Baccalaureate:
International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme [IB PYP]
International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme [IB DP]
International Baccalaureate Diploma Courses [IB DC]

External Exam Boards

Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
Council of International Schools (CIS)
International Baccalaureate

Selective

Selective - limited inclusion
Notes:
(1) UAS admits students of any race, color, or national and ethnic background
(2) Entry to students requiring English as an Additional Language (EAL) and Special Educational Needs (SEN) "may be limited in line with program and staffing policies and defined academic requirements."
(3) Entry to PreKG, KGI, and KGII is subject to an interview
(4) Entry to Grades 1 to 11 is subject to passing an assessment test in Mathematics and English.
(5) School will review previous school reports and assessment test results in making a decision
(6) UAS will contact the applicant’s school when additional information is needed to give full consideration to his/her application
(7) Applicants must provide a photocopy of the final report card (current academic year)
(8) "A few students with moderate Special Educational Needs (SEN) are admitted."
(9) No students with severe Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) are admitted for enrollment (KHDA)
(10) The school does not identify students who are gifted or talented (G&T) (KHDA)
(11) The number of children identified with Special Educational Needs is declining: (88:2015, 65: 2016)

Waiting list

No

Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

1473

Teacher to Student Ratio

1:9

Largest nationality teachers

US / American

Teacher turnover

30%

Year opened

2005

Location

Al Badia, Dubai Festival City, Dubai

Student composition

US / American (largest nationality)
Emirati: 105
Special Educational Needs (SEN): 65
Pre-kindergarten: 51
Age range: 4-18
total nationalities 75+
Approximate percentages by major nationality: US 23%, Canada 9%, Emirati 7%, Lebanon 7%, Egypt 7%, Indian 5%, Jordan 4%

Gender

Mixed, co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

Educational Services Overseas Limited / Esol Education
Mr. Walid Abushakra, Chairman

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0) 4 232 5222 Ext 2110

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM

80%

Attainment Pri SEM

66.6%

Attainment Sec SEM

60%

Attainment Post-16 SEM

60%

Progress Nur SEM

80%

Progress Pri SEM

73.3%

Progress Sec SEM

60%

Progress Post-16 SEM

60%

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)

60%

Arabic Secondary Results (Native)

50%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

40%

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)

70%

Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)

50%

Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

40%

Islamic St. Primary Results

40%

Islamic St. Secondary Results

40%

Islamic St. Post-16 Results

40%

Leadership

60%

Community

100%

Facilities

100%

Quality of teaching

70%

Student personal responsibility

100%

Quality of curriculum

70%

School Governance

80%

SEN Provision

65%

About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Acting Editor of SchoolsCompared.com and the International Editor of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at] schoolscompared.com

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Academic
Value
ExtraCurricula
Languages
Sports
Arts & Drama
Teaching
Communications
Warmth
Differentiation
SEND Provision
Scl Community
Scl Facilities