Dubai Primary
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Oaktree Primary School, Al Quoz
Academic
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Review

Oaktree Primary School, Al Quoz

by September 21, 2016
Strengths

• Very high quality leadership with significant GEMS experience
• Charismatic Head with experience in leading a top 5 Emirates’ primary school
• Investment in staff from the UK
• Commitment to inclusive entrance including full-spectrum Special Educational Needs [SEN] provision
• Location
• Extended (optional) day to integrate enrichment
• Sophisticated curriculum balance between technology and communication extended into the enrichment programme

Weaknesses

• We would have liked to see a bursary and scholarship programme in place from launch

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

• Potentially a flagship primary school for the Emirates subject to all the qualifications of any school in launch phase - and one with very considerable warmth and sense of purpose. Recommended.

A-
Our Rating
B
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Top of shortlist
43%
In my Top 5
18%
Shortlisted
12%
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4%
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No way
22%

Updated November 2016

““Oaktree Primary is determined to provide an excellent education which is based on positivity and happiness. We are looking to combine the familiarity and family-focussed nature of an English primary school with the internationalism of the community here in Dubai. We believe that the happy child is the child that will learn best, and so we are focussed on being positive and welcoming at all times, both to our children and to their parents.” Christopher McDermott, Founding Head, Oaktree Primary School.

Al Quoz based Oaktree Primary School, a new British FS to Year 6 Primary, opened in September 2016 and aims to swiftly establish itself as “one of the best primary schools in Dubai.”

This should not be surprising as the school’s Founding Head, Christopher McDermott, brings to Oaktree his three-years’ experience at the helm of the KHDA “Outstanding”, Tier 1 – and hugely over-subscribed, GEMS Jumeirah Primary School, where he was Head between 2011 and 2014. Mr McDermott joins following his internal move, post JPS, to take up the position of Principal/CEO at GEMS International School.

On our visit we learned of his conviction that investing in teachers is absolutely central to the success of any school. Teachers meet daily and the aim is that no stone is left unturned in the whole school feeding back ways that the school can build on its core strengths and each individual child’s educational journey can be made more effective, happy and inspiring.  He takes a very different view to many school leaders in arguing Oaktree must be a community in which ideas and a sense of purpose are shared. His Deputy works from the Staff Room so that there is no sense that leadership is remote or unapproachable – and that ideas are continuously fed both ways between faculty and leadership to unite the school in delivering care for its children. We particularly like his conviction that ideas and communication across the school should be explicit, transparent, human and positive –  rather than being couched in unnecessarily complicated education speak. There is a genuine sense of warmth and care being at the heart of the school.

Mr McDermott brings with him from GEMS the widely respected Carrie Hoza as Deputy Principal. Hoza comes with more than five years at GEMS Wellington International behind her managing school improvement.

All of the Senior Management Team are backgrounded in GEMS – and tellingly each has been instrumental in previously delivering KHDA “Outstanding” schools. Significant thought has been invested at Oaktree in building a top-tier leadership team with very considerable experience and talent.

The ethos at the school has been modelled around the small village UK primary school, “quintessentially British,” community-driven and individually child-focussed. The school’s ethos reflects this: “Our teaching is unique because every child is too.”

As the school expands, the emphasis on manageable scale is said to be a priority. Communication and links with both parents and the broader community is central to building this village identity and it is telling that the school established a Facebook’s presence very early during its pre-launch phase to build community and consensus on launching the school. New teachers were engaged at the earliest possible stage in February to collegiately build the school’s identity with the aim that the school would open with the feel of a long-standing school united in common purpose.

The sense of community is being strengthened further by regular coffee mornings and plans are in place for a cultural opening ceremony at the end of October and a National Day event with parents. Oaktree’s deeply felt commitment to celebrate and contextualise Arabic culture and the school’s Dubai home for its children find expression in dedicated art pieces adorning the Reception areas which have been specially commissioned, each reflecting inspirational words alternately in Arabic and English.

Staff are predominantly British and the school follows an enhanced FS to Key Stage 2 English National Curriculum with launch enrichment concentrated around sport (swimming, football, netball); art, Lego Robotics; drama; debating; Arabic; gymnastics and ballet. The mix is deliberate and thoughtful, not least because the school is set on recognising the fundamental importance of technology, but “without children losing the art of conversation,” a lament of many parents with the evolving ubiquity of tablets and phones amongst children from a young age.

