Australian International School Sharjah, University City – The Review
Updated October 2018 – new sister school under construction to be based in Al Barsha, Dubai
The Australian International School Sharjah [AIS] was the first Australian school to be established in the Middle East and was formed through a partnership between the Al Sharif Investment Trading Group and the Government of Queensland, Australia.
The intention was to provide a school balancing the qualities of the best Western standards of education whilst also nurturing and respecting the culture, faith and language of the people of the UAE and the Arabic world more broadly.
“I chose to build this school for my own children. I realised none of the schools at that time was offering what I was looking for. I wanted the highest quality of education which preserves our culture … the culture where we come from. I wanted the best of the Western education system and the East in one school. I wanted my children to grow up respectful of others and proud of where they come from.
In 10 years we have achieved something special. It is because we believe in what we do. We believe in education. We believe in quality. Our will did not compromise at any point on the quality that we set for this school. This school was built on quality – and nothing else.
There is no reward except knowing that when a child becomes a global citizen they could make a difference, change something in this world. If our parents are happy, that is my reward. If our parents are proud of their children, that is my reward. Quality is expensive and not easy to maintain. But we are committed to this.” – Othman Sharif, Co-Founder, Australian International School, Sharjah
Founded in 2005, AID offers a mixed, co-educational education to around 1300 children through a Queensland curriculum with parallel International Baccalaureate Diploma [IBD] /High School Certificate post-16 provision. Fees are, for Sharjah, premium running from 34,280 AED at FS stages through to 63,400 AED in Year 12.
Whilst fees are generally lower in Sharjah compared with Dubai school counterparts, prospective parents should note that AIS is an International Baccalaureate school and on this basis the fees represent good value.
At the last school inspection from the Ministry of Education, the Australian International School [AIS] scored the highest possible marks awarded by the Inspectorate, achieving “Highly Effective” status in all 6 of its rating categories (school leadership; the “school as a community”; school’s approach to student learning; classroom climate; student’s personal development; and student attainment/development).
AIS achieved a rating of “High” in its capacity to improve further and was recommended for the Inspectorate’s highest accolade, namely the awarding of a “Distinction” for meeting “highly effective” scoring in school leadership and at least three of the six categories of inspection. The award by the Sharjah Inspectorate lasts until 2017.
In many ways the less prescriptive Australian system lends itself extremely well to the founder’s aim to balance the academic stretch of Western education with the support and nurturing of local culture, language and ethics. Given that currently in the Emirates it tends to be the combination of UK curriculum with later IB study that dominates the Tier 1s (although there are alternatives, particularly through some US and Canadian schools), the Australian model does offer prospective parents a real alternative to the English National Curriculum schools.
The relatively concentrated UK approach to learning core knowledge, and the considerable demands that entails, means that the English National Curriculum inevitably leaves UK schools with less room to absorb, meld and integrate local culture compared with the more holistic approach of the Australian curriculum.
There are some quite complex differences between UK and Australian educational approaches, but, broadly stated, the Australian system takes a broader approach to child learning, focussing on nurturing in children the investigative tools to question the “why” and “how” to learn. The more traditional, to some degree rote-based, UK approach focuses instead on the “what” to learn and as a result has a relatively restricted emphasis on children learning facts in developing a bank of core knowledge.
In the UK system, critique and investigation arguably find their most sustained voice much later during A Level study. In Australian schools, children’s questioning the world starts from the moment a child starts school.
In recent years, and somewhat controversially, the UK system has reverted even more strongly to this “factual” approach that focusses on instilling in children a bedrock of learned knowledge, particularly at EYFS and Middle School stages to (I)GCSE.
Prospective parents should note that this implies a further distancing of the UK model from the alternative International Baccalaureate approach to learning. The IB offers both significantly greater breadth of subject areas and a more philosophical and critical approach to learning much more aligned to these more open dynamics of the Australian model.
Other more practical examples of where the UK system distinguishes itself from the Australian model are in the areas of homework and examinations, both of which play a significantly less prevalent role in the Australian system. For parents used to children returning from school each day with volumes of homework this can initially be unsettling.
