Jebel Ali School, Damac Hills – The Review
Updated July 2020: Jebel Ali School KHDA results, appointment of Mrs Lizzie Robinson as Principal, clarification on scholarships, confirmation of eventual school capacity
“Your child’s school years are one of the most important times of their life.
Every minute counts.
You need to know that you are leaving them, when they are dropped off at our school, somewhere safe, where people care for them a great deal, where they can progress in every sense, but, most importantly, where they will be happy and ultimately thrive.
Jebel Ali School is one of Dubai’s happiest schools.
Putting children first and our family atmosphere remain at the heart of what we do.”
Lizzie Robinson. Principal. The Jebel Ali School.
“Ours is a genuine community school where parents, staff and students collaborate to achieve success and create a vibrant and happy learning environment for all.”
KHDA Dubai School Inspectorate Report 2016.“Every detail is considered in the day to day management of the school.”
Colette Doughty. Head of Secondary. The Jebel Ali School.
Background – the transformation of a dedicated, much loved primary to an all-through school.
Established in 1977 as a (resolutely) not-for-profit primary school, Jebel Ali (Primary) School [JAPS] traced its routes through an extraordinary history that marked it for generations of parents and children as one of Dubai’s best loved British schools. Much of that recognition came from its rare combination of academic results and nurturing approach to whole-child provision – and its status as an independent and not-for-profit, which was formally established by the decree of His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum in 1986.
In 2016 Jebel Ali School embarked on a journey that is seeing the biggest transformation in its history. The school moved to a new landmark site in Damac Hills, bordering Arabian Ranches and has extended its historical provision of FS1 to Year 6 teaching to full all-through schooling.
The school is now known as the Jebel Ali School and sits within an elite group of Dubai’s “Ivy League” not-for-profit schools that have, collectively historically leveraged that status to provide an overall outstanding level of education for their children, despite operating with a lower level of fees than their Tier 1 competitors.
KHDA Inspections have rated the school Very Good with Outstanding Features for the last four years, this largely the result of changes to the Inspectorate’s weighting of Arabic area provision, the single area where the school struggles, and an area that has proved problematical for all British schools in the Emirates. As our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, notes, the headline award does not accurately, in itself, reflect a school’s performance and “a deeper reading of each KHDA report is important.”
The million-dollar question that faced existing and prospective parents at the time of the school’s opening in Damac Hills, was whether the ethos, success, reputation and heart of the much loved Jebel Ali Primary School could be retained as the school embarked on its new all-through journey as the The Jebel Ali School. Would the Jebel Ali School retain its identity, accomplishments and unique culture? For many parents, Jebel Ali School, in its Primary-only form, got as close as it gets to a perfect school. In independent WhichSchoolAdvisor.com surveys it was described in glowing terms: “….the Jebel Ali School is one that is almost uniformly recommended by parents” and one which “records the highest satisfaction levels of its peers for academic attainment, feedback and school discipline”.
Even following its transition it is worth noting that the Jebel Ali School currently remains one of a very limited number of WhichSchoolAdvisor.com awarded “WSA Good Schools” notwithstanding its falling short of a KHDA Outstanding rating.
At the time of the move, both Jacquie Parr, Jebel Ali’s Headteacher, Primary, and Colette Doughty (in our view one of the most outstanding secondary school specialists in UAE education) the school’s new Headteacher for the Secondary School, were headhunted from JESS, another of very few genuinely outstanding not-for-profit schools. The move is telling because in ethos and shared outlook, both JESS and the Jebel Ali School are recognised for the importance attached to children’s education in the early years. Colette Doughty was a core member of the original Senior leadership team at JESS Ranches Secondary School and, as Assistant Head teacher, managed curriculum development across phases. For WhichSchoolAdvisor.com this exceptional curriculum experience “proved vital in establishing securely the new Middle and Secondary school’s launch” and “maintaining the core Jebel Ali School whole child approach across Middle and Secondary phases.”
