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Horizon International School, Umm Al Sheif
Arts, Music and Drama

Horizon International School, Umm Al Sheif

by August 3, 2019

Horizon International School – updated August 2019 KHDA latest accreditation – this review is currently being updated.

“We give equal importance to academics as well as extracurricular activities to foster the holistic development of our students. Our aim is to give children all the tools they require to make a positive impact in their lives, and the communities they live in.”

Darren Gale. Principal. Horizon International School

Prospective parents should be advised that, to some degree, Horizon International should be treated as a new school in weighing up the strengths of the school for potential provision of education for their child(ren). It is also fair to say that the school’s overall performance deteriorated at the time of its last inspection reported in May 2017.

The school begins GCE A’ Level provision for the first time in September 2016.

A very limited number of (I)GCE O’ Level examinations were taken for the first time in 2015 (mostly in languages) and (I)GCSE full examinations were sat for the first time in 2016 with very mixed results. The school on opening was running with very high teacher turnover running at 45% but this has now settled to an average 23%.

Horizon International has a key advantage over other relatively schools: it started with the foundations of a well-established Junior school already in place, the new school owners having purchased the originally named “Star International School – Umm Al Sheif” outright from previous owners.

Star International UAS was a Grade 1-9 English National Curriculum School established by the previous owners in 2008. Significantly, for prospective parents, the original school was consistently rated in the “Good” class of schools by the Dubai KHDA schools Inspectorate, and this had provided some security for prospective parents that Horizon had all the foundations in place when it was taken over by its new owners.


One caveat to this had been the loss of the very respected principal, Dave Wilson. It is not very clear why Mr Wilson left the school, however he had provided a lot of the continuity between Star and Horizon. He was very liked by parents for creating an inclusive and warm school environment, and for raising its standards and quality of education.

One of Mr Wilson’s legacies will be the range of subjects offered by the school – a key measure parents can look at in deciding the degree to which a school is genuinely committed to matching its provision to the individual talents of its students, and the degree a school is will to invest in higher levels of staffing required to offer more subject options to children. The greater the subject choices, the more likely a school will be to meet the needs of children. (I)GCSE subject options are impressive. All children sit a core of 7 subjects with a further (maximum) 3 options to be drawn from a wide-ranging list of options.

These options stretch across 18 core subject areas ranging from traditional options like History and Geography through to Psychology, Performing Arts, Photography, three Design and Technology options; Dance and Business studies. The school offers language provision across English, Arabic, French and Spanish.

In terms of breadth of (I)GCSE provision the school is operating strongly. Curriculum subjects are provided both by Cambridge International and EDEXCEL, the school committed to drawing on the examination boards necessary to ensure the maximum breadth of provision for children.

As of 2018, school Principal Darren Gale has been post – and we have received excellent feedback from teachers and students. Mr Gale was recruited from Kings’ Nad Al Sheba.

As of 2016, the school announced a dedicated scholarship programme. The aim of the programme was to ensure that gifted children should not be disadvantaged by their financial background in gaining a place at the school.

Scholarships are provided in all five areas of core subject provision for children gifted in each one or more of Academics; Music; Dance; Drama; and/or Sport. Scholarships will offer fee remission of up to 25% and be available to existing and new students from Year 6 onwards. Although the school does not advertise the number of available scholarships we would strongly advise all parents to complete the relevant application found here.

Facilities provision continues to suffer from a lack of on-site cafeteria facilities, this a result of the school’s growth and earlier facilities simply now not having the capacity to meet projected need. As a result, students are required to bring packed lunches to school or a catering provider brings food in from off-site. Although Horizon does have a “Juice Bar” we believe that proper lunch provision is important and hope that this will be addressed as a matter of urgency in the school’s development planning moving forward.

We also believe that eventual provision for a lift to enable disabled children to access all floors of the school is something that should be equally prioritised in future stages of school development.

Notwithstanding these omissions, however, facilities are as a whole of a very high standard and of sufficient breadth and quality to meet the needs of students. They include wi-fi equipped classrooms; fully digital campus; (fabulous) FS Indoor Play Area zoned across areas providing role-play and exploration; further shaded FS Outdoor Play Area with climbing frames, a fun slide, space rocket, firefighter’s pole and “spider’s web”;; whole-school library; juice bar; clinic; Main ICT Lab; Control Technology Lab for robotics (including Lego Mindstorms provision); art rooms equipped for collage, 3D modelling, textiles and craft work; science labs; and community theatre and auditorium.

Sports facilities include a large artificial grass pitch to the front of the school with shaded seating and equipped for Football, Cricket, Tag Rugby and Athletics; very high quality 25 metre climate controlled eight lane swimming pool with High Board Diving and PADI Diving facilities; and two further mosaic splash pools with colourful surroundings for younger children.