Like a growing number of premium schools, Oaktree has formalised child development by (optionally) extending the school day for students between 3:00pm and 5:30pm for enrichment and activities designed around the broader development of the whole child.

Admission to the school is fully inclusive. The commitment to inclusive schooling is genuine – the ethos of a community, village school is not one that fits with walls to entry. The choice of Carrie Hoza as Deputy Principal, given her background in school improvement, is a striking one in this context – and her expertise in Arabic core subject provision promises early returns on a key area of difficulty for British schools in particular.

The school building is exceptionally welcoming. Inherited from the German International School, Oaktree has ground-up redeveloped the school. On our visit it reminded us very much of the warmth you get from the best nurseries in Dubai, those which manage to combine the feel of a villa but with premium facilities. Externally, the white walls and bay windows with purple frames contribute to this sense of colour, hospitality and welcome.

The Reception is a stand-out feature of the school, light and airy with a small counter top which will, in time, provide coffee facilities for parents and families.  Facilities are excellent, internally and externally, and we particularly liked the colourful and well equipped in-door play areas which supplement the outside spaces and provide a clear sense of balance between play-based and traditional learning.

Foundation classes are taught in a separate area to the left of the Reception and classes are projected to be capped at 18 students. There are currently 2 FS1 and 2 FS2 classes with capacity for 4 in the future. Year 1 – Year 6 classrooms can be found in the main building and will be capped at 22 students.

On our visit we were impressed with the ongoing development of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision. Two specialist SEN Rooms are being prepared for the recruitment of up to 4 trained SEN professionals provided by the school to meet its commitment to inclusivity. These will be supplemented by 1:1 shadow teachers if required at additional cost.

One other really telling feature of a school committed to matching its provision to the needs of its children we found in the decision to provide dedicated advanced French lessons for children for whom French is a first language. In other schools you often find French children being taught in the same classes with those children for whom French is an additional language.  Whilst this approach is more affordable for schools, it arguably disadvantages children who are naturally so much more advanced in their learning. Impressive.

It is likely that Oaktree will be a defined slipstream to both Safa Community School in Arjan, which we have reviewed here, and GEMS Metropole in Dubai Motor City, reviewed here.

Bottom line? Oaktree is a fabulous school at the beginning of its journey. The leadership of the school, its village-school feel and warmth – and its focus to provide parents with a dedicated, separate, British FS-primary-only school environment able to prepare children for later all-through provision in a highly child-focussed, protected and childhood-nurturing environment and scale, gives Oaktree a special sense of purpose and charm.

Applications are open at Oaktree for entry into Grades FS1 to Year 4; Years 5-6 will follow later as the school beds in its phased launch to full primary provision. The school can be contacted directly on +971 56 789 0940.

Founding discounts, of between 5,000 AED and 6,000 AED are available to founding students for one academic year following Oakdale’s opening in September.

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Details to consider
Type of school

Private, for-profit

WSA Good School

Under review 2017-18

Full WSA Review

Forthcoming 2016-17

Average Cost Per Year

FS1: 35,000
FS2: 35,000
YEAR 1: 40,000
YEAR 2: 40,000
YEAR 3: 45,000
YEAR 4: 45,000
YEAR 5: Phased launch to follow
YEAR 6: Phased launch to follow
YEAR 7: NA
YEAR 8: NA
YEAR 9: NA
YEAR 10: NA
YEAR 11: NA
YEAR 12: NA
YEAR 13: NA

Curriculum

National Curriculum for England

External Exam Boards

UK SATs
MOE

Selective

No (fully inclusive)
Notes:
(1) Applications welcome from all nationalities and ability group
(2) Assessment ""test"" designed to ensure school can fully meet the needs of individual children
(3) Decision will be made within 5 days of the Assessment
(4) School is fully staffed with teachers expert in Special Educational Needs (SEN), including Gifted and Talented (G&T) and provision for teaching English as an Additional Language (EAL)

Waiting list

No

Number of Students

Forthcoming 2016-17

Teacher to Student Ratio

Forthcoming 2016-17

Largest nationality teachers

British

Teacher turnover

Forthcoming 2016-17

Year opened

September 2016

Location

Al Quoz, Dubai

Gender

Mixed co-educational

School canteen

Yes

Owner

Private

Admissions Telephone

+971 (0) 4 333 3911

Web Address
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