The new Principal of the Jebel Ali School, Mrs Lizzie Robinson (appointed in November 2019) tellingly also has a background at JESS where she spent more than a decade to 2017, latterly as Deputy Head. She takes over from Peter Hill, former Head of Dubai College (2010-2015), who came into post in September 2017. Mrs Robinson takes on her role as Principal from the position of Jebel Ali School’s Head of Primary, a role she has held since 2017 on leaving JESS. On our last visit to the school we found her hugely impressive, caring and ambitious for children, this backed up by independent feedback from parents to both ourselves and our sister site WhichSchoolAdvisor.com.
The existing (2019-20) fee structure stretches from AED 45,891 between FS1 to Year 6 to AED 79,790 between Years 7 to 13. The school is currently open to Year 10 (2019) with further years opening in phases.
This is an extremely sharp rise – for parents in Year 6 almost AED 35,000 in a single year. The trade off is that the fees are fixed through out Primary and Secondary years respectively with no gradual increases. This has resulted from the school’s protection of the old school’s very low fee structure – something that could not be maintained with the all new campus and demands of GCSE and A Level teaching and investment. However, at the very least, parents will need to plan for this scale of fee rise.
Also worth noting is that new students at the Jebel Ali School are also required to pay a DHS 25,000 debenture (effectively an interest free loan to the school), refundable when the child leaves the school. (For children sponsored by companies this rises to AED 60,000).
Even as a not-for-profit school, with all its genuine ambition to be as economically inclusive as possible, the Jebel Ali School has found it impossible to make the move without this ratcheting up of costs for parents. It is a very big jump. The rise in fees at The Jebel Ali School is the inevitable consequence of the move to a brand new school, its related (very significantly enhanced) infrastructure and the higher costs of Middle and Senior school provision. Whilst fees to Year 6 remain arguably the best value fees of any FS/primary in the region, and particularly one now with seamless eventual continuity of provision to Sixth Form, notwithstanding its being not-for-profit, the new fees structure at middle and secondary phases places Jebel Ali school firmly within the Premium segment of the market – and parents’ expectations have risen accordingly.
It is difficult because of this jump in fees to define the value proposition here. As a whole, the ROI for parents is exceptionally good. This is particularly true of FS phases. But the jump in fees, however, will inevitably challenge parents notwithstanding the very high return on investment offered by the Jebel Ali School across every phase. Until the school defines its Sixth Form offer too, and particularly the breadth of subjects that will be offered, both at A’ Level and BTEC (or eventual T Levels), to its children, it remains difficult to offer absolute clarity for parents. The shape and quality of eventual Sixth Form provision is the missing piece here in understanding and evaluating the ROI on offer. We do know that the commitment to breadth of academic subject choice and vocational education is extremely important to Colette Doughty, Head of Secondary, but until the Jebel Ali School formalises its Sixth Form commitment, investment and offer to parents, both parents and SchoolsCompared.com have our “hands tied” in being able to understand and properly evaluate the likely “complete” offer of the school and the eventual quality of its offer to students. To some degree, parents are unavoidably on this basis making a leap in the dark. Watch this space.
Stand out features
One way in which the not-for-profit status of The Jebel Ali School has however remained critical, is in its ability to launch an all-through school without being forced into the usual increase in student numbers.
The Jebel Ali School remains small for a full spectrum FS-Secondary with a capacity of just 1800 students – the school’s not-for-profit status has clearly helped it steer away from increasing the size of the school which inevitably impacts classroom sizes, the density of school population, teacher:student ratios – and most importantly the sense of intimacy and family whose bedrock comes from a (relatively) small role.
Many equivalent Tier 1s are operating with capacities of 2,500 children or higher roles to make the figures stack up – and often with higher fees.
