Updated October 2020: The Universal American School (UAS) – KHDA Very Good with Outstanding features 2020, SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2020
The Universal American School came close to being shortlisted for the Best American School in the United Arab Emirates 2019 at the SchoolsCompared.com Top School Awards. Despite just missing out, we nevertheless rate the school very highly, particularly in the context of its new Ivy League not-for-profit status having returned, after some 13 years under the management of ESOL Education, to management by the Al Futtaim Education Foundation.
The Universal American School (UAS) provides a hybrid, parallel stream, mixed, co-educational FS – Year 12 US-International Baccalaureate education for around 1030 pupils between the ages of 4 and 18 years. The school is set in beautifully landscaped and maintained grounds.
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. Nor is information 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 excellent and a million miles from the school we first reviewed some five years ago. We particularly like the celebration of 2020 graduating students here. News, however, needs significantly more investment; one story a year does not reflect the achievements of children or developments at the school.
New ownership by Al Futtaim Education Foundation, driven by not-for-profit investment in children, has seen quite remarkable changes to the school. These are reflected in the Dubai Schools Inspectorate awarding of Very Good School with Outstanding Features status for the last three years (2017-20). This followed a period of the school standing still for some eight years following its launch.
Core achievements noted by the KHDA include:
- Stand-out achievement in IB Diploma English Language and Literature
- Stand-out achievement in IB Diploma Arabic A
- Outstanding KG provision
- Outstandingly well-resourced school and facilities
- Outstanding while child development and “first class” care of children with a caring ethos that defines the relationships between children, teachers, parents and school leadership at every phase.
- Highly supportive parents that are engaged in school life
- Ambitious leadership with a defined path towards Outstanding school status
- Systematic culture of innovation across the school
Key areas that need development, and which account for the school just falling short of Outstanding school status, fall in the area of Mathematics and Science in which the achievement and progress of children does not match the heady heights achieved by the school in English (and impressively for an international school, Arabic A).
As a US curriculum grounded IB school we believe the commitment to Advanced Placement is a stand-out hugely creditable feature of the school. Too few US curriculum schools offer it. More on why Advanced Placement is so important can be found here. Whilst we do think the school should be offering the IB Career-related Programme, it can argue, with some justification, that by offering an Advanced Placement track they are providing a serious and credible alternative for its students to the Diploma.
The newly appointed (September 2020) Director of Universal American School, Janecke Aarnaes, brings to the role twenty five years experience in international education, latterly as the Founding Head of the UAE’s most expensive school – the Tier 1 International Baccalaureate curriculum Dwight School Dubai (September 2017 – August 2020). Prior to this, Miss Aarnaes has held positions across Norway and Belgium, most recently as Head of Oslo International School (OIS), the private Kindergarten to Year 12 International Baccalaureate World School in Norway.
Ms Aarnaes holds a post-graduate diploma in Leading Innovation and Change from York St. John’s University in the UK and a Masters (Cand.mag.) degree in Sociology and Anthropology, Political Geography and French from the University of Oslo in Norway.
A formidable linguist, Ms Aarnaes speaks eight languages fluently; English, French, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Spanish, Italian and German – and is learning Arabic.
Universal American School Dubai HandbookHigh+School+Handbook+2019+2020+V3
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 quite 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.
For an IB and Advanced Placement education at this very highly performing and resourced standard, we rate the value proposition here as outstanding.
Bottom Line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2020
There is huge potential here for an outstanding school – and it is time that is needed more than anything else.
We would 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 trick in not producing a comprehensive prospectus – evangelising the many ways it inspires its students and sets itself apart from competing hybrid US-IB schools. The School Handbook (published above) really does not convey just how impressive this school is, or its ambition for students.
We would also like to see, as above, 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 know that Ms Aarnaes has spoken passionately about how the Diploma should be seen as inclusive – and that this was always the intention of the IB. However, the Career-related programme reflects the reality of that many students are technical. BTEC, which is the general hub qualification of the IB CrP, recongnises this. Further, not every child is a natural linguist – and the Diploma, unlike the CrP, inherently works against children who are not proficient n a second language.
The AP stream is, however, stand-out and in its integration in school life and the IB as a dedicated stream unique in the UAE. It’s expensive to offer this. In many ways, APs are not dissimilar to A’ Levels in the British system. They offer a globally recognised pathway to top tier universities – and allow children to specialise. For us, this is an outstanding offer that sets a benchmark in UAE education and deserves much better celebration to parents within and outside the school.
This year the school welcomes its first scholarship students. We rare the commitment to scholarships outstanding.
Bottom line? The Universal American School of Dubai is a very high performing school. With its new found Not For Profit status, we expect even greater things to come from Al Futtaim Education Foundation in the years to come. For an already very highly performing school that is saying something. But is also the extraordinarily caring dynamics of this school that deserve praise, particularly in the context of a hugely demanding Diploma programme and a US curriculum pathway that arguably makes the transition more complex than that offered by its pure IB counterparts.
Finally, Al Futtaim Education deserves special mention. The investment it is making in all its schools – and the commitment to not-for-profit, we believe places it in the very top tier of educational organisations operating in the UAE. The commitment to delivering for students, parents and teachers is proven, impressive and very genuine.
Universal American School is a school on the up and teachers and students deserve to feel very, very proud of their achievements.
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Very Good with Outstanding Features (2019-20)
Very Good with Outstanding features (2018-19)
Very Good with Outstanding Features (2017-18)
GRADE 1: 48,896
GRADE 2: 48,896
GRADE 3: 48,896
GRADE 4: 48,896
GRADE 5: 54,304
GRADE 6: 67,880
GRADE 7: 67,880
GRADE 8: 67,880
GRADE 9: 76,670
GRADE 10: 76,670
GRADE 12: 76,670
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 Primary Years Programme [IB PYP]
International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme [IB DP]
International Baccalaureate Diploma Courses [IB DC]
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA)
The Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
Council of International Schools (CIS)
Selective - limited inclusion
(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 after period of declining is now levelling off: (88:2015, 65: 2016, 2019: 70)
US / American
31% (Above average)
Al Badia, Dubai Festival City, Dubai
US / American (largest nationality)
Special Educational Needs (SEN): 70
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%
Owner: After 13 years under the management of ESOL Education, the school has reverted to management by the building's owner, Al Futtaim, through its Al Futtaim Education Foundation. The school is resolutely not-for-profit.
(1) Formerly Educational Services Overseas Limited / Esol Education
Mr. Walid Abushakra, Chairman
+971 (0) 4 232 5222 Ext 2110
• 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
• Outstanding and pioneering commitment to Advanced Placement with a dedicated alternative stream option for students in parallel with the Dipoma
• Very high value fees
• Caring and happy school dynamics
• Developed and generous scholarship programme
• Lack of IB Career-related Programme limits post-16 options compared with the best schools
• Limited transparency across performance metrics