The Australian International School offers children the choice of graduating with the Australian High School Certificate or International Baccalaureate Diploma, this decided on the basis of which program will provide the best fit for individual children. The fit, as above, is an exceptionally good one and many argue that the Australian approach offers a better groundwork for the International Baccalaureate Diploma than even the equivalent International PYP and MYP programmes. This is in part because, the Australian system is less didactic in approach than either the UK or International Baccalaureate PYP and MYP alternatives, but does take from the UK system its Key Stage approach to learning, this giving a very clear structure to child progression, an emphasis on combing the “Three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic but with greater subject breadth and focus on children discovering the world rather than its being imposed on them.
There are some trade-offs that prospective parents will need to weigh in the balance.
First, the Australian model does lose some ground, as do the American and Canadian schools offering later IB provision, because at 16 there is arguably nothing to compete with the international currency of (I)GCSE.
Second, critiques of the Australian school system in comparison with UK schools focus on its being less able to deal with children on the Special Educational Needs spectrum, including those children defined as Gifted and Talented [G&T]. The Sharjah MOE notes that AIS has invested considerably in countering this potential weakness by bolstering provision, particularly with children at the disability end of the SEN spectrum.
Third, whilst the IB Diploma is recognised by both local and international universities world-wide, the QCE certificate has most leverage in Australia and to some degree in the US and Canada.
Facility provision at the Australian International School is solid, but prospective parents should not expect the “bells and whistles” of the premium Tier 1s. Instead the feel is of a “real” working school; everything a child needs is provided in abundance but the school is clearly used and loved. A good example comes with the excellent playing fields; these are not showpiece cricket fields – they are working sports grounds – which is arguably what they should be. Facilities elsewhere include a fully digital campus; computer/ICT labs; 2 subject focused multi-purpose science labs; (excellent) music room with a piano and the full spectrum of instrument provision; conference facility; medical clinic; mosque; canteen; library; 25M pool; dedicated Junior playing field; 3 Junior play centres; Middle/Senior playing field; whole school playing field for events and competitive sport (above); Early Learning centre; FS play areas; dedicated science lecture theatre; combined whole-school auditorium/theatre/gymnasium; and a split-level whole-school library with digital facilities and meeting areas.
The Early Years program follows the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia’ EYLF and ‘Queensland Kindergarten Learning Guidelines’ QKLG based within a Reggio Emilia philosophy.
Junior School study centres on 8 core areas: mathematics, English, Science; society and environment [including history and business]; ICT; an additional language; Physical Health and Social Education [PHSE]; and “the Arts” more broadly including drama and dance. Children study Islamic studies or philosophy. These subjects extend and develop into Middle school.
The choice for Year 11 and 12 students between the International Baccalaureate Diploma or Queensland Certificate of Education [QCE] determines subject options.
Students studying the IB Diploma program select 6 core subjects from English language and literature; Arabic language and literature; business and management; economics; history; French; physics; chemistry; biology; Mathematics (standard and higher); and theatre. These are studied with Theory of Knowledge; a Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) program; and an extended thesis on a subject of their own choice.
The QCE program follows the Queensland senior school curriculum moderated by the Queensland Studies Authority. Subjects include mathematics; English as a second language; Arabic; Science; film, television and new media; business organisation and management; health education and Information Technology.
Prospective parents should note that children transferring from UK curriculum schools will be placed in the grade below due to the different alignment of UK curriculum year/grade.
Results currently show good performance from those students who do sit for the IBD with MOE data reporting a 5.4 average in 2014 and the school reporting 2015 results averaging a minimum four points across subjects with a 28 pints plus total score for those students securing the Diploma.
The investment of school leadership, and their commitment to the school – both in founders and the current longstanding Head, Annette Wilson, is evident. AIS is clearly a school that is committed to providing a high standard of education. Prospective parents are advised to ask the school for a copy of the video presentation made by the school’s founder, Othman Sharif, which provides a fascinating and moving account of how AIS came to be established, its rationale and ethos, and the ongoing commitment of the whole school to meeting its ambitions to deliver a benchmark for education in the Emirates. Part of the presentation is quoted above.