School structure and facilities
The new 32,000 m2 Jebel Ali School site incorporates separate Foundation, Primary and Secondary School buildings; classrooms designed around quads to flood teaching areas with light and provide flow and breakout areas; 3 libraries; a dedicated Music School; Dance and Performing Arts studios; auditorium/theatre space; student lounges; cafeteria; a sports hall; gymnasium; outdoor classrooms; Drama Suite; mini auditorium; specialised areas for the early phases (including sand and water play areas); labs provision clustered around specialised facilities in product design, materials, CAD, manufacturing, food and nutrition, and virtual/blended learning; 8 Science Labs (two in current use, the remaining set to come on-stream as all-through provision comes on stream); extensive outdoor space for the spectrum of sports from athletics and netball to cricket; and, a fabulous 25M competition and Learner pool.
A dedicated Sixth Form centre will come on stream as the school grows to all-through provision.
We like the integration within the Jebel Ali School original design of areas specifically focused on the professional development of teaching staff with its implicit recognition that it is the quality of, and investment in, teaching faculty, not facilities, that makes a school. On our first visit to The Jebel Ali School we found a very well resourced Technology Suite and found the natural flow and blending that has been created between Art, ICT and Design Technology impressive.
We saw this in the clever integration of equipment, concepts and innovation, including laser cutters.
Another example of how lessons are being brought to life at The Jebel Ali School came with our noting that The Food Technology room is a being blended in its application with regular classes in Spanish to bring the subject to life with Spanish Cooking (one of the many ECAs currently being offered or developed).
School meals at The Jebel Ali School are provided in conjunction with The Tuck Shop in a light and airy canteen area which allows Secondary children the option to buy a meal, or bring a packed lunch. Prices range from 25-35 AED and can be purchased daily. Food is healthy but also attractive to children (as parents know the two can be mutually exclusive) and Gary Rhodes personally presented to the parents to explain his approach.
The Jebel Ali School main Auditorium is impressive – fees may have risen but the result , here as elsewhere, are facilities that are Tier 1. This really is a fabulous space for productions and assemblies for the whole school – not just because of the quality of facility and scale, but also its inspirational feel and warm dynamics.
The sports halls are well equipped and very spacious. The 25M pool is outdoor, properly shaded and has 6 lanes with dive blocks. This is supported by a dedicated learner pool for younger children. Externally there is a double Rugby pitch area. We understand that further landscaping, including new trees to provide more shade are in development.
Music Facilities are broadly in line with expectations and peripatetic music can be arranged. The Music technology suite has a number of decks, its expected this will increase with demand to 24 – Garage Band is the current software of choice.
It is worth, with regards to facilities, finally noting the empowerment and commitment of The Jebel Ali School Parent Teacher Association. Already it has financed new smart TV’s in all classrooms which will replace the existing white boards.
One surefire way of really understanding the commitment of a school to its parents – and the commitment of parents to a school – is looking at how engaged the PTA really is in practice. Many schools still do not engage with parents – at The Jebel Ali School they are integral and very supportive.
The new school, in this quality and breadth of Tier 1 facilities, as well as its all-phases educational provision, is an extraordinarily different animal to its much loved Primary school.
KHDA Rating 2019 – 20
The Dubai Inspectorate of schools draws out the following key strengths of the Jebel Ali School for parents:
- High level of student achievement throughout the school in key subject areas of English, Mathematics and Science
- Highly inclusive, purposeful and caring learning environment and ethics
- Students have well developed innovation and enterprise skills
- Imaginative, motivating and stimulating curriculum promoting the achievement of, and fascination for learning, in every child
- Outstanding and extensive ECA programme highlighting the school’s commitment to the whole child
- Consistent investment in reading – with the developed reading skills of each child evident across phases
- Over-achievement against student flightpaths – children at the Jebel Ali School develop academically beyond expectation
- Art, Dance, Drama and Music are key strengths of the school’s broad curriculum and evidence the commitment of the school to the whole child
- Stellar results at FS phases across subjects
- “Exemplary” student behaviour and clear commitment to, and care for, their school
- Well informed, highly engaged and “overwhelmingly positive” parents appreciative of “almost every aspect” of the school and its care for their children
Weaknesses are limited and include:
- The inevitable difficulty faced by all British curriculum schools in the teaching of Arabic subjects
- Increased investment needed in programmes for the most gifted and talented children
- Digital skills could be developed further
So does the Jebel Ali School retain the intimacy of a small school? Does it matter if it is a different school? Can the spirit of an historically pioneering, dedicated and highly specialist EYFS-Primary survive intact as it evolves to provide very different secondary provision, with the many challenges that come from Middle School dynamics and beyond? Have the new and inherited teaching staff been able to continue in the JAPS way given that they have joined such a different school without any prior grounding? We had many questions prior to our inspection – and these reflected those of existing parents.