Extra-Curricular Activities [ECAs] provided by the school are excellent and include a Film Club; Mathematics Club; Arts and Crafts Club; Arabic Writing; Debating Club; Primary Swim Club; English Support; Primary Rounders;  U14 Girls Basketball; HIPI Dance; U16 Boys Football; Drama Club; Table Tennis; Stop Motion Animation Club; Recreational Badminton Club; Secondary Girls Rounders; U14 Boys Basketball; Art From Film Club; iMovie Club; Secret Writing Society; KS3 Football; Recreational Volleyball; Primary Swim Squad; U11 Basketball; and Primary Development Swim Squad. These are strengthened with external provision for Du Gym; Chess; Elite Football; Young Engineers; Clay Modelling; Dance Project – Cheerleading; Dance Project – Salsa/Latin/Ballroom; karate; Drama Scene; Turning Pointe Ballet; Al Tawash Diving; Aquatix Swimming; Silversmith; Kidzart; Diverse Street Jazz; Bounce; Level Up Capoeira; Buko Judo; Tennis 360; Indoor Hockey; Mandarin/Chinese; choir; Horizon Band; and horse riding.

We argue strongly that the depth and thoughtfulness of ECA provision is one indicator that should draw parental attention in measuring the genuine commitment of any school to whole child provision. Horizon certainly operates at outstanding levels of delivery.

There are some stand-out innovations we particular like:

  • Horizon’s Year 2 to 6 “Curriculum Workshop Programme” dedicates 1 lesson every Thursday afternoon for children to choose new activities across creative arts, sports, music or languages, this culminating in an annual Enterprise Afternoon in June each year for children to showcase their talents.
  • The Year 7 to 9 CAVE programme provides concentrated enrichment across Community, Achievement, Volunteeringand  Activities range from building new businesses to charitable works. In Year 7 this is supplemented by short course provision in areas including food technology, Dance, Drama, Psychology and Spanish.
  • Horizon’s International Performance Institute (HIPI) enables high achieving Performing Arts students to pursue qualifications underwritten by LAMDA and the Royal College of Music as well as providing elite athletes with a range of targeted specialist further enhanced curriculum(s).
  • Whole child provision is strengthened by early stage intervention in the Arts. Between Years 2 and 6 all children have piano lessons integrated within the curriculum, supported by extra-curricular instrument options. At Secondary stage the music curriculum floods children with appreciation of music styles and cultural impacts. The (very impressive) ambition is for “all students to have the basic skills and knowledge to see Music GCSE as a viable option at Key Stage 4.”

Horizon has a House System, dividing children into one of four houses on entering the school: (Blue) Dalma Dolphins; (Red) Fahidi Falcons; (Gold) Liwa Leopards; and (Green) Hatta Hornets. Each has a democratically elected, secondary and primary, Captain and Vice-Captain. This, together with the other features we identify above, are telling of the very significant changes and improvements being undertaken across the school under its new owners.

It is fair to say that the school has had its share of frustrations as it has built its capacity to open all-through provision. Leadership has been ambitious, and the school wanted to ratchet up the quality and breadth of provision quickly so that all children benefit.

More time will give Horizon schools as a whole the opportunity to pull together better, and to ensure feeder transition is smoother and of a better fit. Many of these problems are clearly related to very significant growth in student numbers aligned with the robust recruitment of new teachers to ensure 1:12 teacher to student ratios are maintained. It is frustrating that by 2017 these identified weaknesses art the time of our last review have yet to be fully ironed out.

Prospective parents should note too that ongoing investment in the school is being made by owners and the KHDA note a capacity for growth and improvement over time.

Bottom line? It remains simply too early, as of 2019, to provide a clear view.

Positively, the provision of scholarships – and on a wide-ranging basis – is indicative of a very principled school driving to meet international benchmarks of outstanding school provision.

School fees have reduced by some AED 20,000 over the originally planned fees for GCSE and Sixth Form which does moderate our original view of the school which we believed then simply did not stack up. Value we now rate as offering good ROI.

We expect to visit the school in late 2019 and will update our review then.

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Details to consider
2018/19 Overall ADEK / KHDA Rating


2017/18 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating


2016/17 Overall ADEC / KHDA Rating


2015/16 Overall KHDA / ADEC Rating


Type of school

Private, for profit

Full WSA Review
Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 34,517
FS2: 34,517
YEAR 1: 39,621
YEAR 2: 39,621
YEAR 3: 45,212
YEAR 4: 45,212
YEAR 5: 48,335
YEAR 6: 48,335
YEAR 7: 54,745
YEAR 8: 54,745
YEAR 9: 54,745
YEAR 10: WAS 73,890 NOW 59,000
YEAR 11: WAS 81,400 NOW 59,000
YEAR 12: WAS 85,000 + NOW 65,000
YEAR 13: WAS 85,000 + NOW 65,000


National Curriculum for England:
(I)GCSE O' Level
GCE A' Level from September 2016

External Exam Boards

Cambridge International Education [CIE]

Number of A Levels offered

Phased opening 2016-18

A Levels offered

Phased opening 2016-18

A Level A* to A

Phased opening 2016-18

A Level A* to C

Phased opening 2016-18


To be published 2016-17


To be published 2016-17

Number of I/GCSEs Offered

(1) Students sit 7 core (I)GCE O' Levels
(2) Students choose 3 further Options
(3) Maximum number of (I)GCSE O' Levels that can be taken: 10