Feedback from parents and teachers to our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com has been almost uniformly positive, particularly on the standard of teaching and the school’s support for students. Of the mixed feedback the independent inspectors received there was a general sense that the school would benefit from having a larger international student intake, but in many ways the significant Emirati student population is a testament to the founder’s wish to provide Emiratis with a school able and genuinely committed to recognising their local culture, but within the context of a Western education.
Bottom line? AIS offers a genuine choice for parents who want to keep the door open to the International Baccalaureate within an education that finds inspiration in, and nurtures the local and broader Arabic context of the school. There are many non-Arabic parents that look for schools able to offer their children the competitive language and cultural advantages that come from a school immersed in local culture. Equally, many Arabic families want a school that delivers the very high standards of Western education, but at the same time one able to have children that do not lose their local identity.
Holding together a Western and Arabic context, in a school that protects both, is a hugely complex and ambitious task. The balancing act is inevitably one that leaves the school on a knife edge that requires painstaking and continuous investment. Shift too far in either direction and the best of both cultural and educational approaches can be compromised with children becoming “jacks of all trades and masters of none.”
There are many outstanding Arabic schools, and also many outstanding Western schools in the Emirates – but those schools that successfully meld the two – and have school leaders genuinely and passionately committed to bringing both together for their students – are few and far between. The last ten years have seen AIS flourish, despite not inconsiderable hurdles on its journey. In many ways the school is setting benchmarks for East meets West school provision in the Emirates and prospective parents seeking a school operating internationally, but with a genuine rather than cursory nod (as is too often the case) to local language, culture and context, will find in AIS one of few potential homes for the education of their children. Recommended.
Note: scoring is based on official government MOE Inspection and accreditation scoring/data 2014-15 in combination with whichschooladvisor projections from information provided by AIS in 2016 and independent feedback from parents and students.
Under consideration 2017-18
YEAR 1: 34,280
YEAR 2: 37,400
YEAR 3: 37,400
YEAR 4: 39,480
YEAR 5: 39,480
YEAR 6: 45,720
YEAR 7: 45,720
YEAR 8: 49,880
YEAR 9: 49,880
YEAR 10: 57,160
YEAR 11: 57,160
YEAR 12: 63,400
YEAR 13: NA
Australian High School Diploma (Queensland)
International Baccalaureate Diploma
Education Queensland (Queensland Department of Education and Training)
International Baccalaureate Organisation
88% (15 of 17 children entering for the diploma) (2015)
(1) 100% of children (16 total) sitting for the alternative QCE passed
5.4 (2014) - quoted in MOE Inspection
4+ (2015) - exact figure not provided (students scored 28+)
(1) School has weak transparency in examination performance and provides no public information on examination attainment under any curriculum
(2) The limited 2015 results were stated in a newsletter for existing parents
(1) All students must sit an academic assessment
(2) SEN: fully inclusive
(3) Nationality: fully inclusive
Not published (WSA projected HIGH)
Not published (WSA projected LOW)
25% of staff have been with the school for more than four years [MOE 2014]
Maliha Road, University City, Sharjah
Emirati (largest nationality)
Broad mix of other nationalities including Australian
Al Sharif Investment Trading Group
+971 (0) 6 558 9967
+971 (0) 6 533 7722
• Very strong commitment to developing an inclusive school “through its love and support for the small number of students with particular physical and emotional challenges.” [MOE]
• Highly effective school leadership [MOE]
• Impressive communication with parents [MOE]
• Strong community links [MOE]
• “Meticulously planned curriculum to meet all students’ needs” [MOE]
• Well adapted curriculum with the substitution of local UAE history and geography replacing traditional Australian historic and cultural focus [MOE]
• Rapid development of bilingual skills in English and Arabic at FS level [MOE]
• Attendance at 95% is above average [MOE]
• The capacity of the leadership of the school to act on MOE recommendations is “High” [MOE]
• In some lessons student participation could be increased, particularly in classes for older students [MOE]
• While nearly all students made good progress in relation to their starting points girls did better than boys in end of course assessments in most grades [MOE]
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