We now do have some answers.
From first inspections by both SchoolsCompared.com and our sister site, WhichSchoolAdvisor.com, teams, it is clear, at the least, that everything at The Jebel Ali School is being done to retain, and build on, the “magic” of the founding school.
Whilst it is early days, there are so many examples of where that commitment is reaping rewards. A small example is in the provision for music, something that you might have expected to play something of a back seat in a “new” school still building numbers in its launch phase to full capacity. Yet the opposite is true. Music, and the broader arts, have always been seen as integral to the school’s development of the whole child, and broader provision for children to develop culturally. Rather than being limited by the developing role, music is being invested in and there is already an impressive range of options and activities on offer. The Jebel Ali School Orchestra, for example, is being nurtured through a collaboration of Primary and Secondary students as the role grows (which has the equally important benefit of providing a uniting focal point to bring the whole school together), whilst the Secondary phases have their own Folk Group, Girls Chamber Choir and Jebel Gents Choir.
Another telling example of the school’s commitment to building on its history we saw in the schools ongoing engagement with the Secondary students for the years which will follow. The Jebel Ali School children were asked how they wish to be perceived and have been genuinely involved in charting a course for the school as it grows into all-through provision.
The overall sense is of a school being built by its community, including its children, rather than one being imposed top-down – and one that is set on building on its reputation for inspiring the self-confidence and sense of responsibility of its children.
As our inspector noted: “there is a palpable intention to create inspired, thoughtful, responsible, well rounded people, not just academic excellence or the surface show of an exam factory.”
We found three other examples of this. First, two periods per week at The Jebel Ali School have been protected at Secondary phases for what the school describes as ‘Mentor Time’ subjects. These include Life skills (including budgeting, basic accounting and macro understanding of how economies work), social studies (which include study in the Diversity of Religion and other societies) and time set aside for children to think and work through their own administration and planning. We really like this recognition that schooling is not simply about examinations – and that academic study comes alive only when children are given time to think outside the box and the limitations of text books and the classroom. ‘Mentor Time’ coincides with Islamic studies for Muslim students which is also being enriched with this broader context. It is possible in future that this time will develop as the bedrock for future GCSE study of ‘ Global Perspectives’ but the school is keen initially to leave this area as one that is free from any alignment with examinations and their implicit restrictions on thinking outside the syllabus. It is also worth noting that in the Arabic subject area The Jebel Ali School has invested very heavily in recruiting an expert Arabic teacher with more than 15 years experience teaching in the UK with specific Cambridge Examinations board experience. The school is steadfast in its commitment from this point forward that it will ensure that the standard of teaching, and the subject content, of Arabic subjects should be at the least at the standard of all other subjects taught in the school. This said, as of 2019, it is fair to say that the school still struggles with Arab subjects.
Second, concentration on SATS levels are being replaced at The Jebel Ali School by tracking competencies (Mastered / Advanced / Competent) so that children can self evaluate. The school is very conscious that imposing a fixed assessment of a child’s abilities can restrict the capacity of students to work beyond predicted flight-paths, this in no small part because fixed flight paths can suggest a glass ceiling on what children can, or are expected to, achieve.
The implicit recognition here, in including children in their own targeting of goals, is that children develop at different rates: children are individuals first and foremost. By removing restrictions and judgements at such an early age the aim is that children work for themselves in meeting their own ambitions, unencumbered by labels and expectation.