I/GCSEs offered

English Language (Core 1/7)
English Literature (Core 2/7)
Mathematics (Core 3/7)
Information & Communications Technology [ICT]/Computer Science (Core 4/7)
Single/Dual Award Science (Core 5&6/7)
Physical Education [PE] (Core 7/7)
Physics (Core Option)
Chemistry (Core Option)
Biology (Core Option)
Physical Education [PE] (Option)
Single/Dual Award Science (Core)
French (Non Native)
French (Native)
Design and Technology I: Graphics Design
Design and Technology II: Textiles
Design & Technology III: Food Technology
Fine Art
Business Studies
EPA (Expressive & Performing Arts)


(1) Admission to our school is dependent upon the outcome of an entrance assessment
(2) FS1 - 2: 30-minute assessment individually or in a small group and based primarily on observation of child at play. Foundation Stage teachers observe child’s personal, social and emotional development,
communication and language skills and aspects of physical development as appropriate for
their age.
(3) Years 1 - 6: 30 to 50 minute assessment individually or in a small group based on whole child observation across communication skills, social development, behaviour, attitude, manners, physical development and testing of academic levels in both Mathematics and English based on current UK National Curriculum levels.
(4) Year 7 +: 30 to 50 minute assessment observing communication skills, social development,
behaviour, attitude, manners and physical development, in conjunction with a 60 minute
written academic paper. Prospective secondary students must already be following the
National Curriculum of England in subjects which match those to be studied at Horizon International.
(5) Approximately 50% of children joining FS1 are identified with English as an additional Language [EAL]

Waiting list


Value Added

Not published

Number of Students

Capacity: 1400
Current roll: 944+

Teacher to Student Ratio

FS1: 1:11
FS2 onwards: 1:12
(1) Maxim class size 24 with one teacher and one support teacher

Largest nationality teachers


Teacher turnover

45% (up from 7%)

Year opened

June 2013 under new owners Al Najah Education Limited
(September 2008 under previous owners (ETA Star Group) as "Star International School Umm Sheif")


Umm Al Sheif, Dubai

Student composition

British (largest nationality): 35%
Nationalities: 51
FS1: 88
Emirati: 7
Special Educational Needs [SEN]: 79
English as an Additional Language [EAL]: 50% at FS1


Mixed, co-educational

School canteen



Al Najah Education Limited
Al Masah Capital Limited
Shailesh Dash, Chairman

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0) 4 348 3314

Web Address
Attainment Nur SEM


Attainment Pri SEM


Attainment Sec SEM


Attainment Post-16 SEM

Phased opening 2016-18

Progress Nur SEM


Progress Pri SEM


Progress Sec SEM


Progress Post-16 SEM

Phased opening 2016-18

Arabic Native Primary Results (Native)


Arabic Secondary Results (Native)


Arabic Post-16 Results (Native)

Phased opening 2016-18

Arabic Primary Results (Add.)


Arabic Secondary Results (Add.)


Arabic Post-16 Results (Add.)

Phased opening 2016-18

Islamic St. Primary Results


Islamic St. Secondary Results


Islamic St. Post-16 Results

Phased opening 2016-18







Quality of teaching


Student personal responsibility


Quality of curriculum


School Governance


SEN Provision



• Consistent “Good” original school scoring by the KHDA lays strong foundations for Horizon moving forward
• Extremely rapid launch of whole-school balance to the curriculum in preparation for all-through provision including parallel curriculum G&T and Performing Arts
• Exceptional breadth of subject provision at (I)GCSE matching the very best schools
• High quality of school facilities, particularly in its pools and FS stage facilities
• Breadth of ECAs
• Location
• Scholarship programme
• Whichschooladvisor feedback from students and parents recommending the school to prospective parents


• The loss of a committed and ambitious Principal, David Wilson
• High fees need to be matched by basics including a cafeteria
• Increasingly competitive educational landscape will require further considerable investment from owners to keep up and the school will need to benchmark itself against competing schools
• Improved transparency in long term planning across capital and intellectual investment/development would enhance parent’s ability to measure the school’s current offer against its ambitions
• Weaknesses in accessibility
• School midway through significant school transformation with inevitable teething issues
• New owners Al Najah Education, an equity fund, have still to prove themselves
• Very high staff turnover in 2017 and considerably worsened since 2016

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SEND Provision
Scl Community
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• Impressive ambition and ongoing innovation in whole child school provision but clear weaknesses at secondary phase and IGCSE raise some concerns. The school's new owners have yet to prove themselves and clearly the school needs further time to bed in provision.

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About The Author
Jon Westley
Jon Westley is the Editor of and UK. You can email him at jonathanwestley [at]
  • agnes Lua
    September 17, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I have 2 children study in this school, we are very proud to be part of the HIS family. The communication, leadership, commitment and facilities improved tremendously over the years. Students are very well behave and good mixed that allowed them to learn and respect different culture.

    This is the school where everyone always come in with a smile every morning… I love it and my children love it..

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