Third, we noted that Year 10 students in The Jebel Ali School have independently suggested they could offer children at the FS phases 20 minutes each lunchtime to support them with reading – and other areas in which young children want to develop their gifts. This is a really good example of how The Jebel Ali School has already been able to nurture and protect an environment built on community and shared values. Impressive.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared.com verdict 2020
Whilst it still remains too early to be categorical about how The Jebel Ali School will eventually evolve (we shall need to see the ultimate results and shape of Post 16 provision and A’ Level and technical stream to be definitive), if everything continues as it has to date we have no reason to believe that the school will not equal or better its heritage school – but as a different school. Perhaps it is now time to stop comparing …..
Our only substantial concern remains the fees, which at the least, for some existing parents, will prove stretching and which will inevitably alter the dynamics of a previously economically inclusive school. The rise of some AED 35,000 in a single year is arguably unreasonable, whatever its rationale.
One way this could be addressed is through scholarships and bursaries, something we and our sister site have long campaigned for. It would be good to think that The Jebel Ali School, given its heritage, could be one of the schools setting benchmarks in this area.
Notwithstanding this (significant) concern, this is a genuinely fabulous, highly inspirational school. As above, we are also delighted to see that Mrs Lizzie Robinson has become Principal. The importance of any school’s leadership in shaping a school and ensuring the success of students cannot be overstated, and in Mrs Robinson the Jebel Ali School has an individual of the highest calibre – with no small amount of compassion in tandem. We rate school the calibre of leadership at the Jebel Ali School as outstanding.
It’s also worth noting that this is the first school in the UAE to publish its future commitment to British T Levels, the new technical alternative to A Levels. This is impressive and forward thinking.
The future looks bright.
Very highly recommended.
©SchoolsCompared.com 2020. All rights reserved.
Very Good with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding features
Very Good with Outstanding features
Good to Very Good
Very Good to Outstanding
Very Good to Outstanding
In phased launch
YEAR 1: 45,891
YEAR 2: 45,891
YEAR 3: 45,891
YEAR 4: 45,891
YEAR 5: 45,891
YEAR 6: 45,891
YEAR 7: 79,790
YEAR 8: 79,790
YEAR 9: 79,790
YEAR 10: 79,790
YEAR 11: TBC
YEAR 12: TBC
YEAR 13: TBC
National Curriculum for England
Pearson (BTEC) - TBC
Pearson/Cambridge (T Levels) - TBC
Design and Technology (various)
Science (Core) [Physics, Chemistry, Biology]
Arabic A/B (Core)
Islamic Studies A/B (Core - Arabic students)
Social Studies (Core)
Art & Design
Design & Technology
No (however must meet a minimum threshold of understanding)
(1) Academic and Creative Arts scholarships are highly competitive and limited.
Yes, for current Jebel Ali location.
1200 capacity on all-through opening
(1) Faculty are currently balanced 50% female, 50% male
2016 (Originally established 1977)
Akoya, Arabian Ranches, Dubai
British (largest nationality)
(1) Emirati: 6
(2) SEND: 68
Not for profit
+971 4 884 6485 (KS2 +)
+971 4 884 6366 (KS1)
• Outstanding academics in core subjects
• Incremental improvement in Arabic subjects
• High calibre school leadership, and outstanding school Principal
• Stable, extremely low staff turnover
• Much loved school with reputation and cache for academic results, whole child development and a nurturing school environment
• Outstanding, innovative benchmark school curriculum and delivery for the sector
• The first school in the UAE to publish its commitment to T Levels.
• One of the elite number of WhichSchoolAdvisor recommended good schools in the UAE
• Very steep jump in fees at Year 7 needs very careful managing so it does not exclude children from continuing at the school
• Any school in phased launch is likely to face teething challenges
• A primary expanding to middle years and secondary provision is a considerably more challenging transformation than a secondary expanding to provide early years
• Premium fee structure and Middle and Secondary phases – placing Jebel Ali School in a very competitive educational space.
• Middle and Secondary fees may be outside the means of some parents - we hope that the school have ensured that all existing children at the school have been protected and provided with continuity of education with their peers.
• Lack of clarity on post-16 subject choice and breadth leaves parents making decisions in the "dark".